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How can Syracuse improve the struggling offense?

It’s more than just making shots. It’s WHO is taking what shots

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As Dave pointed out so well yesterday the Syracuse Orange offense has been slowing down for a while now.

The current three-game losing streak has brought the struggles to the forefront so where can the Orange go from here? Since there’s no trade or mid-season acquisition it’s up to Jim Boeheim and the coaching staff to figure out ways to utilize the roster to get more points on the board. Thanks to the statistics at Synergy Sports, we can dive into what is and what isn’t working for the Orange.

If I asked you to describe this year’s Syracuse team how would you categorize them? My first thought is that they are primarily a jump-shooting team but the numbers say otherwise.

Through eight games the Orange halfcourt offense has featured more spot-up shots than anything else, and 169 possessions have resulted in only 125 points. This ranks in the bottom 10% and the only Syracuse player who is ranked in the top 50% is Elijah Hughes. In unguarded catch and shoot situations Syracuse has only made 13 of 45 shots thus far being unable to punish defenses for giving up open looks.

The Orange are also below average in isolation plays which makes more sense when you look at the roster. Most of these possessions are for Hughes and he’s responsible for 20 of the 26 points that Syracuse has scored out of isolation plays. Teams are going to throw a lot at Hughes as they know containing him is the best way to slow down the Syracuse attack so how can Jim Boeheim get his best player into situations where he can succeed?

One way is running more as Syracuse is thriving in transition situations ranking among the best teams in the country. Both Hughes and Marek Dolezaj rank as excellent in transition but to get out and run Syracuse has to do better rebounding out of the zone and turning steals into offense. I’ve talked about rebounding a lot but that means all five players need to get on the glass. Through eight games Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard have combined for 32 defensive rebounds and if they can be stronger on the boards they can look for Hughes and Dolezaj filling the wings and attack before the opponent’s defense is set up.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Other areas that Syracuse ranks well are post-ups and cuts, even if the post opportunities have been limited. In only 13 possessions where the ball is fed to the post the Orange have scored 20 points with Dolezaj leading the way and against teams who switch screens there will be opportunities to try and isolate him and Hughes on smaller players on the blocks. Ball movement has been noticeably better this season and Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe have succeeded when cutting to the hoop.

Buddy Boeheim’s greatest success so far this season has been off screens — where he’s 10 of 22 with 27 points in 23 possessions. Joe Girard’s been the Orange’s best weapon in the pick and roll with 18 points in 16 possessions. Neither of them are as good when going to their left, which makes it easier for them to defend as teams look at the film and set their plan.

So what do we do with this information? Well this is where you look to design plays in halfcourt sets to highlight the individual strengths. Girard’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and getting shots off after a screen.

Would he get more open looks with Hughes setting screens because the defense will be hesitant to leave Elijah open and if they did double then it’s an easier pass to a better offensive threat? When Girard uses screens from Sidibe and Dolezaj those guys should flash to the rim and the initial look should be to feed them on the move before the defense can rotate. Since Syracuse doesn’t give the ball to the player setting the screen often that’s a way to add a new wrinkle.

Buddy should not be used in pick and roll or situations where he’s trying to take defenders off the dribble himself. He should be coming to the wings following off-ball screens where he ican catch and shoot. The player who isn’t setting the pick for the ball handler up top should not only be setting off-ball screens for Buddy but also looking to then cut backdoor. This is an area where Dolezaj, Sidibe and Quincy Guerrier could provide an offensive impact. It would also put those players in better position for offensive rebounds which can lead to easier shots and keep opponents from racing out in transition.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Giving the ball to Elijah up top is a way to space the floor and open up some shots for others, but they have to start to making them. Hughes is Syracuse’s biggest offensive threat so he should be featured more but the Orange are not utilizing Dolezaj and Sidibe to the extent they could be so far this season. It’s on those two players to avoid foul trouble but when they are on the floor they need to contribute some points.

If we put these together with the starting lineup you could run plays where all five Syracuse players are moving in ways that force the defense to react. Will we see some new looks this Saturday when the Orange take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets? Maybe not a lot right away but it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Once Syracuse finishes final exams there will be a lot more practice time to implement some new looks on offense.