The Backcourt Breakdown
After a couple days of surveying the regional and national hoops landscapes, today marks the return of the blog’s Syracuse focus as we get ready for opening night Saturday against Fordham. I’ll first take a crack at predicting some of the key stats for the Orange backcourt before zeroing in on the frontcourt Thursday.
In predicting the numbers for the backcourt, I took into account the players’ projected development as well as what they have done to this point, but I came to the conclusion that projection can only tell us so much. In digging deeper, I noticed that this year’s team figures to include the most guards with legitimate cases for playing time since the 2005-06 season. While the expectation is for this season’s team to not need a miracle Big East Tournament performance to crack the Big Dance, it does provide an interesting comparison.
Gerry McNamara and Louie McCroskey were the prominent upperclassmen (the former more than the latter, of course). McNamara soaked up a ton of playing time, much like Jardine figures to this season, though Brandon Triche is expected to have a bigger role than McCroskey. Andy Rautins was the freshman sharpshooter on that team from six years ago and averaged eight minutes per game, though I feel Trevor Cooney, with whom many are comparing to Rautins, won’t get even that much time. Rounding out the group, just as Michael Carter-Williams should get a little time this season as he prepares to assume the point guard spot once the senior leader graduates, Josh Wright got his feet wet as he was expected taking the reins as the point guard of the future once McNamara left. No, you’re not alone – I shuddered as I wrote that just as you shuddered as you read it.
While it isn’t a carbon copy, the 2005-06 Orange give us some perspective by which we can compare the current team going into the season. But enough dwelling on the past!
Scoop Jardine - For better or worse, he’s the lead guard and there’s no disputing it. After so much time in Boeheim’s system, I’m mostly convinced that Scoop is what he is, and no matter the degree of lip service he paid to learning his lessons and focusing on making smarter decisions, I’ll believe it when I see it on the court. Moving on, while clutch play is the engine driving the narrative around Jardine, I’m hoping it will be irrelevant – not because I’m sold that Scoop will perform better in the clutch, but because truly great teams win by enough to lessen the likelihood of such tense situations coming to pass. I realize that Scoop isn’t perfect at all other points of the game, either, but there’s a lot of good that Scoop brings to the table that shouldn’t be masked by all the talk about his play in tight situations. He’s trimmed down, shoots well when he makes good decisions, is a very good passer, and for what it’s worth, has stepped forward in the accountability department by embracing the role of vocal leader. He’ll still be maddening at times, but overall, I think Scoop is in for a nice season to finish off his career.
2011-12 Prediction: 35 MPG, 13 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.0 TO/G
Brandon Triche - While I’m confident that Jardine is a fully known commodity at this point, I think there still remains a great deal of upside for Triche as he enters his junior season. As I mentioned in this season’s Orange Tip-Off, he’s just a couple of slight tweaks from becoming an all-conference type player, and most of those adjustments are rooted in boosting his aggression. Triche converted on 84% of his free throws, but was only fourth on the team in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. On a per-game basis, he attempted only about three foul shots. The next-closest full-time player, Kris Joseph, shot 71% from the line in almost twice as many attempts – quite the drop-off. With that in mind, SU might be better served not only by getting Triche more involved in the offense in general, but especially when the Orange has a lead to preserve and the game is on the line. Aside from his free throw shooting, Triche can stretch defenses with his scoring ability. His 33% mark from long range was just good enough to keep perimeter defenses honest, but not to the point where other teams had to respect it as a true threat, and his 50% percentage on twos was solid, though not all that impressive. If he attacks a little more and converts just a few of those chances, things should open up more inside. Another reason why I think Triche can be a bigger weapon on offense has to do with his ball control. In moving away from his freshman role of point guard last season, he lowered his turnover rate while consuming slightly more possessions, moving from a 25.7% TO rate in 20.8% of possessions used in 2009-10 to a 19.9% TO rate in 21.4% of possessions used in 2010-11. For those unfamiliar with the turnover rate stat, 20% is average, so while Triche wasn’t good in the category last season, he was significantly better at holding onto the ball than he was in his debut season. Triche’s defense could use some improvement, but he isn’t a liability on that side of the floor, either. Continued improvement by the local junior should be expected, but increased involvement on offense is the key to unlocking his greater potential.
2011-12 Prediction: 25 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 35% 3FG, 2.5 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dion Waiters – There’s no doubting his ability, but has he bought in and acknowledged where he stands? His commitment to getting in shape leads me to respond in the affirmative, though in the back of my mind, I can never rule out another flare-up. With Jardine and Triche as mainstays in the lineup and two more guards in the mix, Waiters has to make the most of the playing time he gets in order to stay on the court and out of the doghouse. While he craves the spotlight and can be a force, as he was in the team’s final game of last season, I see another season in a complementary role before inheriting greater responsibility. Until then, I think Waiters is perfect for the prototypical spark off the bench, especially in a system with substitution philosophies like Boeheim’s, which rewards productive minutes with more playing time and punishes inefficiency by taking it away. The best way for Waiters to be productive is to make better use of his quickness and athletic ability by slashing more and taking fewer threes. Despite shooting just 32.9% from downtown, threes comprised nearly 45% of his shots last season. By contrast, Jonny Flynn, who was about as quick as they come, hit 33.3% of his threes in his brief career, but at the same time, three-pointers made up just 33.9% of his aggregate field goal attempts. While I’m certainly not opposed to Waiters taking a three when left open, he’s far too explosive off the dribble and not nearly good enough from deep to settle for threes as often as he did last season, so like his cousin, Waiters needs to improve his decision-making. As with Triche, driving to the basket would also theoretically give him more trips to the free throw line, where he shot a stellar 81.2% in 2010-11. His defensive style of gambling for steals makes me cringe, but I can live with his shortcomings as long as he’s contributing on the other end and staying out of his own way. I’m predicting a small decline in playing time from his 16.3 minutes per game last season, but that’s more of a testament to the depth SU has in the backcourt than any sort of an indictment or personal bias against Waiters.
2011-12 Prediction: 13 MPG, 8.0 PPG, 48% FG
Michael Carter-Williams - While I find Carter-Williams exponentially more promising than Josh Wright, our 2005-06 footprint from the beginning of this comes in handy here. While they’re very different guards, it would take a lot for Jardine to get pulled off the court just as it would’ve taken a lot for Boeheim to pull McNamara – the gap of experience between Jardine and Carter-Williams this season is just as steep, if not steeper, than the gap between McNamara and Wright was in 2005. That said, Jardine can’t play the entire game, the off-guard slot is the best position for Triche this season, there are no other feasible point guard options, and most importantly, Carter-Williams needs to get acquainted for the role he’s set to assume when Jardine graduates. Though his playing time won’t be plentiful, I think Carter-Williams sees just enough run to give SU fans a glimpse of what’s to come as he builds his body and becomes acclimated to life in a high-profile college setting.
2011-12 Prediction: 5 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 1.5 APG
Trevor Cooney - We finally come to Cooney, who may be the cure for Syracuse’s three-point ailments that have lingered since Andy Rautins graduated. Why is he so low on the pecking order, then? With so much proven ability ahead of him, Cooney will be fighting for scraps. I’m bullish on Cooney in the long run, but if the Delaware native sees more than a couple minutes per game this season, it’s probably because something went wrong elsewhere, like a Dion Waiters tantrum landing him on the bench for an extended period of time or an injury somewhere up the depth chart. If Jim Boeheim was a bigger believer in redshirting under pretenses aside from long injury recovery, I think Cooney would be a viable candidate because there’s such a tight squeeze in the backcourt this season, but that’s not Boeheim’s M.O. As it is, Cooney will get some chances during the Orange’s cakewalk non-con schedule, and once conference play rolls around, he’ll make a few cameos in blowouts.
2011-12 Prediction: 2 MPG, 1.3 PPG, 35% 3FG
Tomorrow, I’ll break down the frontcourt. Here’s a spoiler – Mookie Jones and James Southerland won’t play much!