Go ahead, get rankled. Get fired up. I’m saying something that you probably find entirely foolish, and right about now you’re questioning my basketball acumen even more than usual. Because I’m telling you right now: there’s a scenario in which Tyler Lydon, the guy I’ve been pegging as the most talented player on the roster for two years now, could come off the bench in 2016-17.
Obviously, this depends entirely on one very important thing: whether or not Andrew White III is part of this year’s roster. It’s looking more and more likely that he will be, and there’s buzz that a decision could come as soon as today. So for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume that, yes, Andrew White will be on the Syracuse roster this season.
Now, that will give us a roster that looks like this:
PG John Gillon (GR)
PG Frank Howard (SO)
SG Tyus Battle (FR)
SG/SF Andrew White (GR)
SF/PF Tyler Lydon (SO)
SF/PF Matthew Moyer (FR)
PF Tyler Roberson (SR)
PF Taurean Thompson (FR)
C Dajuan Coleman (SR)
C Paschal Chukwu (SO)
That’s a very, very talented roster, and allows the Orange to go two deep at every position. Now, keep in mind that Matthew Moyer was recently spotted in a walking boot, and the extent of his injury is unknown at the moment. He could be ready for practice, but it could also be a more serious issue that we’ll learn about later.
But we’re only focusing on the starting lineup. Syracuse features two players who started every game last season, in Roberson and Coleman. Lydon came off the bench in every game, while Frank Howard appeared in 32 of the team’s 37 games.
Let’s back it up a year, to 2014-15. Coleman sat out the year with an injury, while Roberson started 19 of the 28 games in which he appeared. In 2013-14, Coleman started 12 of the 13 games in which he appeared, while Roberson, as a freshman, started one time in 20 appearances. In Coleman’s freshman season in 2012-13, the J-D product started 20 of 24 games in which he appeared.
In other words, with minimal exceptions, Dajuan Coleman starts at Syracuse as long as he’s healthy. Tyler Roberson has been a starter for two years, and Jim Boeheim virtually never banishes a senior from the starting lineup, particularly if he’s been a long-time starter. Because of these factors, I find it very hard to believe that either Coleman or Roberson begins the year coming off the bench. Now, will they finish the game? That’s a very different story.
But let’s put that aside, because right now, I’m going to tentatively pencil in those two players as starters. History suggests that both Roberson and Coleman will be in the starting five when the season tips off.
That leaves three spots up for grabs, with a number of players capable of filling those roles. The point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions are, with the players in question here, pretty fluid and symbiotic. By that I mean what happens at small forward impacts what happens at shooting guard, and what happens at shooting guard impacts what happens at point guard.
Let’s get one thing straight: Tyus Battle isn’t coming off the bench. He’s quite possibly the most talented guard prospect Jim Boeheim has ever recruited, and trust me when I say that I know that seems like hyperbole. But he’s nearly 6-foot-7, handles the ball well, is lightning quick, an explosive athlete, and a pure scorer. Battle is the prototype for an NBA shooting guard, and if you believe some of the rumors surrounding his recruitment, it was strongly hinted to him that no matter what, he’ll be a starter this season.
The only question is whether it’ll be at point guard or shooting guard. And that brings us directly to Tyler Lydon and Andrew White. I don’t believe for a second that a graduate transfer like John Gillon or Andrew White comes in to sit on the bench, and both players are highly talented, experienced guys. Because of this, I think there’s a very real chance that Gillon starts at the point, and White starts at small forward, with Battle playing the two.
Yes, that means a starting five of: PG Gillon / SG Battle / SF White / PF Roberson / C Coleman
And, amazingly, that means that Tyler Lydon – the guy who has a very good chance of being a lottery pick this year – would be coming off the bench. Of course, he’d still almost certainly log around 33-35 minutes per game, and would 100% be on the floor during crunch time. He’d be a starter in everything but title.
The thing is this: out of everyone on the roster, he’s also the guy I think has the right kind of mentality to handle it. He’s a sophomore, but he’s also mature enough to understand that while he may not be listed as a starter, he’s still one of – if not the – most important player on the team. Lydon coming off the bench would also give Boeheim a ton of flexibility with that first substitution. He could come in for literally any player in the starting five, and the team would boast the versatility to make it work.
Does he need to come in for Roberson? Perfect, doesn’t change a thing. Gillon picks up two early fouls? Okay, Lydon comes in, Battle slides over to the point, White goes to the two, and Lydon plays the three. Dajuan is struggling early? Lydon – with a year of experience playing center out of sheer necessity last year – can slot in there, too.
I’m not saying that other guys don’t have the mental toughness to take coming off the bench, or that their egos are too big to handle it. But when you’re talking about two grad transfers, a stud freshman recruited to start, and two guys who have started the majority of their games in Orange, things get a little complicated. Lydon – who passed up a chance to be a first round draft pick this year without hesitation so that he could come back and get another shot at winning a title – seems to understand what it takes to win, and is willing to do it.
This year, “what it takes” could be the team’s best player starting the game on the bench. It seems unfathomable, I know. But it’s suddenly a realistic scenario.