At ACC Media Day in October, a reporter asked Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim whether he would give the same "green light" this season to Trevor Cooney, who led the Orange with 376 shots and 230 attempts from 3 in 2014-15.
"He has a green light but we'd like him to shoot a few less," Boeheim said.
Specifically, he said he wanted Cooney to not take the "40 or 50 bad ones" he took last season, which Boeheim hoped would raise Cooney's 30.9% clip on 3-pointers to 37 or 38% in 2015-16.
Through seven games, though, Cooney's shot volume has reduced only slightly — he's taking 6.7 3-pointers per game, compared to 7.4 per game last season. He's attempted 47 3-pointers, tied with Michael Gbinije for the most on the team. Cooney also leads SU in field goal attempts with 88.
Even worse, he isn't a more efficient shooter this season. He's shooting just 31.9% from 3 and 35.2% from the field, a mark that's worse than last season.
Often times this season, Cooney has been a detriment to the Orange on the offensive end. Of course, Syracuse can't bench him; he's a valuable defender and even if he weren't, SU doesn't have a deep bench to turn to. But it's still looking more and more as if Cooney should change his offensive approach.
Cooney's shooting numbers aren't just bad, they're among the worst in the ACC. According to kenpom.com, Cooney's 31.9% clip from 3 ranks him 42nd out of 55 qualified players in the conference, while his 39.0% mark on 2-point field goals is 81st out of 87 players. Additionally, his effective field goal percentage of 43.8% puts him 51st out of 58 eligible players.
Those poor shooting percentages have also damaged his overall offensive rating. In that category, he ranks 87th out of 95 qualified players in the conference.
And it's not as though these numbers are misleading because of one or two especially bad shooting performances. In fact, only once this season — against Charlotte in the Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals — has Cooney shot better than 40% from the field in a single game. In five of seven games, he's shot 33.3% or worse from 3.
Part of the reason for this is Cooney's occasionally-poor shot selection. He sometimes attempts low percentage, contested 3s while fading away, often in catch-and-shoot situations. Other times, he'll settle for contested midrange jumpers, something he did twice in key situations Wednesday against Wisconsin, missing both shots.
That's some poor decision making, especially for a fifth-year senior. But even when Cooney has had high quality looks this season, he's still missed those shots at a high rate.
At this point, the evidence on Cooney is pointing clearly in one direction. He simply isn't that good of a shooter. He's now a career 32.8% 3-point shooter, and that number dips to 28.3% once conference play begins.
He's more effective offensively when he's attacking the basket. With Syracuse's newfound 3-point-oriented approach, Cooney's ability to drive has become evident this season. And while he's not shooting very well at the rim — just 52.4%, per Hoop-Math — he has been able to get to the free throw line. He's second on the Orange in free throw attempts with 36, and he has made 75% of those shots. He's drawing 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes, although, admittedly, at least a few of his trips to the charity stripe have been the result of intentional fouls late in games.
Cooney's also an effective passer, something that's become more apparent as he's begun to attack the basket, freeing up other players. His 18.1% assist rate ranks him 27th among 95 qualified ACC players.
Of course, it's easier to get those assists when there are multiple capable shooters on the court. That's a luxury Syracuse has, with Gbinije and Tyler Lydon each shooting 50% or better from 3 and Malachi Richardson often catching fire from beyond the arc.
As a result, the Orange have been one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the country this season, making 39.4% of their attempts. But that number will only increase if Cooney is accounting for fewer of those attempts and doing what he can — such as regularly driving to the basket — to make things easier on SU's more efficient shooters. For Cooney, it's likely just a matter of recognizing that, unlike in past years, he's not one of Syracuse's best scoring options.