This discussion pops up every year. It always does. It always will for as long as Jim Boeheim calls the coaching box home.
But this year is different.
This is the first year in awhile the Orange has had 10 players, distributed through the five positions evenly, that can contribute in every game. There's 10 talented players that bring a variety of skill sets to both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
There's 10 players that need to play in every game from here on out.
Take that in for a moment.
10 players. They can all play. They all deserve to play.
The whole "Mookie Jones and James Southerland are awful defenders and can't be trusted on the floor" argument is out of the window. It's a lazy excuse to fall back into the comforts of that seven, maybe eight man rotation.
Jones and Southerland have improved enough defensively that they are no longer utter disasters on that end of the floor. In fact, they are more balanced players than a recent fan favorite who received his fair share of playing time.Let's face it: Kristof Ongenaet was a disaster on the offensive end of the floor. He contributed little offensively, save for the occasional offensive rebound and back-breaking dunk. Although his playing situation was a little different (Syracuse needed an eighth man, especially a forward, which made him that guy), he still received serious minutes, 45% min% in 2008 and 32% in 2009.
Do James Southerland and Mookie Jones deserve those kinds of minutes? Probably not, but they, like Kristof! bring much-needed attributes to this Syracuse team. Southerland and Jones are the most capable three-point shooters on this team. They are the zone-breakers that most teams lack and consequently struggle against a zone like Syracuse's.
Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche showed last year they are capable shooters, but each fall into that trap the zone lures you into. While they are both solid sized guards (6'2 and 6'4), shooting over a zone has proven not to be their cup of tea.
Enter Southerland and Jones at 6'8 and 6'6.
Their shooting performances last night showed they are more than capable of hitting shots over a zone.
Yes, Southerland hasn't shown he can do it consistently, but Jones has. Last year he hit 45% of his threes. This year, he's been almost as good at 42%.
Do these guys deserve sixth man minutes? No, they still have the occasional lapse defensively, but when a team plays zone, one of these two players MUST be in the game.
Southerland has emerged as someone who brings it every day at practice (as opposed to last year when there were questions about his dedication). He should pull minutes away from CJ Fair (good defender, good against a man defense, worthless against a zone-defense) and Kris Joseph who hasn't shown he can hit consistently a three-point shot (and for what it's worth, looked absolutely lost defensively last night).
Finding minutes for Jones is a little tougher. Against a zone, it's reasonable to play him alongside either Triche or Jardine. Against man-defense, it's hard to envision him on the court when Jardine, Triche, and Dion Waiters are all so effective off the bounce.
Questioning his decision making is also a popular thing to do, but when you look at the raw stats, 143.7 offensive rating which means he essentially does no wrong offensively and his turnover rate of 5% (while the average guard is around 20%) is superior.
Besides justifying Jones taking minutes away from the other guards based on talent, there is an issue with his attitude. Would his attitude get better if he was playing and got a fair shot in real minutes? Maybe.
But Mookie gets his fair shot everyday in practice, and he's been an issue since practice started in the fall.
So in the end, Southerland absolutely deserves real minutes against good teams. Jones is more of the question mark. He should get his shot, but he needs to continue to earn. He definitely can contribute against Big East opponents, but for him, it is a matter of showing up everyday with the right attitude.