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Kris Joseph vs. Wes Johnson


I'll take a break from offering unsolicited opinions regarding the Bernie Fine case to get back to the diversion that is Syracuse basketball on the court.

I've been among those that have been waiting for Kris Joseph to make "the leap" and morph into Wesley Johnson 2.0.  I'm sure we all remember the impact that Wes had on the 2009-10 Orange team.  He was a dynamic player who excelled at most every aspect of the game.  He could shoot, rebound, run the floor, play stifling defense and was an absolutely uncanny shot blocker for a small forward.  He was a master of the game changing play.  Whether it was a monster weak side block or a rim rattling dunk, Wes almost never failed to provide at least one, "Wow, I'm glad he on our side," moment a game.

Kris Joseph, on the other hand, seems disappointing in comparison.  Just about every game so far in the 2011-12 season has left me wondering, "Why didn't KJ show up in this one?".  I've seen several comments on the game threads echoing that sentiment.  But then I look at the box score, and the stat sheet ninja that is Kris Joseph appears; an 18-8 game here, a 20-10 there.  All while being as innocuous as a leading scorer can possibly be.  So, this begs the question, how do they compare?

Where Wes' game was based largely on explosive athleticism, KJ's is much smoother.  He doesn't explode to the rim as much as he glides to it.  That's not to say he's any less athletic then Wes.  I recall seeing an AP photo of a recent game that showed KJ going up for a two-handed dunk with both elbows even with the rim.  KJ makes such athleticism look to effortless that it's easy to miss.  He almost looks like he's playing a high-level pickup game.  In the past it's made him look a bit helter-skelter, but he's really tightened it up this season and is playing efficient ball.

Of course athleticism alone doesn't make a great player (see: Harris, Paul).  There needs to be some measure of skill to harness the raw talent.  Both Wes and KJ have similar skill sets, with each possessing distinct advangages.  Wes was a better overall defender where KJ has a much better handle and ability to get to the rim.  In fact, many thought that the biggest hole in Wes's game was that, for all his athleticism, he couldn't get to the rim on his own.  He either shot spot up 3's or got into the lane off of cuts and dives to the basket.  KJ, on the other hand, has built his game on a foundation of wild forays into the lane, finishing with an array of unorthodox layups and finger rolls.  The degree of difficulty is higher, but in the end, buckets are buckets.

In the end, playing style pales compared to production and the ability to lead the team to W's.  Statistically, the Kris Joseph that many of us Orange fans see as sub-par is virtually equal to the Wes Johnson that we remember as a game changer.  Through six games, KJ is averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds.  Through his first six games, Wes Johnson averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds.  It should be noted that KJ's numbers include the Colgate game, in which he only logged 13 minutes and posted a mere 4 points and 1 rebound.  Wes had no such game in his first six.  If KJ had logged his average minutes (27) against Colgate, chances are his 6 game numbers would be even closer to Wes'.  Also, despite the small sample size, Wes' final numbers (16.5 PPG and 8.5 RPG) aren't too far off from the 6-game mark.  It's reasonable to project that KJ's seasonal production with be around his 6-game production as well.

Stats only matter if they lead to W's there are too many situational factors to say whose stats were more important to one win or another.  But for those of us who have been waiting for Kris Joseph to tap his inner Wes Johnson, I think he already has.  We just have to look a bit harder to see it.

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