Chris McCullough: Evaluation

Some players defy skill assessment, and McCullough from the beginning has transcended ordinary player descriptions.

Introduction

Back during the 2011 summer, in recruiting terms an eon ago, Team Scan sent rising sophomore Chris McCullough to Las Vegas and never looked back. Colleague Evan Daniels watched him that week and observed that McCullough "raced up and down the floor," and some iteration of that phrase almost always opens any description of his game.

Coaches didn't require much time to suss him out, either. Prior to his sophomore year, Florida, Providence, St. John's, Rutgers, Syracuse and Temple all had stepped forward with scholarship offers. And why not? At 6-8 (now 6-9) and blessed with inordinate speed, McCullough had the look of a can't miss prospect.

He took unofficial trips to Syracuse, Villanova and Arizona in fall, 2011, further establishing his high-major bonafides. And he didn't forget to continue playing, again touring with Team Scan in 2012 and drawing further attention.

McCullough performed extremely impressively at times that spring and summer. He easily held his own versus older competitors at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and then stood out on the big stage at the EYBL Finals. By the time he reached his high school junior season — he transferred from the Salisbury (Conn.) School to Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster, few believed he'd ever become displaced from the elite ranks within the 2014 class.

He didn't waste time reaching a decision. Having accumulated so much early interest, McCullough was able to marinate in the recruiting process and determine during the 2012 fall that Syracuse was his ideal landing spot for college. The Orange had made him their top priority, and the attention paid off in an early pledge.

But the 2013 travel season proved uneven for the future Orange forward. McCullough was good, not great, though he unquestionably remains one of the most physically capable players in the nation.

Assets

Speed. Spell it forward, spell it backward, turn it into a poem, whatever. There's no way to open this section without first tackling McCullough's most visible — and viable — attribute.

He's blindingly fast and runs with a stride that wouldn't appear out of place at a track meet. He sprints on his toes and seems to blow past his opponents almost effortlessly.

Tangibly speaking, that ability enables him to stand out as a prime transition scorer. Most big men don't expect to encounter that kind of speed in a counterpart, and even if they do, few can keep pace well enough to prevent McCullough from getting ahead on the break.

He's a magnificent one-footed leaper who, incidentally, may need to adopt a more cautious style finishing above the rim. He suffers an inherent vulnerability when leaping off one foot at top speed, but suffice it to say few can stop him at the rim. Meanwhile, his fleet-footedness also allows him to race back on defense and pin attempted dunks and layups on the backboard.

He's fairly effective in halfcourt settings, too. McCullough sports very long arms and also can explode off two feet, and over-the-top dunks inside are a regular occurrence. He utilizes that same quality to swat shots mid-air and to pull down offensive rebounds even when boxed out.

Deficits

Those above paragraphs speak loudly to McCullough's natural ability, but what about the areas a player acquires over time? He still lacks a go-to offensive attack and also must become stronger and more physical.

Based on his slim physique and finesse style, a professional future as a face-up power forward likely awaits. The good news is that McCullough seems to thrive in that role, which bodes well for his future. Nevertheless, he must improve his jump shot significantly and his handling and passing at least marginally to excel versus NBA-level competition.

For college that progress may not be as critical, of course, because he's so long and athletic that few programs can trot out a player with equivalent traits.

Outlook

Scout chatter this past summer involved a question whether McCullough rated too highly in the senior class. After all, where are the developing skills?

But the bottom line is that height/length and athleticism stand apart as the clear top assets for a basketball player, and there's no picking them up at a grocery store or improving them substantially in rubber band drills. McCullough is so gifted in that regard that, even if he needs time to mature, his eventuality almost definitely will land him at the sport's apex.

In the meantime, he should become an immediate weapon for the Orange in transition and in the club's preferred defensive scheme as well.


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