With Malachi Richardson officially gone to the NBA, Jim Boeheim’s squad finds itself looking pretty undermanned at the guard position. Right now there are only eight scholarship players on the Orange roster, and while there are a couple more potential additions, it’s almost certain that the backcourt is set as we head toward 2016-2017.
As it stands right now, there will be a three man rotation at the guard spot heading into next year, which in theory isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Syracuse has survived with thin backcourts in the past, perhaps most notably in 1995-1996, when Lazarus Sims and Jason Cipolla helped the Orangemen get to the championship game with Marius Janulis – who was really more of a small forward to begin with – providing a bit of depth.
Of course, one thing that sets this year’s backcourt apart from that one in particular is that, while there may be only three scholarship guards, all three of them can really handle the ball. That certainly adds some flexibility, given that each of the three scholarship guys have very distinct games and skill sets.
Tyus Battle is a name that people are going to become very familiar with next season (providing he stays healthy, which is certainly a bit of a concern given that he’s had some nagging injury issues that contributed to his stock dropping in top 100 rankings). The 6-foot-6 combo guard is basically a prototype scoring guard, but handles the ball well enough to run the point. He’s a superb athlete with a lighting quick first step, and will do a lot of his offensive damage penetrating the lane and finishing strong around the rim.
Battle can shoot a bit, too, but right now I would anticipate he’ll likely wind up around 32% from long range, if I had to guess. Certainly good enough to keep defenses honest and provide him room to drive, but he’s definitely more of a slasher than a shooter. He can score from all three levels (in the paint, in the midrange, and from deep) but he’s at his most effective when he takes it to the rack.
Someone who can shoot is John Gillon, though he’s also very good at getting penetration. That’s going to be the key difference between next year’s backcourt and this past season, by the way: last year the guards did the bulk of their damage from beyond the arc and often settled for jumpers; this year, all three guards are adept at driving the lane. But Gillon will be the shooter in the backcourt next season, after hitting 39% from deep his first two seasons before taking a bit of a step back with a 33% clip last year.
I’d expect Gillon to bounce back in his final college season, and become particularly effective when he shares the court with Battle and Tyler Lydon, who will both demand plenty of attention from opposing defenses. Having Battle’s ability to take it to the rim and Lydon’s ability to knock it down from deep will help keep those defenses honest, allowing Gillon to be a third option and find some good looks from downtown.
Now, Gillon will become the second scoring option whenever he shares the court with Frank Howard (unless we see some combinations that include all three guards – with Battle at the small forward and Lydon at power forward or even center). Howard emerged as a potentially terrific playmaker at the point guard position down the stretch last year, and will have the ball in his hands early this year as he takes on a much, much larger role.
Howard has excellent size for a point guard and, while he’s still perhaps a little too flashy for his own good, he’ll no doubt learn that making the smart decision is better than trying to force the dazzling one. I also expect his shooting to get a bump as he continues to work at his jumper in the offseason, but right now I’m not anticipating a ton of scoring from the 6-foot-4 rising sophomore. I’d anticipate him shooting in the mid-20s from long range, though hopefully he can get that number up around 30%. If he can do that, it’ll be a big boost for the Orange.
There’s speculation about which two guards will start out of this three man rotation, but at this point I think it’s pretty clear that the frontrunners to take the court for the opening tip are Gillon and Battle. Neither player was brought in to sit, and while Howard has flashed some terrific potential, Gillon will likely get the nod thanks to his experience and leadership – something in which Syracuse is in short supply.
That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges this season, by the way. Yes, we could talk about replacing the shooting and scoring and defense and size of last year’s starting backcourt of Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, but arguably the most crucial loss from their graduation is their leadership. This is going to be a young, relatively inexperienced Syracuse team next year, and they’re going to need leaders to step up if there’s going to be any sort of success.
Gillon could provide that, and I think Dajuan Coleman will emerge as the team’s emotional leader next year as well. Tyler Roberson will lead by example, but doesn’t really possess the personality to become an alpha dog in the huddle. Don’t be surprised if Syracuse pursues another graduate transfer late in order to help not just on the court, but in the leadership department as well.
Getting back to the backcourt, my guess is that Gillon and Battle will get the start, and Battle will wind up playing the most minutes out of the three guards, with Gillon just behind him. Howard gives Boeheim the flexibility coming off the bench to sub for either guard, with Battle playing almost exclusively at shooting guard, while Gillon will be able to move off the ball and focus on being a scorer and shooter when he shares the court with Howard.
Right now, if you’re looking for numbers, here are my predictions:
Tyus Battle – 14.5 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 2.3 APG
John Gillon – 12.2 PPG / 2.2 RPG / 4.4 APG
Frank Howard – 6.7 PPG / 3.4 RPG / 4.1 APG
There’s still a very slim chance that Syracuse could add one more guard, but at this point the only feasible option is probably Hamidou Diallo reclassifying to 2016 and choosing the Orange, and the odds of that happening are extremely slim. To paraphrase Hoosiers coach Norman Dale, “This is your backcourt.”
I decided to look back at the past few years, to see what the guard rotation has looked like since the 2009-2010 season. Spoiler alert: it’s basically been a three guard rotation every year: