If it seems like only a few months ago we were wondering whether Syracuse would have anything resembling depth at the forward positions, that’s because it was. At the start of the summer, what is now the deepest position on the team was desperate for answers. Fortunately, two big answers were added, though they’ve led to another question: how will the minutes shake out?
Back in May, the forward rotation consisted of Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, and Matthew Moyer. That’s it. Now, the Orange have only added two players to that mix, but man…what a pair of additions. With Andrew White and Taurean Thompson, Syracuse bolstered both forward positions and, quite frankly, the shooting guard and center positions, as well.
Now, let’s just address that right off the bat. I don’t think for a minute that Andrew White’s natural position is shooting guard. To me, he’s a small forward, through and through. But the word coming out of practice is that he’s most definitely going to be spending time at the two and the three this year, but for the sake of this discussion I’m going to lump him in with the forwards since the three is his most natural position.
So let’s take a look at the forwards currently on the roster:
- PF Tyler Roberson (Senior)
- SF/PF Tyler Lydon (Sophomore)
- SF Andrew White (Graduate)
- SF/PF Matthew Moyer (Freshman)
- PF Taurean Thompson (Freshman)
That’s a pretty nice group of forwards, giving Jim Boeheim a lot of flexibility with his rotation – though I think it should be noted that Thompson and Moyer are going to be the 9th and 10th men, respectively. That’s not a statement against them; almost any other year, both players would have a good chance of cracking the rotation. This year, there’s just too much talent and experience ahead of them.
First things first: when sorting out the minutes, you have to factor in both who starts the game, and who finishes it. Syracuse is in a tricky spot because at the moment, there are really almost too many quality players who could realistically start for the Orange this season. It’s not a bad problem to have at all, unless you’re the one doling out minutes.
Let’s clear one thing up, right off the bat: Andrew White and Tyler Roberson are going to start. White didn’t transfer to the Orange to sit on the bench, and his physicality and shooting ability are too good to leave on the sideline. Roberson, meanwhile, is an incumbent starter and – when he’s on – one of the best rebounders in the country. It’s not really in Jim Boeheim’s nature to suddenly bench a senior incumbent starter.
Tyler Lydon is the real wild card in this equation. I’ve talked before about how conceivable it is that he may be best suited as the team’s sixth man, though indications are starting to come out that the team’s most talented big man is almost certainly going to be in the starting five. To my amazement, that likely sends Tyus Battle to the bench.
I know, I know. I’ve gone on and on and on about how good Tyus Battle is – and he absolutely is that good. But while the hints during his recruitment were that he was coming to Syracuse to start, obviously circumstances to change. At that point, for instance, no one knew that Andrew White would be added to the mix, or John Gillon, for that matter – creating a bit more of a cluster at Battle’s positions (shooting guard, mostly, but also a bit of point guard). Make no mistake about it: down the stretch, I think you’re likely to see Battle, White, and Lydon all on the floor together. After that, it remains to be seen who will fill out the rest of that “closing five.”
That said, while I think Lydon starts at small forward, chances are you’ll see at least as much of him at power forward or even center, as Battle enters the game and White shifts from shooting guard to small forward, and Roberson either stays at the four or leaves the game.
White may not start the game at forward, but it’s likely that’s where he’ll spend a large chunk of his time, just like Lydon is probably going to get the lion’s share of his minutes away from the small forward position. Again: this roster has a ton of flexibility.
This is a supremely talented Syracuse team. It could potentially be one of the most talented in the last 20 years, rivaling the 2002-2003 championship squad, as well as the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 teams (both of which, it could be argued, may well have won championships if not for unfortunately timed mishaps – both of the physical and academic variety – of the center on each of those rosters).
Right now, though, there are certainly questions surrounding the team. Not in terms of talent, of course. Syracuse has a plethora of talented players this year. The questions, instead, revolve around how best to utilize it. It’ll be fascinating to watch how things shake out, particularly with regard to the logjam at the forward positions.