With Tyler Lydon now having officially declared for the NBA Draft, and with Tyus Battle announcing his intentions to stay at Syracuse, we’re starting to get a more complete feel for what the Orange basketball roster will look like in 2017-18. Let’s take a bit of a deeper dive, and also brainstorm how Jim Boeheim will round out his squad.
At his press conference the other day, Jim Boeheim made it pretty clear that Frank Howard, despite a lot of buzz about off-court issues, will be back next season to run the show. And as the only returner with experience running the point, it would appear to be his job to lose.
Now, obviously that could change if Boeheim decides to bolster the depth at the position even further, whether we’re talking about a graduate transfer or another high school prospect. But for now, the 6-foot-5 rising junior from Virginia should be expected to start. Behind him right now is Howard Washington, the 6-foot-3 incoming freshman from Buffalo, who has also played his high school ball at powerhouse Montverde as well as Athlete Institute Prep in Canada.
Washington has pretty good size, and knows how to run a team in the half court. He’s an above average shooter, though he’s not going to wow you with his athleticism. Ideally, Washington would be able to sit and learn for a year so that he can continue his development, and emerge in a year or two as a solid contributor in the rotation. He may not have that luxury, however, considering the lack of depth at the position.
If there’s one spot on the roster that Syracuse fans don’t need to worry about, it’s shooting guard. Now that Kid Mamba has stated he’s coming back to Syracuse, this position is in very good hands. At least, in the starting five, anyway… because as of right now, Battle is literally the only shooting guard set to be on next year’s roster.
Obviously, Battle is poised for a breakout season and could be an All-ACC performer next year. Over his final seven games this year, he poured in better than 17 points-per-game, and began looking far more confident using his better than average handle to attack the rim. He showed plenty of strength and body control to finish in traffic, and if he can keep that up in addition to continuing to improve his perimeter game… watch out.
But, again, when you look behind Battle at this position, you’ll see a giant, gaping void. Syracuse badly needs to address guard depth in general, particularly when it comes to backcourt scoring. More on this position in just a little bit.
The only position on the roster with less depth than shooting guard. Now, certainly, both Matthew Moyer and Oshae Brissett could play a little small forward for the Orange but it’s not the natural position for either player. Both players are about 6-foot-8 and do more damage closer to the hoop, where they can use their length and tenacity to get rebounds and go up in traffic.
Basically, you’re looking at two players who handle and shoot the ball well enough to cause serious matchup problems for opposing defenses when they’re playing the power forward position, but at this stage in their careers don’t quite have the skill set to play small forward full time. Obviously, we’ve got a long offseason ahead of us. They’ll continue to work on their perimeter games and ballhandling, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see one – or both – emerge as viable options in the fall.
However, this is a position that more than likely needs to be addressed, particularly as it relates to replacing Andrew White’s three point shooting.
Offensively, Syracuse looks to be in good shape at power forward. Defense is where the Orange desperately need an upgrade. I’m not entirely convinced Taurean Thompson starts at power forward (he’ll start, no doubt – but don’t be surprised if he’s the starting center on next year’s team), but if he does remain at the four, he’ll give the Orange one of the most talented scoring power forwards in the ACC.
Both Moyer and Brissett are more natural fits at power forward, as well, and as I mentioned above, could become serious matchup problems for opposing teams given their ability to work on the perimeter from time to time. At this point, power forward would appear – on paper, at least – to be the most stacked position on next year’s roster.
What to make of Paschal Chukwu? We didn’t get to see much of the 7-foot-2 transfer from Providence last year, but when we did see him… well, I admit I remain wary. Chukwu appeared lost much of the time, and I’m still not sure he’s strong enough to be a starting center in the ACC, not to mention his lack of an offensive game at this stage in his career. If you look at Syracuse’s roster, you’d assume he would be the starting center. To be perfectly frank with you: I’m not even sure if, by the end of the season, he isn’t the third string center.
That’s because, as I alluded to above, I think there’s a very real possibility that Taurean Thompson starts at center, and on top of that, I firmly believe Bourama Sidibe will be more ready to play than people are expecting. At 6-foot-10 and with an improving game, Sidibe might just surprise people next year and play a much larger role than most expect.
Who Else Will Be Added?
This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Syracuse currently has only eight of its 11 scholarships spoken for, so the Orange could bring in three more players to shore up its lineup and depth.
The most likely addition at this point is Eric Ayala, the 6-foot-5 combination guard who could help bolster point guard depth and slide over to shooting guard to give that position some more depth, as well. The issue with Ayala, obviously, is that as of right now he’s still in the class of 2018. A decision to reclassify could come at any time. If he does reclassify, it almost certainly means he’s going to be Orange.
Another name to keep an eye on is another case where Syracuse would need a reclassification to occur. I’m talking about Hameir Wright here, obviously. Wright, the 6-foot-8 forward from Albany, was recently named the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of New York, and until recently was an AAU teammate of Buddy Boeheim’s, so he’s obviously very familiar to and close with the Boeheims. He was originally a member of the class of 2017, then chose to reclassify to 2018 to get an extra year of development, but apparently is open to reclassifying back to 2017:
Spoke with Albany Academy's Hameir Wright, ESPN's Top 25 recruit for 2017/2018. Supposed to go to Brewster, but left 2017 option open.
— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) March 22, 2017
This would be a major get for Syracuse, and solidify the small forward position for the Orange. It’s definitely a situation to monitor moving forward.
Chris Duarte remains an option, and I’m still intrigued by Slovakian forward Marek Dolezaj. The most ideal situation, though, at least in my estimation, would be to get both Ayala and Wright to reclassify and join the class of 2017 at Syracuse, and then look to add one more three point shooting threat from the graduate transfer market. While a few names have emerged in that department (Geno Thorpe, Elijah Brown) but it’s still far too early to get an idea of who the true gems will be. After all, no one knew that Andrew White was going to be available until well after the NBA Draft Combine.
All we can do for now is wait and see how things shake out for Syracuse basketball as we head into the spring. The next signing period runs from April 12 until May 17, though obviously that’s just to sign a letter of intent – which, just as a reminder, isn’t a document a commit actually needs to sign.