Syracuse Orange Head Coach Jim Boeheim often says that the difference in winning and losing basketball games is making shots. For this year’s Syracuse team making shots hasn’t come easy and the responsibility has also fallen to three players. After two of those three players struggled to make shots in the loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Boeheim shrugged off suggestions that his team needed better passing on offense.
“We don’t get assists. We dribble drive mostly and try to score that way.” Let’s discuss this quote for a bit here shall we. First, Boeheim’s not wrong in saying this team needs to drive the ball and score. They aren’t like last year’s team which could make three-pointers in bunches, this Orange group is better inside the arc. Here’s a look at the shot chart from the Wake game to illustrate this point
You have to like all those made shots at the rim, but as you step away from the hoop the picture looks a lot bleaker. With an offense that needs to be near the basket to score, I don’t see how Boeheim can claim that the Orange can’t get assists. Right now Syracuse is dead last in the ACC in both assists per game and assists to turnover ratio. If you are putting pressure on the defense by driving the ball, you should be able to pass for better looks. A great example of that is the photo for this post where Frank Howard got into the lane forced a Wake defender to commit and fed a cutting Matthew Moyer for the dunk.
How can the Orange get better ball movement while maintaining the principles of their dribble-drive? It’s easier to drive and kick out for perimeter shots, but I have some thoughts about incorporating better movement within the preferred Boeheim framework.
With Syracuse struggling on the boards last night, Boeheim went with the Chukwu-Moyer combination. The problem with those two is that neither has shown the ability to be a threat from outside the lane. This allows their defenders to play off of them and help. It means that those driving lanes become awfully congested, especially for Oshae Brissett. Since Brissett has struggled from 3, teams are playing him to drive the ball. While he’s still been able to get past his defender, last night he found a lot more help waiting for him at the rim.
When Marek Dolezaj is in the game at the 5, the Orange have better floor spacing on offense (and he’s 2nd on the team in APG). Since they can’t always afford to go small, Syracuse will continue to use Chukwu as a screener at the top of the key. What Moyer can do is set off-ball screens for Battle/Brissett to free them as Howard drives. This keeps his defender from being able to look to help on the drives and can also help Moyer to get to the offensive glass.
Post plays for the guards
One of Boeheim’s best gameplans might have come in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen win over the Indiana Hoosiers. He identified that Michael Carter-Williams had a significant advantage over Yogi Ferrell and called post-ups to allow MCW to use his size near the basket. Howard and Battle will find themselves with similar advantages so feeding them opportunities on the blocks could create easy looks.
Small Ball Line-Up
We won’t see this for long stretches unless fouls/injuries dictate it, but there are teams in the ACC where Syracuse can go smaller. Adding Dolezaj doesn’t give the Orange another shooter but he’s shown the ability and willingness to distribute the ball. His ability to be active on the boards and to create loose-ball situations can keep possessions alive for Syracuse. Those scramble situations can help the perimeter players find seams to the rim.
Howard Washington hasn’t looked as effective in the zone, but his ability to direct the offense allows Howard to move off the ball and gives Syracuse another perimeter option. We know that Boeheim won’t trust him until the defense improves, but I think he can get there and would like to see him get some first-half minutes the rest of the season.
What are you seeing when you watch Syracuse on offense?