Welcome to the first installment of what will be a weekly series in this corner of the internet. Each Monday during Syracuse basketball season, I'll be sharing what I believe to be the most telling statistics related to the Orange, while also giving some thoughts on said statistics.
I'll be keeping a running log of the plus-minus numbers of the lineups Syracuse uses most frequently. Aside from that, these statistics will mostly be advanced statistics that you can't find in a box score. I'll be pulling statistics from kenpom.com, hoop-math.com and shotanalytics.com — all sites I'd highly recommend subscribing to if you want a different perspective on SU basketball. Statistics pertaining to both the Orange as a whole and individual players will appear here.
Without further ado, let's get started.
So far this season, Syracuse has used 28 different lineup combinations. We won't be looking at all of those lineups, since most haven't played very often. Instead, we'll look at the four lineups that have been used in at least three games and, according to kenpom.com, are among the 10 lineups with the highest usage rate. Lineups are in the form of point guard - shooting guard - small forward - power forward - center.
Lineup: Michael Gbinije - Trevor Cooney - Malachi Richardson - Tyler Roberson - Tyler Lydon
Total usage: 32.7% of minutes
Analysis: This isn't Syracuse's starting lineup, but it might as well be. The only reason the usage rate isn't much higher is because this group only played together for three minutes in the season opener against Lehigh. Since then, though, Boeheim has consistently turned to this group down the stretch of close games. And in the five games it was used, this lineup has had a positive plus-minus each time.
Until proven otherwise, this should be Syracuse's go-to lineup. Not only does it feature the Orange's best five players, but those players fit together exceptionally well. With four perimeter threats offensively, their ability to stretch the floor and create driving lanes consistently leads to scoring opportunities. They're a bit small defensively, but to this point, that hasn't cost Syracuse, largely because Roberson has been fantastic on the boards and Lydon has also grabbed his share of rebounds.
Lineup: Gbinije - Cooney - Richardson - Roberson - Dajuan Coleman
Total usage: 17.6% of minutes
Analysis: This group, Syracuse's starting lineup, has been steadily improving after an unconvincing start to the season. Against Lehigh and St. Bonaventure, this lineup went a combined minus-10. But it was plus-7 against Elon and most impressively of all, plus-5 against Texas A&M.
It's probably safe to attribute such improvements to the increased production from Coleman. He looked much better during the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did prior to the tournament, averaging seven rebounds per game despite entering the tournament with just seven rebounds on the season.
However, I'm skeptical to say that this lineup will be successful on a consistent basis. Offensively, it's difficult to get many open looks with Roberson and Coleman on the floor together, as neither of them is able to avoid clogging the paint. But this lineup is capable of being SU's best defensive option against bigger teams, so if and when Syracuse gets beat up in the low post against those teams, this will likely be the lineup Boeheim turns to.
Lineup: Kaleb Joseph - Cooney - Richardson - Roberson - Lydon
Total usage: 5.8% of minutes
Analysis: This is the same lineup as the first one mentioned, only it trades Gbinije for Joseph. That's quite the dropoff, especially considering how much Joseph has struggled out of the gate this season. And while that plus-10 mark looks nice, most of that damage was done against Lehigh and Elon. Against Connecticut and Texas A&M, this lineup was a combined minus-5. Until Joseph begins to show the signs of improvement that we assume he's made, this group shouldn't be frequently relied upon.
Lineup: Gbinije - Cooney - Richardson - Lydon - Coleman
Total usage: 3.9% of minutes
This early in the season, shot charts are to be analyzed with caution, just like most other data. We simply don't have a large enough sample size to make any final conclusions. With that said, though, let's start by taking a look at Syracuse's defensive shot chart, which tracks shots taken by SU's defense.
A couple things here stick out to me:
- Syracuse's frontcourt — led by Coleman, Lydon and Roberson — has been holding its own near the rim. With a thin and relatively small frontcourt, the Orange are expected to get bullied around the basket, but so far, that hasn't happened.
- Opposing offenses are having less success shooting from the left wing than the right wing. Last season, they had less success on the right wing. This is notable because, after playing most of his minutes atop the zone on the right side last season, Cooney has been seeing more time on the left side this season. Of course, it's impossible to credit SU's defensive success this season on the left wing entirely to Cooney. Not only has he not played all of his minutes on that side, but there are constant rotations in the zone, meaning that players don't always stay in the area where they start possessions. Still, though, there seems to be a trend developing here, and Cooney is known to consistently be one of SU's best defenders.
Points Above Median
"Points above median" is one of Hoop-Math's signature statistics. It measures how much each player affects his team's true shooting percentage, which takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws. Points above median compares players' scoring output with what they would have scored with a true shooting percentage of 48%, the "baseline" percentage.
According to Hoop-Math, "players with large positive PAM values increase their team's true shooting percentage above this baseline value more than players with small or negative PAM values." The formula: PAM = Points - 2 X 0.48 X (FGA + 0.475 X FTA).
Unsurprisingly, Gbinije leads Syracuse with a PAM of 35.8. His PAM on 3-point shots is 22.6. Lydon, meanwhile, is second on the team with a PAM of 21.0, including a PAM of 3-point shots of 13.7.
Cooney's PAM, though, is less encouraging. He's slightly above average at 2.4, but he has a negative PAM on field goal attempts. He has a PAM of -7.4 on 2-point jump shots and a PAM of -1.3 on 3-point field goals. The only reason his overall PAM isn't negative is because he has a PAM on free throws of 8.2.
Getting to the free throw line, not fouling
So far, Syracuse is getting to the free throw line at a very high rate. According to kenpom.com, the Orange have an offensive free throw rate of 44.2%, meaning they have 44.2% as many free throw attempts as they do field goal attempts. SU has four players — Gbinije, Lydon, Richardson and Roberson — with a free throw rate of at least 46.7%.
This goes back to Syracuse's ability to stretch the floor this season. As noted previously, the Orange's perimeter-oriented offensive approach this season creates driving lanes for players to attack the basket. And when they attack the basket, it often leads to fouls.
Additionally, Syracuse isn't committing fouls on defense. According to kenpom.com, opposing teams have a free throw rate of just 24.3% against SU, making the Orange the country's 15th-best team at not committing fouls. Individually, Cooney is far and away Syracuse's best player at not committing fouls; he's committed just 0.7 fouls per game. According to kenpom.com, that's the eighth-best mark in the country.
Better yet, the Orange's lack of fouling isn't due to a lack of aggressiveness. In other words, teams aren't scoring easily against Syracuse. In fact, according to kenpom.com, opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 42.5%, making SU's defense the 25th-best nationally in that category.
Through six games, all nine of Syracuse's scholarship players have seen time on the floor. But in recent games, coach the rotation has become extremely tight. SU used just eight players against Connecticut, with six of them playing a combined 195 of 200 possible minutes.
On the season, Coleman, Joseph, Franklin Howard and Chinonso Obokoh have accounted for just 15.8% of SU's total minutes played. According to kenpom.com, that is the lowest mark among a group of "bench" players in the country. Even though Coleman has started every game, he is not among the five players with the most minutes played, so the site considers him a bench player.
That might seem like a flawed method, but the point remains: Syracuse is relying heavily on five players, even though one of those players — Lydon — doesn't start. Of course, SU coach Jim Boeheim would like to have the luxury of using a deeper bench, something he has admitted. Whether he'll be able to is up to the progress of Coleman's health and Joseph's improvement.