A Predictive Look At SU’s Frontcourt
As great as Rick Jackson was, the frontcourt this season should make Orange fans forget about his absence, or at the very least, put them at ease in the wake of his graduation. Down low, the combination of Fab Melo, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas will make opposing players think long and hard before driving into the lane, and on the wing, Kris Joseph will build on his junior year season with C.J. Fair as a high-upside supersub.
Kris Joseph: To me, the most meaningful part of Tuesday’s exhibition came not during the game, but during Jim Boeheim’s press conference when he mentioned that Joseph’s ongoing recovery from knee surgery will keep him from being 100% for another month or so. While some national writers have tabbed Joseph as a 2nd Team All-American, I don’t anticipate many games between Saturday’s opener and the holidays where his status could be the difference between a win and a loss, but such is Syracuse scheduling. But will the knee continue to linger into the more important games of the season? A bad wheel could lead Joseph to becoming more passive, which would result in a dip in his two-point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line. For Syracuse to make a deep tournament run, Joseph needs to continue his development as a complete player. The emergence of his extended range last season portends good things going forward, and despite the limited health concerns, expect Joseph to be a horse in his senior season.
2011-12 Prediction: 32 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 38% 3FG
Fab Melo: The reports on Fab Melo since practice started have been overwhelmingly positive. He’s shed weight, can get up and down the floor (moreso than he did last season, at least), and has a better feel for the game. I wholeheartedly agree with Mike DeCourcy’s take on the Brazilian, that the expectations last season were a little unfair because Melo hasn’t had much time to get acclimated to the sport – not because he couldn’t stay on the floor last season, but because he was so raw as someone who’s played the game for less than five years. He still has the tools to be successful, and I anticipate a better performance, though he’ll still be somewhat mistake-prone as he’s still learning.
2011-12 Prediction: 25 MPG, 12 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Rakeem Christmas: Christmas and his 7’3″ wingspan that provides him with superior shot-blocking ability couldn’t be more perfect for the back of the zone. While it’s likely that he’ll be a starter from the get-go, his skill set on offense, or lack thereof, is what will keep him from being a mainstay. To stay on the court, Christmas will have to show some promise offensively, whether it’s by setting screens or rebounding hard and sticking putbacks. If he can’t, there are plenty of other players on the team who are willing to step up, so the motivation has to be there as well. Christmas will be frustrating at times, especially early on, but plan on him picking things up quickly as he gains the confidence to go with his ability.
2011-12 Prediction: 20 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG
Baye Keita: I don’t anticipate Christmas and Keita being on the floor together much this season, if at all, because while such a lineup would be monstrous defensively, the offense just wouldn’t be there. Keita is still playing with a wrap on his left hand, so we’ll have to see just how big of an impediment it truly poses until he’s fully recovered. Some speculate that his health problems kept him from developing on offense, but I contend it still would have been a major struggle. Going forward, Keita will continue to be a defensive force, while lagging behind on offense, but a team loaded with potential double-digit scorers can afford to carry a liability.
2011-12 Prediction: 15 MPG, 2.0 PPG, 5 RPG, 2.0 BPG
C.J. Fair – Continuing with a mostly even distribution of time among the wings and big men, Fair will be the versatile Swiss Army Knife of the Syracuse Orange, scoring with efficiency, rebounding effectively, and improving as a deep threat. After coming through as a surprise last season, how will defenses adjust this season? The next step in Fair’s development is making the counter-adjustment once other teams devote more attention to him, and a varied game is the key to doing that successfully.
2011-12 Prediction: 20 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 35% 3FG
James Southerland – It’s tough to see where Southerland fits in, unless his court intelligence comes along and allows him to grow offensively and he uses his size to get inside more often. Until then, I reserve the right to call him “Donte’ Greene Lite.” I expect his season to flow similarly to how it went last season. In 2010-11, Southerland played 14 minutes per game, but down the stretch in the team’s last ten regular season games, he saw just 50 minutes total. If C.J. Fair plays effectively enough to stay on the court, it could spell trouble for Southerland’s prospects.
2011-12 Prediction: 8 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG
Mookie Jones – Yes, Mookie’s working with the forwards this season – not because of an unexpected growth spurt or sudden emergence of a post game, but because it’s the last gasp for him to make a dent in the rotation before the depth becomes too much for him to overcome. I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to bolt as he’s hinted at doing in the past, but it’s not something I wish for.
2011-12 Prediction: 1 Headband toss, Several tweets a week showing despondence and a general lack of self-awareness.