Syracuse Basketball: BJ Johnson’s post-transfer success was anomalous

Syracuse basketball departees via the transfer portal have generally fared worse than those who arrived because of it. BJ Johnson is the lone exception.

If anything in this life is certain, if recent memory has taught us anything, it is that Syracuse basketball’s track record of developing incoming transfers far outweighs the developmental success that those who leave the program experience elsewhere.

BJ Johnson’s plunge from an end-of-the-bench option for Jim Boeheim to someone who has played for three different NBA teams was an anomaly compared to the handful of recent ex-Syracuse basketball players who left the program to pursue more prominent roles instead of waiting their turn.

As a freshman and sophomore between 2013 and 2015, Johnson saw 5.5 and 14.6 minutes a game per season, and his points (1.4 to 4.2) and rebounding (0.9 to 3.2) tripled. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Johnson left the ACC for the A-10 Conference and made unprecedented advancements as a player and NBA prospect.

The difference between this departure and the ones mentioned later on is that many knew just how capable Johnson was of becoming a star player. Towards the end of his sophomore season, a 19-point effort in February 2015 propelled Syracuse over No. 9 Notre Dame.

As a Junior with La Salle, Johnson started in 28 of his teams’ 29 games, averaging more than 17 points and six rebounds. As a senior, Johnson’s NBA draft stock improved even more after starting in all 27 games he played in and averaging 20.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.

Despite going undrafted, Johnson was able to sign a contract with the Orlando Magic after a semi-impressive Summer League showing with Charlotte, found a role with the Magic’s G-League Affiliate Lakeland.

Johnson has started 60 of his 67 games played in the G-League and has impressive career averages of 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 steals.

In early March of 2019, Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks, and two days later, played 19 minutes and scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting (3-for-3 3PT), and in his NBA debut against Chicago before being waived halfway through the month.

Less than a month later, Johnson signed a rest-of-season contract with Sacramento before being waived this past July. Despite the two demotions, Johnson has since been signed to a two-way contract by Orlando and has carved out a role as a mainstay option with Lakeland and a potential emergency option with their NBA affiliate.

However, this success story was an oddity; something we have rarely seen from the talent that has transferred out of Syracuse.

Take players like Kaleb Joseph, Taurean Thompson, and Matthew Moyer:

Joseph, who started 30 of the 31 games he played in as a freshman under Jim Boeheim averaged six points, four assists, and two rebounds. As a redshirt junior and Senior with Creighton, the guard started in just three of his 50 games played and never averaged more than five points, two assists, or two rebounds.

Thompson departed Syracuse after a promising freshman season where he averaged over nine points and 3.8 rebounds on 55% shooting. As a redshirt sophomore and junior with Seton Hall, the forward failed to average more than five points, 2.5 rebounds, and shoot anywhere close to his 55% clip as a freshman.

While Moyer’s averages of 3.2 points, 3.4 rebounds on 53% shooting freshman season at Syracuse weren’t impressive, his lack of improvement since transferring to Vanderbilt has been even more mediocre. As a redshirt sophomore and junior, Moyer failed to average more than four points and rebounds per game and shot less than 43% from the floor in both seasons in the SEC.

Incoming transfers have seen better fortunes:

Since 2012, Syracuse basketball has seen the likes of Michael Gbinije (Duke), John Gillon (Colorado State), Andrew White (Nebraska), and most recently Elijah Hughes (East Carolina) shift from playing semi-valuable minutes to becoming fringe-NBA talents at Syracuse.

Gbinije, who played just 5.8 minutes a game during his freshman season at Duke, was close to being a one-and-done player, but not the celebrated type. Gbinije almost halted his entire collegiate basketball career entirely after seeing limited action in year one.

After his former AAU coach and current assistant at Syracuse Adrian Autry convinced Jim Boeheim to recruit the 6-foot-7 guard, the narrative for Gbinije’s basketball saw an unprecedented turnaround.

After paying his dues in his first season (14.6 MPG, 3.4 PPG), Gbinije saw 35  minutes a game as a junior, compiling nearly 13 points, five rebounds, and 3.6 assists. His versatility led to Boeheim eventually making his primary position point guard. In turn, Gbinije anchored Syracuse to a 2016 Final Four appearance after averaging more than 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists in 38 minutes a night.

Gbinije’s tenure in the NBA was short-lived (9 GP with Detroit in 2016), but his 90 games played and career averages of 8.6 points and 3.2 rebounds can be attributed to his development at Syracuse.

Similarly, John Gillon and Andrew White spent their fifth and final seasons of eligibility in Syracuse following a second transfer.

After averaging mediocre numbers in the Sun Belt and Mountain West Conferences, Gillon averaged more than 10 points and five rebounds in his final season with Syracuse.

White, who averaged just over two points with Kansas in the Big 12, flourished with Nebraska as a Junior (16.6) points per game before putting everything together as a fifth-year senior at Syracuse, compiling averages of 18.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.

White has since played in 130 G-League games, 102 of which he has started, and has career averages of 13.4 points and four rebounds. Gillon has since played in 79 G-League games, 40 of which he has started, and has career averages of 11.5 points and five assists.

Elijah Hughes, who recently announced his decision to test his draft stock and put his name into the NBA draft, also saw drastic, unprecedented improvements since transferring to Syracuse.

After averaging less than eight points and shooting below 35% as a freshman with East Carolina, the redshirt sophomore jumped from 13.7 points to 19 a game this past season and shot at least 42% from the floor in the process.

Next: Syracuse Basketball: Top 30 Players in School History

With Jalen Carey, Howard Washington, and Brycen Goodine in the rearview, it’ll be interesting to see if they continue this trend of mediocrity, and if the talent Boeheim brings in over the summer continues the trend of dominance.

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