Chris McCullough is entering his third season in the NBA. He's spent more time in the D-League than on an NBA roster. What can McCullough provide for the Wizards, and does he have a chance of figuring it all out in the 2017-2018 season?
The Las Vegas Summer League is reaching its end. We saw Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. dominate at certain junctures. The 2017 rookies showed their skills, and some undrafted and overlooked prospects shined as well. Unfortunately, the Washington Wizards do not have a high upside rookie on their squad to show case during summer league. They traded both their first and second round picks in June’s draft.
The Brooklyn Nets selected big man Jarrett Allen with the 22nd pick and the Indiana Pacers selected explosive guard Edmond Sumner with pick 52. The same could be said for the 2016 Draft. The Wizards’ last first round selection was Kelly Oubre, acquired via trade.
While the Wizards are a perennial playoff team, upside seems to be lacking. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat have seemingly reached their peaks as players. (For Wall, that peak is really, really high.) Recently re-signed wing Otto Porter has room to grow. On the bench, Oubre was the only rotation player still on his first contract.
The Wizards do have young players on their roster. Tomas Satoransky, Sheldon McClellan, Danuel House and Chris McCullough rounded out Washington’s 2016-2017 roster. Of that quartet, McCullough may have the most potential. Still only 21-years old, McCullough was a bonafide first round prospect in 2015 before tearing his ACL in his lone season at Syracuse. Still, the Brooklyn Nets selected McCullough with the 29th pick in 2015, a rare first round selection by the Billy King era Nets.
Since then, it’s been a long way back to relevancy. At the trade deadline, McCullough was traded from Brooklyn to Washington. But much of McCullough’s time was spent far, far away from the rest of #DeathRowDC – spent with the Northern Arizona Suns as a Flex Assignment. (Washington and Nothern Arizona are over 2000 miles apart.)
About to enter his third season, McCullough has played more games in the D-League (43) than in the NBA, and three times as many minutes. On the surface, McCullough looks all the part of an NBA player. Take a look at some highlights from his time with the Long Island Nets.
Not bad, right? McCullough has a smooth looking jumper, athleticism, a decent handle and a long frame that probably sold teams on his potential back when he was a prospect. In his high school class, he was ranked higher than fellow NBA-ers Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, among others, per Rivals.com.
McCullough’s box score skills are intriguing. I guess I’ll call his skillset a “BallIsLife” skillset. His highlights are perfect for consumption in 3-5 minute video clips. His offense just looks pretty. But there are some major flaws, which is why the Nets decided to cut bait on a former first round pick so quickly, and why he was a non-factor on a Washington squad that desperately needed big man depth.
Chris McCullough really struggled with his feel for the game. On defense, he would sometimes look lost, either ball watching or missing key rotations. His defensive rating of 110.1 was in the bottom 25 of all D-League players last season. On the offensive end, the 6’11” forward would often rush into plays, struggling to finish through contact. His intensity also wavered on both ends, often looking uninterested if not engaged with the ball.
Washington’s Summer League squad wasn’t exactly star studded. In a Summer where McCullough would have hopefully shown improvement, he struggled. Heading into Friday’s Wizards Summer League finale, McCullough averaged 7.75 points and 6.00 rebounds per game, while shooting 33.3%. He also turned the ball over three times a game in four summer league contests as well. While McCullough still is on the young side, his time playing against pro competition should have given him a slight advantage. Apparently, it did not. He did have a major jam though!
For many young players, year three in the NBA could be the year where everything starts to come together. For Chris McCullough, year three is his sink or swim year. So far, McCullough has shown nice skills in some D-League flashes, but little feel. If he finally “gets it” and his basketball IQ matches his solid foundation, he could be a rotation player. So far, he hasn't shown that yet, even with extended minutes in the D-League. He has a team option on his fourth year to be decided early in the year. If Washington believes in him, he could be worth the wait. But still, there’s a long road to even cracking the rotation for the former first round pick.