C.J. Fair’s Role For The 2011-12 Orange
Outside, the temperature is dropping and the leaves are falling, while inside, Dion Waiters and Jim Boeheim are getting along, the hype is accumulating like the winter snow on campus, and early practice reports are overwhelmingly positive. The Big East’s media day is also today, so if you can’t tell we’re getting close to the season, something’s horribly wrong.
Today, I wanted to discuss the projected improvement of C.J. Fair, who is just one of the reasons behind all the preseason accolades being heaped on the team, but he could be the x-factor in controlling SU’s destiny. I know I’ve talked about Fair at length in previous posts, so if what I’m about to get into bores you, I apologize, but I certainly don’t find myself bored watching a player with his skill set and efficiency at such an early stage of his development as a college player. The fact of the matter is that it’s tough to pass up an opportunity to discuss him.
Fair quickly won me over with his ability to step up when needed. Kris Joseph was hampered by a knee problem and struggled to make the leap everyone thought he would after his 2010 Sixth Man of The Year campaign. On top of that, Fab Melo and Baye Keita struggled to get into a groove, occasionally leading to a lineup that had Fair playing a traditionally bigger position. But, as you all remember, Fair responded with great efficiency. Though he averaged less than 20 minutes per game last season, he hit 54% of his shots, second on the team only to Rick Jackson among players with at least 60 attempts. Scouts have cited that he’s just a jump shot away from being a matchup nightmare, which was the same mantra we heard about Joseph going into the 2010-11 season.
While adding that weapon is Fair’s biggest opportunity for improvement, he’s shown that he can be highly productive in spurts as well as longer stretches even without it. One of the stats I’ve seen thrown around a few times this week as we inch towards tip-off is that in the five games last season in which Fair played at least 30 minutes, he averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds on a cool 52.4% shooting. Those are good numbers, but I think the best part about that stat was overlooked by those who reported it. The competition comprised in that set of data is staggering: at Pittsburgh, at Louisville, at home against West Virginia, at home against Rutgers and at Villanova, in chronological order. There isn’t a single DePaul, Colgate or Canisius in the lot.
However, when analyzing performance, it’s best to work with as big a sample size as you can get. If you sharpen the picture by widening the criteria to include games in which Fair played at least 25 minutes (a crude but apt definition of a full-time player), four more games are added to the data set, but the numbers hold up very well. The scoring average drops, but only to 10.6 points per game, while the rebounding average gets an uptick from 5.8 to 6.4 boards per game.
Fair also showed advanced ball control. In those five games when he played the most, he hardly ever turned the ball over. In fact, he did so only six times in a whopping 173 minutes, or one about every 29 minutes. Five games out of a 35-game season admittedly involves some cherry-picking, but these are more than flashes like Fab Melo having two good games at the end of the season; The games I’m talking about here represent about 30% of Fair’s total playing time from last season. Reiterating that these outings came against a set of very good conference teams, including both the Big East regular season champion and third-place team on the road, only emphasizes that he is already ahead of the curve for a sophomore.
There are some real questions about this team, but the attitude of most SU fans when you ask them about Fair is one of calm and confidence. That’s no small feat when you consider that Fair is just a sophomore in a conference where experience is valued so highly. This is just one man’s opinion, but I think that mindset of ease can be at least partially attributed to the fact that a similar player in Josh Pace was a key player in SU’s 2003 title run. Fans are mostly confident in Fair because they saw a 200-pound player with similar tools play a complementary role for a championship team before, so why can’t it happen again? In addition, Boeheim’s comparison of this season’s team to the 2003 National Championship squad isn’t likely to assuage any of the excitement.
Fair is not a complete player, but he’s already shown what he can do against the best teams the Big East has to offer. Kris Joseph is a sure thing to stay in front of him on the depth chart, as he was last season, but he’ll be gone after the 2011-12 season. I’m not sure it’d be best for Fair to enter this season as a starter, or even become one as the team gets into Big East play, but I could be convinced otherwise if he keeps this up and the rest of the frontcourt doesn’t get its wrinkles ironed out. Until then, it seems like the ideal role for both Fair’s development as well as the team’s title chances is for him to be a “super-sub” once again, but maybe with a little more time than the 18.6 minutes per game he averaged last season. It will be fun to see how Jim Boeheim uses his deepest squad in years to advance as far as it can, but another thing to keep an eye on is how he grooms his sophomore to be a full-time player after Joseph graduates.