Grading The Orange Mid-Season
That’s right, I’m busting out one of the tried and true cliches of sports blogging: the “arbitrary checkpoint report card” post. I won’t argue that report card posts are overdone, but I don’t care all that much because I enjoy writing them and like it when others do the same because oftentimes, they spark interesting debates that lead us to interesting conclusions.
Admittedly, my grades don’t have a set rubric to use as a guide – hence the inclusion of the “arbitrary” modifier. What I try to do, though, is weigh each player against their expectations going into the season, which are different for each player. Here’s what I mean – suppose Mookie Jones and Kris Joseph both carried averages of 12 points and one assist per game into tonight’s contest against Seton Hall. One player would get a C+ from me, and the other would get an A (I’ll let you decide who would get which grade here). See what I mean? Now let’s get rolling.
Dion Waiters: A: I’m starting on a high note here. Coming into the season, we were all left wondering if he bought into Jim Boeheim’s demands and how he would handle coming off the bench in his sophomore year. You don’t need me to tell you he’s adjusted with aplomb, improving his shot selection and accuracy both inside and outside the arc. Offense has always been his strength, so there wasn’t much doubt that he’d put it together sometime, even if I didn’t expect it this quickly. What’s most exciting is his defensive development, as Waiters has climbed all the way to fifth in the country in steal percentage. It’s likely that number will fall a little bit with conference play revving up, but we know he’s capable of being a terrific defender, which is something we didn’t know eight weeks ago.
Kris Joseph: A- : Kris Joseph has finally morphed into the stud swingman who Jim Boeheim can just throw on the court and let him do his thing. He’s hitting threes and free throws with impressive regularity, and despite using 21.5% of SU’s possessions when he’s on the floor, hasn’t turned the ball over more than twice in a single game all season. The only wrinkle that needs to be ironed out is his shooting inside the three-point line, as he’s hitting a career-low 45.3% on his twos, but there’s nothing else keeping him from being an All-Conference first teamer in my eyes.
Fab Melo: B+: In the off-season, we weren’t sure of Fab Melo’s status as a member of the team in good standing after he got into repeated altercations with his girlfriend on campus. As a judge ruled that his record would be wiped clean as long as he stays out of trouble, any makeup concerns have faded with a very good sophomore campaign. Once the reports of his improved physical condition poured in, I grew excited that we might finally get the Melo that was advertised on the box. Not only has he been able to get up and down the court much better, but his shot-blocking skills have been terrific. The side dish of what I call “The Fab Melo Special” (two charges and a goaltend), seems to be disappearing from the menu of his offerings, so he’s already shown some in-season improvement as well. Melo’s face-up game on offense has been given the hook in favor of developing a back-to-the-basket arsenal, which I am completely on board with.
James Southerland: B: On any other Syracuse team, I’m probably pulling my hair out over James Southerland’s one-dimensional game. This season, however, he’s filling an ideal role for his skillset as the designated gunner. Over half of Southerland’s tries have been threes, which isn’t anything new for him, but he’s drilling the ball from long range at a career-best 43.9%. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over (and he hasn’t – just four turnovers all season. You can read that again if you like, but it’s not changing) and is hitting his shots, the rest of the team can make up for his defensive inadequacies. However, when his shooting touch is off, as it was against Florida, Marshall and Bucknell, his value falls faster than a national writer can give Syracuse a backhanded compliment. I’d like to see Southerland deployed more against the opponent’s reserves or when the Orange can build momentum with a troublesome opponent on the bench with foul trouble, just to give a couple examples. I still don’t have reason to trust him in a close game, but on this team, he doesn’t have to be relied on to play that kind of role.
C.J. Fair: B: Fair’s worst game of the season came against Marshall, when he went 0-3 from the floor and grabbed just one rebound in 20 minutes of action – in other words, he was absent more than he was a liability as a volume shooter or turnover machine. Fair’s season has been quieter than I hoped it would be, but he did notch a nice highlight with his first career double-double coming against a solid defensive team in Virginia Tech at Madison Square Garden. There’s no reason to rush his development, as I remain confident that he’ll be ready explode when Kris Joseph graduates.
Michael Carter-Williams: B-: We’re on the sixth grade, and I’ve yet to hand out anything lower than a B-. I like this team a lot, but it’s also a reflection of the depth we hear so much about. All Carter-Williams needs to do in my mind is make me feel ok about the future of the point guard spot, and he’s done that. He tries to force things a bit too much when he enters games only to settle down later, but I’d rather that be a problem than a trend of passivity. If he plays big minutes in an important game this year, something probably went wrong somewhere along the line, but it’s tough to find myself worrying about a freshman in the Big East.
Scoop Jardine: C+: If Scoop begged me hard enough, I could probably change this to a B-, but only after wondering why he needs a blogger’s validation in the first place. I’m not going to deny that the show Scoop put on against Florida was the gutsiest performance by an SU player this season, but there have also been seven games – over half – where SU’s fifth-year senior has played less than 20 minutes. He also had a classic Scoop game with six turnovers against Virginia Tech. To play devil’s advocate to myself, when the season started, I hoped that having a slew of backcourt options would lead Boeheim to pull Scoop when he’s not performing well or just needs to see Carter-Williams in action or find a way to keep Dion Waiters on the court, and that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to be the guy who does nothing but mope about Scoop getting a long leash when he doesn’t deserve it only to later complain that he can’t stay on the court, but I think more should be expected from a player as experienced as Scoop is. To his credit, he’s endured throughout with a smile, even when some aspects of his play (67.2% on twos and a propensity for drawing fouls) suggest that he should be on the court slightly more often.
Brandon Triche: C-: I want Brandon Triche to succeed more than just about every player on this roster. But it still hasn’t happened yet, as we’re seeing the junior yet again struggling to overcome his reputation as a streaky player. All you have to do is look at his performance from this season in three very distinct segments.
First four games: 9 PPG, 37% FG, 21% 3FG
Next four games: 15.3 PPG, 51% FG, 50% 3FG
Last five games: 18.4 MPG, 6 PPG, 35.5% FG
If that doesn’t make you shrug your shoulders and think “well, that’s Brandon Triche for you,” you probably haven’t been following this team for very long. Fortunately, knowing Triche, he has a few good runs in him as long as he’s healthy, but I might be starting to give up on the notion that he’ll ever turn into a consistent scorer.
Rakeem Christmas: C+: Christmas has looked overwhelmed, dominant, lazy and active all at different points this season. Lately, he’s been active, but you also have to consider the competition. His four lowest playing time totals have come against Power Six competition, and for that reason, I don’t think he’ll be on the court long when the competition stiffens starting tonight. He needs to be ready at a moment’s notice, because…
Baye Moussa Keita: D: …because Baye Moussa Keita has gone completely AWOL. In a previous post, I noted that Southerland and Keita are similar in that if they aren’t applying their respective lone specialties, there’s absolutely no good reason to keep them on the court. Southerland has for the most part, which is why he’s closer to the top of this post, but Keita has plummeted all the way down to here. He may be shooting 75%, but the sample size is incredibly small (as it should be. Did you see his missed dunk? If you didn’t, well… a 6’10” dude who already provides little offensive value missed a dunk). Keita has taken 20 shots all season, and for reference, if you add Kris Joseph’s two highest-volume shooting games, you end up with 31 attempts. Keita’s problems on defense seem fixable, but he may be feeling the pressure of losing playing time to a freshman.
Mookie Jones: Incomplete: Mookie’s played just once in the last five weeks and has passed on any and all opportunities for mop-up duty, which is like looking a gift horse in the mouth. Hey! Mookie! There are starving children around the world who would love to be on the Carrier Dome floor for the last two minutes padding their stats against George Washington! I think that’s how the guilt trip is supposed to go, but the fumes from the Funyon dust strewn about my parents’ basement carpeting, coupled with the Pop-Tart sugar rush, don’t have me feeling very sure of myself at the moment.
Some extra credit is due to the walk-ons, headlined by Matt Tomaszewski and his hot hand. With DePaul and Providence coming up quickly, hopefully he gets a couple chances to keep his streak alive. I think there’s still room for the Orange to get better, as if undefeated and #1 in both major polls hasn’t been impressive enough. Whether or not they improve will be determined over the next three months.