TBG Player Previews 2016-2017: Chris McCullough

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Chris McCullough, power forward

2015-2016: 15.1 MPG, 4.7 PPG, .404 FG%, 2.8 RPG, 0.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 0.6 TOV, 24 G

Who is Chris McCullough?

At this stage of his career, it seems as if most people may have heard about Chris McCullough a lot more than they’ve actually seen him. To quickly cover our bases, CMC was selected with 29th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Syracuse University. Originally earmarked to go into the lottery, a torn ACL caused him to slip and the Brooklyn Nets were more than happy to take the risk. For the Nets — further strengthened by their selection of Caris LeVert this summer — their draft strategy has been to get top-end talent no matter what, knowing full well that they may miss initial time due to injury.

As an elite athlete with the penchant for the highlight play, McCullough certainly has untapped potential. But now, after his first Summer League and preseason, where is it? He is, ultimately, still just a 20 year-old, he’s understandably very raw. There was optimistic chatter from some fans and pundits that McCullough would be the backup power forward to Trevor Booker, but would, hopefully, make a push to start by the end of the season.

However, with Luis Scola playing quality minutes in preseason, the ongoing experiment of Anthony Bennett, and head coach Kenny Atkinson noting that McCullough will see his fair share of the D-League in 2016-2017, expectations have truly been dampened.

2015-2016 Recap:

McCullough’s counting numbers aren’t very important overall, as he averaged only 15.1 minutes per game with a chunk of them coming in meaningless games or garbage time, so it’s been hard to draw any hard conclusions. One trend that was worth noticing, though, was McCullough’s ability to finish at the rim, or lack thereof, as he shot just 55% from 0-2 feet. This could come down to experience or the lack of strength, but he will need to bulk up before he can really bang down low — and may even add some context into his tendency to settle for the long midrange (22.9% of FGA) or three-point attempts (31.2%).

Make no mistake, McCullough certainly exhibited some promising traits too, as he filled the passing lane and anticipated takeaway opportunities, chipping in with 1.2 steals every contest — or 2.3 per 36. His 38% from three is encouraging and his smooth stroke could eventually translate into a real weapon as well across from Brook Lopez. On the flip side, his FT% was certainly unacceptable and 47% just won’t cut it for Atkinson, but, obviously, there’s room to grow.

What does Chris McCullough bring to the table?

Overall, there’s definite promise residing somewhere deep inside McCullough’s lanky frame. McCullough is a 6’11 power forward that’s a freak athlete and able to stretch the floor from three — beyond a perfect fit in the new modern NBA that we watch today.

For now, Atkinson’s D-League statement doesn’t feel like a demotion, but just more indicative of his all-important development. Remember, he only played in 24 games for Brooklyn, but lasted just 16 games for Syracuse as a freshman before his major injury. So, if you don’t count the preseason or summer games, McCullough is just 40 games out from high school… which is, well, shocking. Given that the Long Island Nets are sharing facilities with the big boys this season, it’ll be relatively easy for Atkinson to swap him back and forth as he sees fit.

Ideally, he’d be able to play strong minutes off the bench to give Booker or Scola a break and battle hard with the second unit. In all likelihood, McCullough still has the opportunity to have make an impact on the team this year, as he’s one of the few young pieces that the Nets must try to build around. It wouldn’t be surprising if McCullough gets more of an opportunity after the All-Star Break, when one of the veterans could be moved before the trade deadline.

The McCullough Highlight Reel Theater:


While there’s not much available from last season, this video shows all the weapons he could build upon: playing the lanes, his deep shot, and attacking the basket when possible.

The Bottom Line:

McCullough still seems like the biggest mystery of the Nets’ draft picks over the last two years. Even with LaVert returning from injury, there’s at least a consensus of what he could bring to the table when healthy. Yet for McCullough, the jury is very much still divided — he’s a player whose talent floor seems to be a rotation big, but his ceiling of potential indicates that he could be a very good player if he ever puts it all together.

Unless you’re landing a Kevin Durant or LeBron James through free agency, most great teams are built through the draft — which is, obviously, a difficulty for the Nets. At this point, they’ll need a bit of luck and hit late in the draft ala Jimmy Butler (no. 30) or Chandler Parsons (no. 38) to help drag the team out of the cellar — can McCullough be that guy? 

Whether it’s through the D-League or at the Barclays Center, let’s hope we uncover a bit more about McCullough in 2016-2017.

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