Syracuse forward C.J. Fair attacking the basket. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician is putting a bow on the 2011-12 Syracuse Orange basketball season by recapping how each scholarship player performed and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2012-13. In honor of their status as student-athletes (insert Fab Melo joke here) we will score each player’s performance on an A-F scale, and offer some suggestions on what they can work on in the offseason (a.k.a. "summer school").
CJ was Mr. Reliable for the 2011-12 Orange. Most of the time he didn't put up spectacular numbers, but Coach Boeheim knew what he was going to get out of his sophomore forward. Aside from a dip in production in the last regular season game and Syracuse's first Big East Tournament game, CJ was a virtual lock for his 8/5 despite usually playing out of position at power forward. CJ is great in the lane, finishing around the rim on offense and is an effective rebounder and zone defender. His jumper is solid out to 15 feet and he shows judicious use of a newly developed 3 point shot. He was the perfect complimentary piece when Syracuse needed to play the power game.
The staple of CJ's game is simply being in the right place at the right time on both ends of the floor. On defense that means being in position to make a steal, a block or to grab a rebound. On offense that means finding the open spots on the floor that allow him to do what he does best: shoot from mid-range or attack the rim. When CJ catches the ball a step out of the lane, he's good at either taking the shot, or taking one dribble and getting to the rim for a hoop or a foul. Much like Kris Joseph, though, if CJ has to take more than a dribble or two, his handle fails him and he tends to turn the ball over. Luckily, CJ almost always plays within himself and rarely makes a bad play as a result.
Playing within himself, though, also leads CJ to appear conservative at times. He always makes good, solid plays but they're also always safe plays. This is a good quality for a role player to have, but as his role on the team expands on the future, he's going to have to learn to take risks. As the oft criticized Scoop Jardine has proven, the safe play won't always get the job done. With playmakers Joseph, Jardine and Dion Waiters departing, it'll be on players like Fair to be a bigger part of creating offense rather than only being the beneficiary.
CJ didn't have the exponential improvement of, say, Fab Melo between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but the expansion of his game shows that he's willing and able to improve by putting in hours in the gym. He's likely going to be counted on to be a double-digit scorer next season, so increasing confidence in the things he already does well is key. CJ needs to continue to work on his jumper, in order to increase his consistency in the mid-range and to make him a more viable threat from the three point line (6-24 3PFG in 2011-12). He also needs to improve his handle to the point where he's a threat from just inside the three point line, either to get all the way to the rim or to pull up.
The most glaring hole in CJ's game is his utter inability to go to his right hand. Much like the beloved southpaw Rick Jackson before him, CJ always goes back to his dominant left hand, which makes him far too easy to guard for any team with a halfway decent scouting operation. If CJ is going to have success as a slashing swingman, he's going to have to develop at least a passing competency going to his right. He doesn't necessarily need to have the near ambidexterity of Scoop or Dion, but the ability to make a play going that direction is critical to his development.
Final Grade: A-