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David Ramsey: Is Nuggets draftee Tyler Lydon, 21, prepared for NBA's brutal reality?

June 29, 2017 Updated: June 29, 2017 at 6:39 pm
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Coach Jim Boeheim wishes Tyler Lydon would have stayed another season at Syracuse University. He wishes he could have watched Lydon develop from a really good college player to a great one.

I share Boeheim’s wish, and it’s not because I graduated from Syracuse University.

It’s because I’m a huge fan – a lifelong devotee - of American basketball

Lydon would have been a junior at SU next season. Instead, he’s a member of the Denver Nuggets, the 24th selection in this summer’s NBA draft.

Is he ready for the jump?

I hope so, for Lydon’s sake and for the sake of friends and family members and fellow sports columnists who adore the Nuggets.

But reasons for skepticism abound.

In the old days, a promising teen basketball player signed up for college and spent his first couple of seasons enduring rough treatment from opponents, and older teammates, and constant shouting from a coach who had little reason to fear this promising teen basketball player would flee to the NBA.

We’re not talking about ancient history. Tim Duncan played four seasons at Wake Forest. Alonzo Mourning played four seasons at Georgetown. Today, Duncan and Mourning would stick around for one season. Remember this: Duncan and Mourning combined for 33 seasons in the NBA.

Lydon played two seasons at Syracuse. By modern standards, that’s a long stay for an elite talent.

“He has great potential,” Boeheim says. “I think if he had stayed one more year, he’d be a lottery pick.”

In other words, Boeheim is saying the Nuggets got a steal. A player who has only hinted at his peak. A player who could have dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2017-18 and soared on the draft boards.

“He’s a great shooter,” Boeheim says. “And I mean a great shooter, not a good shooter. He shot 40 percent for us from 3, but I think he’s a better shooter from that. I think he could shoot 45 percent from 3.”

Boeheim believes Lydon can become a highly dangerous 3-point shooter. As Danilo Gallinari prepares to wave goodbye to the Nuggets (a move that will be good for him and better for the Nuggets), the team’s needs from beyond the 3-point line will multiply.

Lydon could, even as a rookie, become a crucial piece of the Nuggets' quest to return to the playoffs.

Or, maybe not.

I’m thinking of Emmanuel Mudiay, once the nation’s top-ranked high school guard and later the seventh pick in the 2015 draft. Mudiay, because of academic troubles, never played college basketball for Larry Brown at SMU.

And that’s too bad. Brown would have taught him about defense and the supremacy of team. Brown – a weird dude, but a master coach – would have prepared Mudiay for the harsh ride that is the NBA.

Not long ago,  Mudiay was a can’t-miss prospect.

But he wasn’t prepared. He didn’t understand the game’s most precious secrets. Can’t miss has traveled to somewhere between might miss and probable miss. Mudiay turned 21 in March. Too much, too soon.

I realize many NBA superstars either skipped college altogether or had the barest of stays there. I get that.

But for every LeBron James, there are a dozen Mudiays. Players who required the years to grow and learn in the college game. Players who had the talent to thrive in the NBA, but not the precious grasp of the game. Players who never reached their potential. Little in life is as depressing as watching someone fail to reach their potential.

Boeheim has led the Orange since 1976. He’s seen the college game transform from a destination where all but the freakishly talented (Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson) stayed for a four-year run to a destination that sees even the lightly talented depart in a one-year flash.

He declines to indulge in nostalgia. The college game of yesterday is vastly superior to the college game of today, and that superiority seeped into the NBA. Players once arrived in the ultimate league fully prepared, and American basketball thrived.

“It’s just what it is,” Boeheim says. “Kids used to want to be lottery picks, or they wouldn’t go. Now, you can tell a stick man that he’s going to be a first-round pick. Agents tell 40 guys they’re going to be first-round picks.”

I like Lydon’s chances. Boeheim says his game is similar to Houston’s Ryan Anderson, except Lydon is “more athletic.” Lydon is an ideal fit for the current NBA. He can shoot from long range – way deep – and enjoys slugging it out for rebounds in the savage realm under the basket.

But I’d like Lydon’s chances better if he had stayed another year, or two, at SU.

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