Even with the dust starting to settle down, Syracuse Orange fans continued to express their excitement after the Syracuse men’s basketball team landed transfer guard J.J. Starling out of Notre Dame on Tuesday morning. Optimism is clearly in the air, at least based on our comment section.
After a heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest last Wednesday and the chaos that was the end of former coach Jim Boeheim’s tenure with the Orange, it’s been a fantastic first 96 hours for new coach Adrian Autry. Freshman star guard Judah Mintz teased a potential return to Syracuse on Friday, the same day Autry was formally introduced as the new coach and said he would like to have all ‘Cuse players from this year return for the 2023-2024 season.
And now, the Orange have added a Baldwinsville native in Starling to their roster, a former McDonalds All-American and the 19th-best prospect from the class of 2022. Notre Dame struggled this season, but Starling was still selected to the All-ACC Freshman team.
In light of the news, and assuming Mintz truly stays in Syracuse for next season, let’s see how the guard pairing would fit (and potentially not fit) together.
Starling: crafty rim finisher, microwave scorer, and defensively versatile
Let’s start with the numbers and how Starling shined in his lone season with the Fighting Irish. In 2022-2023, Starling averaged 29.6 minutes, 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game in 28 total contests.
Although he plays in a Mintz-like way in terms of his ability to attack the basket and be crafty from everywhere that’s in two-point range, there are some key differences in how they go about those options on offense.
Mintz focuses on attacking the basket in a straight-line drive in hopes of either a layup, a stop-and-pop jump, or a foul drawn at the rim. On the flip side, Starling relies more on his ball-handling to create space and finish over smaller guards. If the driving lane isn’t there, he tends to rely on stepback jumpers while Mintz counters with more of a fadeaway-type shot. With that said, both are creative around the basket and can draw attention, but likewise, each did struggle last season with forced shots and a few too many easy takeaways for opponents.
Both Starling and Mintz do fit a similar role as athletic guards with quick bursts off the dribble, enough creativity to keep defenses on their toes, and the scoring ability to reach 20-25 points in a flash.
Within Notre Dame’s egalitarian offense, Starling’s playmaking doesn’t stand out all that much in terms of assists, but he’s shown flashes as a capable ball-handler who can be a threatening playmaker. That comes mainly as a tool for his own scoring production, so he’ll need to work on improving as a pure passer and shot-creator for his teammates, but the athleticism and tools are there.
If you just look at the overall 3-pt shooting numbers, you might wonder how these two would work together to spread the opposing defense. In his last nine games, Mintz was 11-21 from deep showing off more range than expected. The threat of the drive could create space for each to get clean, open looks.
This guard duo could flash potential as both a defensive backcourt and a fastbreak tandem. Starling sits at 6-foot-4 and around 200 lbs., so at either guard spot, he can use his athleticism to provide help on defense and force turnovers. His wingspan should allow him to be a reliable one-on-one defender, something Syracuse lacked with a smaller Joe Girard next to Mintz.
Mintz finished tied for first in the ACC this season in steals per game and looked significantly better as an individual defender during the second half of this season. If both are locked in, that could be a scary defensive backcourt that can put pressure along the perimeter and generate enough transition looks to make up for any half-court limitations on offense.
Does the pairing fit together on the court?
Coach Autry emphasized versatility and playing to specific opponent matchups (translation: more adaptability) during his introductory press conference. Assuming Mintz returns, I’d expect the Orange to break out more in transition and play at a higher pace when the opportunities to go out and run present themselves. Given both guards struggle with outside shooting in terms of both efficiency and volume, Autry could also stagger both guards so that at least one is on the court at all times.
The biggest x-factor for a great pairing between Mintz and Starling is the latter’s playmaking. I’d like to see Mintz move more off the ball, cutting to the rim, and drawing enough attention from defenses to open up Starling’s game. And again, I can’t stress enough how the potential backcourt could work as a defensive pairing and a fastbreak one-two punch.
Another thing to keep in mind: where does Joe Girard fit into the picture if he decides to return? Does he start over Starling? Will Autry go to more three-guard lineups and role with Starling at the three to play smaller? There’s another Pandora's box worth of possibilities there also.
Having too many options could be a good problem to have once again for the Orange.
Now it’s your turn: can both guards fit together on the court? How will Starling work next to Mintz and with the rest of the roster moving forward?