Anyone who has watched this team knows that almost every player currently seeing playing time is capable of contributing. Naturally, there is a lot of talk of, "What if we could put it all together and play 40 minutes of good basketball?" and then when we only play 25 minutes of good ball, "Why can't we play a complete game?" I've been watching games and racking my brain trying to answer the latter question. And I think I finally have it figured out...
Roles. They're important. Last year it was very clear what everyone's role was. Wes Johnson was our star. He hit threes, finished in transition with thunderous dunks, passed the ball well, rebounded on both ends of the floor, was capable of taking over the game even when he wasn't taking a ton of shots, and he covered a ton of ground on the wing of the zone. Andy was our second banana, but the emotional leader of the team. He was our sharp-shooter, an excellent passer, the guy who always drained a big three when we needed one, and the smartest defender I've ever seen at Syracuse in the top of the zone. AO anchored the zone on defense, rebounded well, could get his shot off if he got the ball down low, and finished around the hoop with either hand. Rick was the garbage man. He was in there for tough defense, rebounding, and second chance points. We never ran plays for him, but he still contributed, and was capable of spelling AO at center when needed. Kris Joseph was instant offense off the bench. He was great in transition, a fearless slasher, a great change of pace to Wes, and still long and athletic in the zone. Triche's job as the starting PG was to play defense, bring the ball up the court, run the break, occasionally knock down an open shot to keep teams honest, but his job was basically to defer to Wes and Andy on offense. Scoop spelled Triche off the bench, ran the break, distributed the ball, and played defense, but any offense you got from him was usually just a bonus.
But last year was last year and this year's team has struggled to understand what their roles are...
Fortunately for the remainder of our season, I think tonight's game and the 2nd half of Louisville cemented some trends in who is going to play what role going forward.
Triche is our horse. I thought for sure it was going to be Joseph, but I was wrong. When we need a hoop, I want the ball in Triche's hands, taking a shot off a screen, or (even better) driving to the hoop, and having the option to kick out or finish. He's been our best, most reliable offensive player of late, and he's our best decision-maker. I think Triche was as wary as anyone about owning the role of "go-to-guy," but a light bulb has gone off in his head and he realizes this team needs the offense to flow through him. Kris is our second banana. I'm comfortable with him shooting open 3's, and taking the ball to the hoop, but giving him the ball on the perimeter and asking him to do it alone, doesn't work. Rick is our third option. Running the high/low with him is imperative to opening up our offense in half-court sets. If they don't double, I'm happy to see him back his way in and put up that lefty hook. If they do double, he needs to quickly realize what's going on and find the open player. Keita should never touch the ball on offense unless he's completely and totally wide open or grabbing an offensive rebound. His job is to defend and rebound and be long and active. That's it. Scoop thought his role was to be a leader for this team. He was wrong. Like Keita, he's essentially a role player. His job is to run the break, bring the ball up the court, distribute to his teammates, and not make so many scoopid mistakes. CJ Fair is our energy guy off the bench. We don't need to run plays for him, but I like him getting the ball around the hoop or taking guys off the dribble. And for an undersized forward, he's been great on defense and on the boards. Fearless. For all the talk about how deep this team is, we're only able to give 6 guys meaningful minutes. That's it; those are the guys who need to contribute for us to win.
Waiters has played his way out of the rotation in my opinion. If Scoop or Triche needs a quick breather, he can get a minute or two here or there, but as bad as Scoop has been at (key) times, Waiters has been so much worse. Don't get me wrong, I think the guy is going to be great, but right now, he's a liability on both ends of the floor the entire time he's in there. Scoop makes some awful decisions at seemingly the worst possible moments (another idiotic ally-oop pass tonight?!?!), but over our last 9 games he has 52 assists vs. 25 turnovers, and he's 14-34 from 3 (or just better than 41%). Dion in limited time over the same stretch has 11 assists and 9 turnovers and is 5-24 from 3 (or just under 21%). So essentially Dion is more selfish, takes worse care of the ball, shoots significantly worse from the outside, and is worse on defense. There's a reason why Boeheim played Joseph at the 2 when Triche went to the bench with his 4th foul. Southerland has a ton of potential, and has shown he can shoot it, but he hasn't hit shots in a while, he doesn't rebound, and he's a liability in the zone on defense. Unless the other team is playing zone against us and Kris and Scoop and Triche are all missing shots, there is no reason he should be on the floor. And for those calling for Mookie to play, you're out of your mind. The guy is very good spot-up shooter, but guess what, he's only shooting 39% from 3 this year (against the second unit players in our weak out of conference schedule mind you). Is the one or two extra 3's his totally one-dimensional offensive game might produce worth the total defensive liability that he brings to every defensive possession? Absolutely not.
So we're 6 deep. Maybe Fab or Waiters plays a few minutes here or there, but the fewer the better. Only being 6 deep is asking a lot of those 6 guys, but I think if they embrace their roles (Triche, Joseph, and Rick carrying the scoring load in that order, Fair bringing energy on both ends off the bench, Scoop distributing the ball, and focusing more on his defense and decision-making, than on his scoring, Keita playing defense and rebounding, then this team can and will start elevating the level of their play. And if they don't, you'll see more stagnation, confusion, standing around, bad body language, and poor decisions in half-court offensive sets, which seems to lead to bad shots and turnovers, which leads to mental breakdowns on defense, all of which combine to cause losses. I guess we'll see what happens over the final four games, but I think Triche fully embraces his role as our horse and we win 3 out of 4.