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Take Two: Will John Shurna make it in the NBA?

Every Friday, Inside NU will do a “Take Two,” giving you our opinions on a major topic surrounding Northwestern or college sports in general. Today, we discuss how John Shurna will transition to the NBA in what has already been a Shurna-filled week here at InsideNU — read more here, here and here. Check our last week's "Take Two," where we discuss which Big Ten team would be selected for a hypothetical 2012 playoff, here.


Take one: Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)

Predicting how a college player will transition into the NBA is an inexact science. You have your exceptions, the Kevin Durants, Derrick Roses and Blake Griffins of the world, but you get one, or maybe two, players of that caliber every draft class. Its no surprise when ultra-talented guys like this—who more likely than not would have skipped college altogether if given the chance—start tearing up the league the moment they put on an NBA uniform. John Shurna is not one of these players. In fact, his NBA future as of this writing remains quite uncertain. He went undrafted in last Thursday night’s NBA Draft, and while Shurna’s reportedly impressive pre-draft workout performances led some to believe that a team would use its second round pick on him, it was hardly a surprise when none did.

Remember, we’re talking about the single most competitive league in a sport that demands speed, quickness and athleticism of the highest order. Shurna, for all his high-scoring outputs and remarkable three-point shooting, has never ranked highly on the athletic grading scale, and his shortcomings in that area have manifested themselves in games throughout his career. Take as an example NU’s Dec. 4 home loss to Baylor last season. The Bears entered that game with loads of future NBA talent, including three draft picks—Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller—in the most recent draft. Shurna was simply ineffective, unable to create his own shot off the dribble and altogether overwhelmed by the Bears’ suffocating perimeter defense. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting and a dismal 0-7 mark from three. It’s completely possible Shurna just happened to play one of the worst games of his career against one of the toughest opponents he’s ever faced, though the more likely scenario is that Baylors’ NBA-like frontline overpowered him. Chalking it up as a bad game or a poor shooting night would be to overlook what his ineffectiveness represented, and more importantly what it proved to NBA scouts and talent evaluators: that Shurna is limited physically, that his otherwise effective jump shot falters in the face of long, athletic players, the types of guys who he’d theoretically face on a nightly basis in the NBA.

One game won’t by any means dictate his professional basketball career. Teams scouting Shurna have no doubt looked more closely at a comprehensive segment of his career, everything from early-season nonconference tune-ups against Texas Pan-American to freakishly accurate three-point shooting in pre-draft workouts. Still, even as his entire body of work lends viability to Shurna’s claim to an NBA roster—a sparkplug three-point shooter in the Kyle Korver/Steve Novak mold—there’s nothing to suggest his ineffectiveness against the Bears was a fluke, that he can, in fact, unfurl his low-release jump shot against athletic perimeter defenders on a consistent basis. And that’s a problem when your projected role in the NBA is, you know, a knock-down shooter.

To boil this down to a yes or no answer is, needless to say, difficult, though I’m leaning towards the less favorable outcome. Shurna’s awkward release and lack of athleticism are two massive hurdles that NBA GMs can’t overlook. Plus, his experience and success in the Princeton offense makes him a better fit for the Euro leagues, a career path that would allow for a return to the NBA down the road. I realize this is not a popular perspective, and most NU fans would fancy removing this post, saying something along the lines of “you watch, any NBA team would love to have him!”, then condemning my decision and the rationale behind it. Before you do one or all of those things, consider that this wasn’t an easy decision and I am not saying that Shurna cant make the NBA, but that his chances, in the mind of yours truly, are slim. Alas.

Take two: Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

John Shurna was never going to be drafted into the NBA. Why? It's simple — he wasn't one of the 60 most talented players available. Yes, he had shooting performance of epic proportions with the Milwaukee Bucks — he hit 36 of 40 3-pointers — and yes he's Northwestern's all-time leading scorer, but we all knew he could shoot. What Shurna's status as an undrafted free agent really is about is what is didn't show — enough upside.

One of the biggest criteria that NBA teams judge on is upside, and while that sometimes leads to massive busts, they see it as better than drafting a player who they know only has a limited role. Role players, like Shurna, are typically left for free agency. However, if he understands his role on the team, he has a chance to see some minutes in the NBA.

If Shurna does make a team, his role will be three-point shooting and coming off the bench to provide a spark for his team from beyond the arc. Think of the role Steve Novak plays for the New York Knicks or Kyle Korver plays for the Chicago Bulls. Neither is very athletic or can do much besides spot up and shoot from beyond the arc, but both of them have become successful NBA players by embracing that as their strength. Shurna was never a great defender or rebounder in college, so he certainly won't be in the NBA. However, he doesn't need to be; he just needs to do what he's great at — shoot.

Picking a team for the summer league is also an important decision, which is why Shurna's choice to sign with the Atlanta Hawks was a little confusing. The Hawks just signed three-point shooter in Anthony Morrow, who likely fills the role that Shurna would be called upon to do. However, Shurna could sign with any other team if the Hawks don't want him, so that's not a huge issue. But in the summer league, where everyone is trying to find a spot on a team, it's important that Shurna is assertive and takes threes when he has the opportunity. If he does that, he has a shot to find some minutes on an NBA team sometime in the future.