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A look at Howard Washington’s possible impact on Syracuse basketball

The Syracuse Orange may get something this season that they lacked more than ever last year: backcourt depth.

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange were left with little-to-no depth last season due to the injury bug and Geno Thorpe’s departure. But one injury didn’t earn as much attention as it probably should’ve: Howard Washington’s knee injury.

Washington’s impact may not blow up in the box score, but if you watched the 2017-18 Orange, you’d know that they were in desperately need of some depth in the backcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Syracuse Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced that Washington had torn his ACL in practice on January 18; a serious injury that has haunted plenty of basketball players. While he was only averaging 6.1 minutes a game, Washington’s absence was felt immediately, as the backcourt of Frank Howard and Tyus Battle was forced to play all 40 minutes on most nights (again, could’ve been avoided with Thorpe available).

Washington didn’t have the ability to score at will, but his high basketball IQ and ability to control the pace of play was seen on occasion in his brief stint last year. He went through the typical freshman struggles in terms of adapting to the speed at the collegiate level, but you could tell that with a little experience, he could make an impact in the Syracuse backcourt on both ends.

Washington struggled to shoot from deep, which can be associated with the increased size and speed he was facing, rather than his form — plus, he did only have 12 attempts. He’ll need to become a reliable perimeter shooter however, as his potential ability to space the floor could make him a dynamic threat in ACC play (and one this offense sorely needs next season).

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Syracuse
Can Howard Washington fit next to Frank Howard?
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

While his size doesn’t make him a defensive threat on paper, the 6’3” guard proved that he can make an impact in the 2-3 zone by generating steals every now-and-then. In just six minutes of play at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers, Washington was able to contribute without scoring the ball by coming up with two steals.

Washington isn’t going to be the leading scorer for the Orange any time soon, but a full recovery back to his original form should be exciting for what his potential could bring to the Syracuse backcourt.

With Battle’s decision to test the NBA Draft waters, an opening in the Syracuse backcourt could become available. Washington isn’t likely to suit up next to Frank Howard at tip-off next winter, but there is a spot in this rotation for the rising sophomore if he’s healthy enough to go.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If Battle decides to stay in the draft pool, Elijah Hughes is likely to slide into the starting 2-guard role, leaving much needed bench production to a few inexperienced guards. Incoming freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim are enticing prospects, but Washington’s brief (but useful) experience playing in coach Boeheim’s system should give him a slight leg up when healthy — though again, we don’t really know what that timeline looks like yet. ACLs can be lengthy injuries. It could be awhile.

But assuming we see him back in 2018-19, Washington could very well help in providing some stability at the point guard position. And he’ll need to if Syracuse wants to improve from last year. Frank Howard can’t, but probably could, be asked to play 40 minutes every night again. A player like Washington can at least provide take few minutes to give a breather to the senior point guard.

Let’s hope Howard Washington comes back ready to contribute this season, as his ability to eat up some productive minutes may hold the key to the Orange’s success.