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Syracuse Basketball could find some suggestions by watching the NBA Playoffs and Syracuse Football?

Don’t worry I’ll explain

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Baylor vs Syracuse Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yes Syracuse Orange fans I know what you’re thinking. It’s another piece about Syracuse evolving their offense to match current trends and you’re shaking your heads. I know Jim Boeheim hasn’t been an adopter to the notion of playing at a faster tempo and he’s been leaning on the 2-3 zone in recent years, but hear me out before you make up your mind...and yes I’ll explain why I’m including Syracuse Football.

Watching the Milwaukee Bucks attack the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night was especially indicative of the benefits of spacing the floor. Sure Giannis Antetokounmpo is an incredible talent and no one that Syracuse is going to recruit is going to be at his level....but you can adopt some of the principles with the roster the Orange will have next season.

Over at The Athletic there was a breakdown of the biggest play from the Bucks game four victory. At this point Boston has closed to within five points and have momentum. Milwaukee comes out of a timeout and runs an off-ball screen to get Giannis on Marcus Morris and here’s where the other Bucks players go as Giannis backs into the post.

The Athletic

At this point you can see that all of the Celtics defenders are watching the ball, but with the other four Bucks spread out at or beyond the arc. Once Horford collapses, something subtle happens which makes it easier for Milwaukee to get a good look. Pat Connaughton cuts baseline which means Kyrie Irving has to stay with him or else Connaughton gets a dunk.

The Athletic

This leaves Jayson Tatum guarding two players and honestly Tatum makes the right play. The ball comes out to Lopez who can take the shot or make an extra pass to Khris Middleton. Tatum hesitates and when he sees Lopez raise up to shoot he’s too late to contest and suddenly Milwaukee has an eight point lead and the crowd is silenced.

If Connaughton stands in the corner, the Celtics defensive rotation would be fine. Tatum would slide to Lopez when Horford collapses while Irving moves to Middleton and Morris or Horford would be able to get out to the corner if the ball made it to Connaughton. The movement takes all of that away and forces one defender to make a choice.....oh wait does that sound familiar to you?

Well it should because that’s exactly the type of situation that the Syracuse Orange football team has looked for under Dino Babers. The basis of his offense is to spread the defense and force one defender to make a choice- do they commit to one player or another and once they commit Syracuse decides which aspect of the run-pass option they will utilize.

Jarrell Hawkins did some great GIF recaps for us during the football season and I’m going to refer to some of them to illustrate my point but go back through and you’ll see plenty more examples.

Syracuse HB Abdul Adams scores four yard rushing touchdown.

In this play Nykeim Johnson slides out for a potential screen and doing so causes #9 for West Virginia to vacate the middle of the field at the snap to run to the flat to help defend against it. With one less defender in the box, the Orange offensive line is able to create enough space for Abdul Adams to get in the end zone.

In this play, NC State has a safety in the middle of the field. As the Syracuse slot receiver (looks like Sean Riley) runs a crossing route the safety remains in the middle while the slot receiver on the top of the screen (Jamal Custis) runs straight down the seam with no one helping over the top. If the crossing route isn’t run the safety could cheat over to help on that seam.

Movement with a purpose forces the defense to move in the way you want them to move. It creates the space to let your talented players do damage against overmatched opponents. It’s something that Syracuse Basketball has not done with frequency in recent years but it would be wise to incorporate more with next year’s roster.

The Orange will return strong outside shooters in Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes. Jalen Carey and Oshae Brissett have to improve their decision-making but both have the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past their defender. Marek Dolezaj brings a strong basketball IQ and the ability to distribute as well as make open shots.

This isn’t a group that should be content running pick and roll plays while the other three players stand and wait for a pass to come. The last two years have seen Syracuse offensive players driving into traffic or dribbling around the perimeter and taking tough shots late in the clock.

Syracuse should have the outside shooting threats to keep opponents from packing the lane and if they utilize better off-ball movement they can create better looks for their scorers. Playing five capable offensive players can force their opponents to extend on the perimeter meaning a player like Carey can get into the lane and force defenders to collapse on him opening up the kick outs for open three pointers.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

They don’t have to rely on a single player to lead them every game like Tyus Battle was leaned on the last two years, but the Orange can’t be passive bystanders when they don’t have the ball in their hands.

To say Jim Boehim doesn’t adapt is a stretch. He was known in the 80s and early 90s as a coach who let his players play and his teams were certainly known for an up-tempo style. Three years ago he used Tyler Lydon in a lot of pick and pop sets and tried to play to that team’s offensive strength (while masking their defensive issues).

We can complain about his stubborn nature during games, but he has shown the ability to tweak his philosophy based upon his roster. Next year I think he’d be wise to use more movement and a bit quicker tempo to cover for a younger but deeper roster. The improved perimter shooting should be able to make opponents extend further from the rim and provide more room to operate for the Orange- much like the spacing of the Syracuse football team provides more room for those players to exploit their opponents. Giving skill players room to work is a formula that works in either sport.

If you’re not a NBA fan I suggest watching some of the remaining playoff games. Put yourself in the shoes of Jim Boeheim and his staff. See if you can imagine him drawing up sets to run Buddy off multiple screens like the 76ers run for JJ Redick or the Warriors run for Klay Thompson. Think about the staff using Dolezaj as a point center like Nikola Jokic feeding cutting players while drawing centers away from protecting the rim. Think about a Syracuse Basketball team that isn’t reliant on “hero ball” to get baskets because that’s what I think you’ll see in 2019-20.