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Syracuse men’s basketball: can Chris Bell continue to be the Orange’s second scorer?

Bell‘s offensive output has been impressive so far. Can it keep up?

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

At the start of the season, it was clear returning sophomore guard Judah Mintz would be carrying most of the scoring load for the Syracuse Orange. But when Syracuse lost two of its top three points per game leaders from last year during the offseason — Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards — it was clear someone outside of Mintz would need to step up offensively.

So far, that player for the Orange has been Chris Bell. In a larger usage and scoring role, Bell’s 14.0 points per game this season are more than double what he produced during his freshman year (6.6 PPG). Together, the combo of he and Mintz (19.6 points per game) have combined to score 33.6 points per game — or nearly 44% of the Orange’s total points per game this year (76.9).

The season is still young, but Bell’s performance has maintained itself through nine games. Even better: he’s come through time and time again with the Orange throughout the non-conference schedule.

Bell shot the lights out in a 25-point game in the comeback win versus Colgate, then followed that up to lead Syracuse in scoring versus Tennessee. More recently, Bell tallied 20 points (6/10 from three) versus LSU followed by a 19-point game (5/10 from three) against Cornell.

If you compare the numbers, Bell’s offense has been night and day this season compared to last year:

Bell’s scoring improvement by the numbers

2022-2023 season 2023-2024 season
2022-2023 season 2023-2024 season
6.6 14
20.1 29.1
6 13.4
40% 40%
3.8 8.1
35% 38%

For starters, Bell’s improvement with his jump shooting has been ridiculous so far. It’s pretty rare to see both volume and efficiency rise by this much. Through 9 games, he’s shooting nearly four percent better from three this season (38.4%) compared to last year (34.5%). The crazy part: Bell is also taking four more attempts per game from three.

Here’s some more numbers to backup just how much Bell has increased his three-point volume. In 30 games last season, there were seven times where he shot six or more threes; so far, he’s only one game off from tying last year’s mark. Bell already has more games with at least eight three-point attempts (five) this year compared to last year (three).

During those five games, Bell shot a combined 22/52 (42%) from three with the Gonzaga game being the only real outlier:

Cornell (home): 5/10

LSU (home): 6/10

Chaminade (neutral): 4/8

Gonzaga (neutral): 1/10

Colgate (home): 6/14

Bell’s shooting remains vital to the Orange’s offense, especially since guards like Mintz and J.J. Starling rely upon his outside shooting to create some space to attack the rim at full speed. Bell’s 73 total three-point points attempts are 43 more than Mintz and 25 more than Justin Taylor (who’s only shooting 31%).

In fact, Bell has basically turned into Syracuse’s best outside shooter. Mintz and Taylor combined are shooting about the same number of threes combined (87) as Bell. Starling is 3/24 from three this year, while Kyle Cuffe Jr. (30%) and Benny Williams (27%) have also not been that effective from the outside. Don’t forget the non-shooters like Naheem McLeod, Maliq Brown and Quadir Copeland — all of which provide value in other areas but make it more difficult for Syracuse to space the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers aside, why are we focusing so much on Bell’s three-point shooting.

There’s a few reasons. The most important: while Bell has improved tremendously, a lot of the scoring does rely on how well he shoots from three. He’s shot five free throws total in nine games. While Bell has cut down on some ill-advised long-twos, he’s still shooting a similar overall percentage as last year. Bell overall does look more comfortable offensively, but his shooting has the same probability to regress back to the mean as much as it has a chance to stay where it’s at.

Keep in mind that Syracuse is shooting the fourth-worst percentage from three in the ACC. Bell dropping just a few percentage points will make the Orange’s shaky outside shooting only more of a concern.

This season has confirmed that Bell will retain a high usage on offense the rest of the way. Can the Orange be successful with Bell as the second option?

Syracuse is putting a lot of its chips in that he can do that.