What Gives With Boeheim’s Rotation, Anyway?
The tagline at the top of the header references it in jest, but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a more legitimate gripe. Yes, I know that as long as Boeheim is at the helm, he won’t gravitate away from one of the hallmarks that has made him tremendously successful. When you win as much as he has, you stick with what works, and as you get more experienced (say, 35 years deep), the chance of a paradigm shift plummets even more.
The advantages to using a smaller rotation are fairly cut-and-dry:
- You give the most minutes to the best players.
- More time affords players the more opportunities to establish consistency and positive momentum.
- Roles are defined early on, which usually helps facilitate team chemistry. Not everyone on the roster will always agree with them, but if they’re wired correctly, it motivates them.
- On the recruiting trail, blue-chip players are drawn to programs that are willing to give them a lot of playing time to up their exposure. Only once since the 1999-2000 season, which is as far back as the data go, has Syracuse failed to play at least three players more than 30 minutes per game.
There are also some drawbacks, though. When a rotation is cut off at a certain threshold, you’re inherently limiting some players from developing as fast as perhaps they could. Would Kris Joseph have had the All-American season in 2010-11 that many were hoping for if he played more in 2008-2009? Looking back, did the team need 30 minutes from Paul Harris, the player “blocking” Joseph, on a nightly basis that season?
Additionally, when a full-time starter is injured, his backup may be ill-prepared to step in. It can be a challenge to anticipate the possibility, and it’s probably one of the furthest things from Boeheim’s mind at any given point, but we saw this in 2010 when Arinze Onuaku went down and DaShonte Riley looked like a deer in headlights in the NCAA Tournament. There very well may have been costs to playing Riley more often in the regular season, but we’ll never know for sure.
Another residual effect some may cite is that Syracuse runs into attrition and players get disgruntled and transfer or become toxic in the SU locker room if they’re not getting the playing time they feel they deserve. While they may get more chances at other schools, the 7.5-man rotation has been in play at Syracuse as far as I can remember. It isn’t much to ask for players to know what they’re getting into before they commit, though.
I’m not saying that Jim Boeheim doesn’t give players fair shakes. We know that Mookie Jones is a one-trick pony because we’ve seen him chuck and chuck again in nearly 200 minutes of game action with little deviation (but it can be pretty to watch). We saw how poorly James Southerland struggled in the first half of last season, and as a result, he was an afterthought in the second half. If you’re good, you’ll play, and it isn’t always all-or-nothing. CJ Fair was an excellent spark off the bench last season, and if I were a betting man, I’d say that the motivation of more playing time keeps him wanting to perform at a high level.
Jim Boeheim’s methods never stop us from wondering. Every season, usually about ten games into the season, the blogosphere and Twitterverse lights up and wonders if this is finally the season where Jim Boeheim goes deeper into his bench without it being absolutely necessary and if there are ten players good enough to command minutes. I know I’ve been guilty of it a few times, especially in my early stages of Syracuse fandom, but every season, the answer is a resounding “no.”
We can project all we want. Right now, the starting lineup figures to consist of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, and two players from the group of Baye Moussa Keita, Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas. Beyond that, not much else is certain, but on a team that figures to be one of the deepest in the Big East, and perhaps the country, I’m confident that the question that titled this post will come up somewhere.