I spent much of winter break covering Virginia Tech basketball games, and after every one of them I came away very impressed with Malcolm Delaney.
He could pull up for three in transition; he could beat his defender off the dribble and make plays in the lane; he even looked committed on the defensive end of the floor, at least on-ball.
It didn’t matter that the teams he was abusing were Longwood, North Carolina Central, High Point and Charleston Southern. The plays he was making were those of a soon-to-be NBA player.
“I watch a lot of NBA games” he told me after beating Charleston Southern 73-50 on Dec. 19.
You bet he does. He has all the signs of an early-entry draft pick. The quotes did a piss-poor job hiding Delaney’s intentions.
Is he a team player? Yes, he wants the Hokies to go as far as they can into the postseason, and he loves his teammates.
He is a quiet star in Blacksburg, though. He doesn’t come up yelling at the crowd after big baskets, nor do you see him getting in the grill of opposing guards, giving them an earful as they jog down the court together.
That secluded demeanor is much of the reason that little has been made of Delaney’s possible early exit from the Hokies.
The days of ESPN’s Chad Ford projecting Delaney as a first round pick are history.
During ACC play, Delaney’s shooting percentages are in a free fall, and his numbers are down across the board. He is barely shooting more than 30 percent from behind the three-point line; he also shoots less than 40 percent from the floor. Despite that, he still leads the conference with 20.4 points per game.
Even Allen Iverson took fewer shots to score so many points.
His downhill conference season has reached its lowest point after losing to Maryland on Saturday. He is 9-for-41 (22 percent) from behind the arc in his last seven games.
The loss to the Terrapins exposed Delaney in several ways. The biggest of which was his size when it comes to playing defense. Whenever he defended Greivis Vasquez, the taller and stronger Maryland star ran Delaney off screen after screen, which Delaney was unable to get around in time. If Vasquez wasn’t running off screens, he simply overpowered Delaney to the hoop on several occasions.
Right now, Vasquez is listed as the 81st best draft prospect on espn.com. If he can expose the vulnerability of Delaney’s defense, what would the point guards who actually play in the NBA do to him?
Teams are beginning to realize that there is no other person on the Hokies that is a consistent scoring threat besides Delaney. Besides the fact that it is hurting Tech down the stretch, it is hurting Delaney’s stock by the day.
If he were putting up 25-30 points a night while shooting better than 39 percent like he is, this would not be a discussion. The fact of the matter is that he seems to lack trust in his teammates at times, and his most dangerous offensive tool is his ability to draw fouls.
He draws these fouls because he is a step quicker than most people that defend him, and the only way they can stop him is to foul. At the next level, there will be hardly anyone that he will beat off the dribble with any ease.
Therefore, Delaney needs to develop a much better jump shot against tough defense. Along with that, he has to strengthen his frame to be able to make such shots and more importantly defend at the next level.
This is a call for him to stay in school another year. What once looked like a probable first round pick and NBA roster spot now is a likely undrafted free agent who is a year or two away from being able to contribute in the league if ever.
The benefits of coming back another year are great. For one, it could produce the best season of Virginia Tech basketball in two decades. The only two players off this year’s team graduating are Paul Debnam and Lewis Wticher, who have each played sparingly this season.
Coming into the fold next year are Florida transfer Allan Chaney and incoming freshmen guards Jarell Eddie and Tyrone Garland.
The freshmen will add depth in the backcourt, while Chaney may very well start next season. Needless to say, there will be sufficient talent surrounding Delaney, which will give him an opportunity to make a name for himself across the country with a big season.
At this point, there are simply more questions than answers concerning Delaney and the NBA.