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The issue isn’t playing three guards, it’s how they are being deployed

Fans lie. Coaches lie. Numbers don’t

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Boeheim’s biggest annoyance of 2021 seems to be the people asking him about the Syracuse Orange guards. After Tuesday night’s win over the NC State Wolfpack he made sure to get this point across to the media.

So let me start off by saying Jim is right. Syracuse needs all three guards. This is pretty obvious because first of all playing two guards forty minutes over multiple games isn’t going to end well. Secondly the three guards the Orange play each bring value to the team and what they are trying to do. So now that we agree on that point let me now say that it’s obvious that Jim knows it’s defense which determines who’s going to play for him in key situations in this critical stretch of games.

The advanced stats tell you that Kadary Richmond isn’t just the best perimeter defender on Syracuse, he’s one of the best defenders in the ACC. According to CBB Sports Reference Richmond leads the ACC in steal percentage (5.4%) and defensive box plus/minus and his size at the top of the zone disrupts opponents and leads to plays like this.

Shooting numbers don’t explain everything but the starting backcourt is averaging 32 shots per game in conference and making just under 9 and having 22 free-throw attempts total over the ten games. What Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard do have is an ability to get hot and hit a flurry of shots so it’s up to the head coach to determine if the threat of shooters carries a greater importance than playing the best defender.

Jim Boeheim has been adamant that Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard are important to the team’s offense even when they aren’t hitting shots. He’s right that opponents do need to be aware of them which opens up space for other players but he’s also got to recognize that neither has been efficient in ACC play. In fact, Girard’s numbers are better overall than Buddy (41%-39% from 2 and 36% to 32% from 3 in ACC play) but it’s been Joe losing minutes and bearing the brunt of the criticism.

Most of the problems from Girard have been with shot selection and defensive effort. He’s not getting pulled for missing shots, he’s losing minutes for forcing things. Neither of those things are good for a point guard but as a back-up shooting guard playing against other second-stringers ? That’s a role where he can boost the Orange and Girard’s a player who can make an impact.

Buddy Boeheim’s been up and down this season but he can benefit from Richmond’s ability to cover more ground on defense and drive and kick on offense. Kadary and Buddy together at the top of the zone make it tougher for smaller guards to get the ball into the high post. This takes some of the pressure off the front-court especially when Marek Dolezaj is over-matched in the post. Richmond can’t provide the shooting that Girard offers but the other Orange players benefit from Richmond drawing the attention of the defense when he gets into the lane.

Keeping all three guards fresh allows them to put forth more energy on the defensive end-especially helping out rebounding. With the Orange battling for every win, it would seem Jim Boeheim sees the impact Kadary has on a struggling zone and that’s why he’s had him on the floor in critical situations. I’d argue that starting Kadary makes sense because he can keep Syracuse from falling behind early. Girard can spell both guards in the first half and then Jim Boeheim can play the “hot hand” and take advantage of match-ups based on opponent. (plus the offense should be running through Guerrier and Griffin but that’s for another time)

There are situations for each of the guards to thrive but there’s no reason to think that all three of them playing means anything more than Syracuse doing what they need to try and make the NCAA Tournament.