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A look at Marek Dolezaj’s potential improvement for Syracuse in 2018-2019

The Slitherin’ Slovakian Sophomore Strikes Summore.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout all the ups-and-downs that was the 2017-2018 Syracuse Orange Men’s Basketball season, the main surprise was the quality play early out of Marek Dolezaj. The Slovakian forward wasn’t the most touted prospect coming into his freshman season, but by year’s end, opposing teams knew they couldn’t take the lanky 6’9” forward lightly.

Dolezaj came into the season with concerns regarding his strength, or lack thereof, at his position, but his effort and savvy skillset made his slender body frame less of a concern than most anticipated.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
How can Marek Dolezaj best prepare himself for his sophomore season?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

His ability to finish around the rim and stretch his range out to a somewhat reliable 15- to 18-footer turned the once rotational bench player into an everyday starter the Orange relied upon in key situations. Dolezaj’s ability to be in the right place at the right time allowed him to make winning plays when it mattered most, but it was his effort and tenacity to grab lose balls that turned the once second guessing forward into a fan favorite.

Dolezaj was asked to do more than most anticipated in his freshman season, but with a lack of depth in the front court next year, the rising sophomore is going to be relied upon to do even more in an increased role.

So, how can the 6’9” Slovakian forward best prepare himself for a season of increased minutes, and most importantly, increased pressure to perform?

Besides adding more strength to his body frame, Dolezaj can become a national name if he is able to add a consistent three-point shot to his repertoire. He has an already impressive form for a forward, so extending his range isn’t something that is too far-fetched. Adding a reliable long-range shot will make this team extremely difficult to defend, because it’ll make it tough for the opposing defense to pack the paint on drives from Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke
Oshae Brissett is going to need Marek Dolezaj’s help carrying the offensive load.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Improving his pick and roll game to where he is a legitimate threat rolling to the basket will make this offense extremely versatile. With Frank Howard running the pick and roll, he will be able to be even more effective with Dolezaj improving his ability to dive towards the rim and finish through contact.

Of course, gaining more strength will be an important factor in improving his ability to score around the rim, but it’ll also be crucial for Dolezaj to further improve his decision making in the paint with the increased touches he will be getting next winter.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dolezaj surprisingly showed the ability to generate plays off the dribble last year, as his craftiness inside proved too much for opposing defenses to handle. Dolezaj won’t be a dominant ball handler any time soon, but he will be asked to generate offense off the dribble more often next year. Developing a tighter handle while keeping his eyes up will further push Dolezaj towards becoming a dynamic threat in the ACC.

An area where Dolezaj found himself on countless occasions last year was at the high post when the opponent was showing a zone defense. His ability to make plays out of the high post, whether it be for himself or his teammates, allowed the Orange to find some easy looks in an offense where there weren’t many to be had. Dolezaj will find himself flashing to the high post again quite often next year, so adding more confidence to that 15-footer will make him even more lethal at a point of weakness for opposing defenses.

The once surprising freshman is no longer going to fly under the radar now that the nation knows what he is capable of. However, Dolezaj’s versatile talent will be called upon every time the Orange take the hardwood next year, so it’ll be crucial for the Slovakian forward to continue his development this summer.