Trevor Cooney is a senior and a leader for the Syracuse Orange basketball team. This we know. What we don't know -- at least not yet -- is what type of leader he'll need to be for this squad as the year goes on.
Through two games, one place may NOT (surprisingly) be three-point shooting.
We've known for a little while now that Syracuse plans to shoot more threes this year. And you can't be blamed for thinking Cooney would be a big part of that surge. But from what we've seen in our small sample thus far, the contributions of others (Malachi Richardson, Michael Gbinije -- even Kaleb Joseph, to an extent) have overshadowed Cooney's once-vaunted range. We can chalk it up to early jitters, but consider:
- Cooney's three-point percentage (if this year's holds) has now dropped year-over-year for three straight seasons. When he started as a regular contributor in 2013-14, he hit over 37 percent of threes. That number dipped to nearly 31 percent last season. And so far this year? he's at a little over 29 percent.
- But his attempts per game have gone up each year too. From 9.8 per game in 2013-14, it's now at 12.5 per game.
- Since hitting 40 percent or more threes (six attempts minimum) in 15 of his first 22 games of 2013-14, Cooney has accomplished the feat just 11 times in the 45 games since.
With other players (Richardson, Gbinije) seemingly stepping up from beyond the arc, it may be time to evolve Cooney's game. He's obviously a valuable part of the team, and his leadership and experience could do wonders for a young group (I mean, how many freshmen get to learn from a senior with Final Four experience?). But his original purpose of being a three-point specialist might have to go by the wayside. Luckily, despite the diminishing returns from three, there are actually plenty of other places he can continue to make a major impact:
In the past, Cooney's been seen as a high-risk, high-reward defender who seems to cheat too much for steals. And he still may be. BUT, this year, he's started off with a higher success rate and it's creating more opportunities for the Orange offense on the other end. His seven steals (3.5 per) so far are tops on the team, and if he can come close to those numbers for a full season, that's potentially another 6 or more scoring chances he's creating for Syracuse -- something that can make up for his lack of three-point shooting success.
Cooney has always been viewed as a quality free throw shooter. And despite the slightly lower percentage as time has gone by, he's still likely to outpace most of the rest of the team, hitting around 77-80 percent. In two games, he's managed to get to the line for 6.5 shots per game -- a huge mark-up from last year's 3.1. If he can continue to draw fouls (which also means driving the lane more, I'd bet), that's an extra two or three points per game from the line over last year. Again, if we're removing him from taking the majority of threes, we need to replace the scoring. This is another way to do that.
Of these three identified areas, this one may have the most potential to continue to grow. Cooney sees the court fairly well, has the experience with many of our opponents' defenses and can (with less threes) keep himself an offensive focal point by passing to other open shooters. Richardson and Gbinije are good. And Kaleb Joseph's been relegated to the Jim Boeheim's trademark doghouse. Perhaps Cooney can be a point guard of sorts for a team that still needs someone to step up in that role. Distribution creates baskets, and if he's still seen as a shooting threat (by way of driving the lane more), that should open up the perimeter for other players to take shots.
This isn't a demand for Cooney to stop shooting threes all together. Or even a demand at all. Just a possible suggestion that there's ways the senior guard can reduce his threes while continuing to play a major role on the court. As a smart, crafty senior, Cooney plays a valuable (possibly vital) role for this squad, and Syracuse is obviously better off when he's playing well. If he can evolve to emphasize some other elements of his game, perhaps that proverbial monkey of struggling from three could also come off his back too.