It was huge news for Syracuse when Tyus Battle withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. With the return of Kid Mamba, the Orange return all five starters from a year ago, while also bolstering the bench with players like Jalen Carey and Elijah Hughes.
But while last year Syracuse was hindered by a lack of depth (particularly at the guard position when Geno Thorpe quit and Howard Washington tore his ACL), this year Jim Boeheim will have to juggle a multitude of guards, two of whom were among the national leaders in minutes-per-game.
Frank Howard and Tyus Battle are clearly the starting backcourt. They started all last year, and even with the added talent, there’s virtually zero chance they aren’t side-by-side at the top of the zone when the season tips off. Howard played 38.4 minutes-per-game and Battle logged a staggering 39.0, sheerly out of necessity.
This year, though, how much will their playing time decrease now that Boeheim has more options and depth? And how will Hughes fit into the equation?
The thought process has been that Hughes could log some minutes at small forward, particularly given the lack of depth at the two forward spots. While Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj are back and will log the vast majority of time as, essentially, interchangeable forwards, there should be enough time here and there for Hughes (who doesn’t have ideal height for a forward, but is a strong, powerful athlete).
Now, we could try to convince ourselves that, finally, Jim Boeheim will start playing a deeper bench. Every time Syracuse has a little depth, we all talk ourselves into believing this will be the year.
I’ve got a newsflash, though: this is almost certainly not going to be the year. The rotation will likely go to eight players when the ACC schedule kicks off, and that’s about it. The starting five, Bourama Sidibe, Hughes, and Carey will most likely be the guys who see action except in blowouts. That’s not to slight guys like Howard Washington, Buddy Boeheim, and Robert Braswell, either. Washington may not be fully recovered from his ACL by the time the season starts, putting him at a disadvantage for playing time. Boeheim is an elite shooter, but probably not quite ready to contribute too much, and Braswell has talent and athleticism, but is nowhere near ready physically, in terms of size and strength.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that we’ll see both Howard and Battle playing in the 33-35 minute range this year. The last time Syracuse had this much depth at the guard positions was 2011-12, when the Orange had Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, and Michael Carter-Williams. Scoop played a little over 25 minutes-per-game, the most of that quartet. But we can’t really compare that group to this one, simply because it’s such a different situation.
Battle is firmly entrenched as the alpha dog on this team, and Howard – who has his Scoop-esque moments of frustrating plays in between big threes and dazzling passes – is the far more likely candidate to get a little more pine time. Could he dip back down under 30 MPG? Sure. It’s feasible that, with the athletic and talented Carey now in the mix, Frank could go down to about 28 minutes-per-game, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. More rest means fresher legs deeper into the season, and this certainly looks like a team that could make a run in March.
Given how many minutes both Battle and Howard will likely play, it’s hard to project where Hughes and Carey fit into the equation, particularly Carey. Boeheim hasn’t been afraid to keep talented first-year guards on the bench, of course. Just look at Waiters and MCW, both of whom played somewhat sparingly as freshmen. Carey has a ton of talent, but it’s hard to imagine him getting more than around 15 minutes-per-game, simply because of the two upperclassmen firmly entrenched in their roles ahead of him.
In a recent article on Syracuse.com, Buddy Boeheim told Donna Ditota that, while he isn’t currently planning on taking a redshirt, it’s certainly a possibility. And with Washington, who saw a small amount of playing time here and there last season before his injury, the bigger question is how well he recovers, and whether he’s fully healed. With an ACL injury, you just never know. So for the time being, we can probably pretty safely leave them out of the discussion for guard minutes.
Figure about 35 minutes for Battle, and probably around 32 for Frank. With Hughes sliding over to the small forward spot here and there, he should be able to find 22-24 minutes, and then take over the starting shooting guard spot in 2019-20 when Battle is gone to the NBA. When you add in Carey, who I’m guessing will be in the 12-15 MPG range before taking over at the point when Howard graduates, you’ve basically used up all of the minutes at the guard positions.
Having plenty of depth is a good problem to have, of course. It’s a luxury that seems to always avoid Jim Boeheim’s teams. But for me, I’m glad it’s the Hall of Famer and not myself trying to figure out how to get so many talented guards on the floor in a 40 minute game.