About a month ago, the TNIAAM unanimously agreed that Jesse Edwards was the most valuable player on the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team. Based on the start of the 2022-2023 season, he might also be Syracuse’s most indispensable player.
Edwards looks great at everything that made him valuable last season, from the efficient scoring in the paint to his strides as a paint protector and pick-and-roll defender. In a small sample size, Edwards is doing a much better job at avoiding foul trouble and staying active on the offensive end, especially without the ball.
With the Orange losing several key veteran players from last season, coach Boeheim is counting on Edwards to take another leap forward.
Edwards’ strides as a scorer, shot-blocker
Last season, Jesse Edwards took on a much larger role for the Orange. After suiting up for under nine minutes a night two seasons ago, Edwards was playing closer to 28 minutes a game in 2022.
The results were great for Syracuse on both ends of the court for Edwards. Edwards proved that in a larger role, he could anchor the Orange’s defense in the paint, even if the team’s perimeter defenders weren’t the best.
The biggest improvement for Edwards has been on the offensive end. From finishing inside to serving as a capable rim-runner, he took on a sizeable role last season on that end.
In 2022, Edwards averaged 12.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. Compared to his season in 2021, he statistically improved his scoring by over ten points, his rebounds by almost four, and his blocks by over two.
This season, although a small sample size, Edwards has looked better this season. He’s taking on more of a scoring load, which is great given how young this year’s roster is. On defense, he’s still a bit foul-prone but has been a good-to-great defender who’s gotten smarter and become more comfortable stepping out onto the perimeter and rotating back to the paint.
In the Orange’s first game of the season against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, Edwards finished the night with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks, shooting over 60% from the field.
You could argue Edwards is Syracuse’s most well-rounded player. He’s a net positive on both ends of the court, and he will continue to be productive.....as long as he can stay on the court and avoid foul trouble.
Syracuse with and without Edwards by the numbers:
One thing is for sure: no Jesse Edwards, big problems for Syracuse adding wins to their record.
Last year, the Orange got off to a slow start but surged toward the back half of the 2021-2022 season. At one point, Syracuse was on a four-game winning streak and the arrow was finally pointing up.
Then, Edwards suffered a season-ending wrist injury that totally doomed the Orange for the rest of the year. After his injury, Syracuse finished last season with a 3-6 record, including losing the last four games of the season and five of the last six.
While Edwards wasn’t the most talented or statistically productive player last season for the Orange, he was the most versatile. He brought too many things on the table that the rest of Syracuse's bigs couldn’t make up for after his injury.
With the season already underway, the Orange can’t afford to lose Edwards to injury or foul trouble. The value he brings is across the board, and Syracuse’s fallback backup options are still unproven.
If not Edwards, then who?
Edwards is an absolute essential on the court if the Orange are looking to return back to fringe NCAA Tournament consideration. Based on the data, he’s easily Syracuse's best value over replacement player.
This season, Syracuse will be relying on Mounir Hima to keep things stable at the backup center spot. Hima seems to be able to help the defense, but we haven’t seen him as a threat on the offensive end. There isn’t enough evidence to think either Hima or Peter Carey can step in and give the Orange what they get from Edwards on both ends of the floor.
Jesse could garner some serious All-ACC consideration this season, but he’s got to do a better job at avoiding foul trouble in 22-23.