This was an article that was in the works last week, but Taurean Thompson’s decision to leave caused next year’s team to look drastically different. Yes, Thompson is just one player, but losing what was likely to be the team’s second-leading scorer is an occurrence that can’t go unrecognized.
The loss of Thompson stings, but the Syracuse Orange can find a way to be okay on the offensive side of the ball due to their versatile backcourt. It all starts with Tyus Battle, the sophomore shooting guard who returns from a freshman campaign where he averaged 11.3 points per game, the third most on the team.
Battle proved that he can be a dynamic scorer for the Orange last year. His athleticism and quick first step makes him tough to guard on the perimeter, but it was his shot that caught defenses off-guard. He shot just under 37 percent from deep, an area of his game that many thought would be his kryptonite.
Despite all these positives, Battle needs to improve if the Orange want to have any shot of winning serious basketball games. Battle is the leader of this team, so that 37-percent clip needs to jump even higher if he wants to prove he can be a number one option with range. His ability to consistently attack must be at the forefront this year as too many times he was seen being hesitant on the perimeter last season.
There is a lot of pressure on Battle this year, but he can’t do it by himself. Syracuse has provided him multiple backcourt running-mates who bring different aspects to compliment his game. Whether it’s Frank Howard, Howard Washington, or USF transfer Geno Thorpe, the Orange need all three of them to work well with Battle.
Howard, the junior, has yet to show consistency from the point guard position. He’s shown he has the talent to terrorize defenses with his passing ability at times, but his lack of shooting touch has hurt his efforts to maintain a starting spot. If Howard can figure that out, he can be the perfect fit next to Battle. His ability to penetrate the lane will leave Battle open on the perimeter to take a shot that we know he’s comfortable making.
If Howard fails to improve on his previous flaws, look for Washington to be one of the replacements for the veteran. Washington’s a freshmen, so he’s yet to play a collegiate game. But one thing we know for sure: he can control the proceedings. Washington is known to create a solid pace on offense, but his inexperience could cause turnovers in crucial situations, something coach Jim Boeheim won’t be too happy about.
The final option is Geno Thorpe, a transfer guard who has proven he can score at the collegiate level. In his (redshirt) junior season, Thorpe averaged 15.1 points per game for USF. His shot needs to become more consistent, as he hit around 40 percent of his tries last year. But his size at 6’4” is sure to hurt smaller defenses as he lines up next to the 6’6” Battle.
The backcourt can’t do it on their own, and that’s where the frontcourt comes into play. The Orange were relying on Thompson to lead that unit, but his departure leaves a leadership role for someone else to capture.
Syracuse has a couple options at the small forward spot, as they bring back Matthew Moyer from a redshirt season, and bring in freshman O’Shae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj. Dolezaj is likely to contribute with his versatility, as his ability to shoot from three at his size (6’9”) is a great tool for coach Boeheim.
While Dolezaj will contribute this year, look for Moyer and Brissett to get more looks on the offensive end of the court as well. Moyer sat out last year as a redshirt, but he was able to learn from the veterans and focus on improving his game for a full year. Moyer is a lengthy forward who can bring the versatility coach Boeheim looks for on offense. The Orange lack the lethal shooters they’ve had in the past, but if Moyer was able to add that skill to his repertoire he’ll be able to make coach Boeheim smile more often on the court.
The other option is Brissett, a highly touted freshman who brings advanced athleticism to the Orange. He is known for his ability to play above the rim which will work well for the Orange when they run in transition. The obvious flaw in Brissett’s game is his ability to shoot, but people said the about Battle coming into last season, so hopefully he’s able to prove the doubters wrong like his new teammate did.
The final piece to the offense are the big men, and Thompson’s departure leaves a lack of depth in that area as well. His replacements include Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe; both players bring needed assets to the team, but let’s be honest -- neither is known for their offensive capabilities.
Chukwu hasn’t proven in the past that he can be the dominant scorer his size says he can be, but an off season of improvement can maybe have the 7’2” big man reach his potential.
His sheer size can make him a weapon for lobs in the fast break and in the half court. The Orange aren’t asking him to play with his back to basket, but Chukwu can help by cleaning the offensive glass and finishing above the likely smaller defenders he will face.
Sidibe, a freshman, is the other option to replace Thompson’s presence down low. Sidibe’s size and length will help him score over smaller players, but it’s his ability to rim-run that can make him a lethal asset. Of course he hasn’t played in college yet, but Sidibe’s ability to beat his opponent down the court could go a long way for this team.
All of these players bring their own skillset to this team, but it’s going to be hard to replace Thompson’s scoring -- especially when SU was already trying to replace the outputs from Andrew White III, Tyler Lydon and John Gillon. The Orange will need their backcourt to carry the bulk of the scoring, but there could be some unknown help if someone in the frontcourt can emerge as a true number two option. There aren’t many believers right now, but if put together correctly, the versatility of this offense can take this team a long way.