Despite taking the job a little over two months ago, head coach Adrian Autry has the future of the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team looking promising up to this point.
Most of the roster for 2023-2024 looks to be filled out. Autry acquired four transfer players during this offseason to fill in the gaps left behind from the departure of Joe Girard, Jesse Edwards, and company. Coupled with announced commitments from top-40 class of 2024 prospect Donnie Freeman as well as four-star shooting guard Elijah Moore, and suddenly the program finds its outlook looking brighter by the day.
Now comes the fun part: putting all the pieces together on-the-court for this coming season.
Kevin already noted the defensive-first philosophy of this new team given how many tall, lengthy athletes Syracuse possesses. Of course, this team is going to have to still put up points on the board. How will it do so?
The biggest concern moving forward is figuring out who will make up the Orange’s scoring from 2022-2023. Syracuse ranked eighth in points per game (74.1) last season in the ACC, but the trio of Girard, Edwards, and Judah Mintz accounted for 47.2 points per game alone, or over 65% of Syracuse’s scoring production. Assuming Judah Mintz sticks with the NBA Draft process, the Orange will need to make up nearly two-thirds of their offense from last season.
The good news for Syracuse is that it will likely retain one of its best sources for points this upcoming season: transition opportunities. The Orange generated the second-most turnovers in the ACC last season, giving guys like Mintz the ability to grab-and-go from one end of the court to the other. Boeheim tended to play with a slow-tempo, and you can expect Autry to take advantage of Syracuse’s athleticism to get some steals and turn those into points.
The half-court offense, however, remains the biggest question mark. Who on this team can initiate the offense, drive to the rim, and force the issue?
J.J. Starling - Syracuse’s first transfer acquisition from this offseason - would be the name to watch for. He averaged 11.2 points per game on 42% shooting last season with Notre Dame as a freshman. If you watch the tape, he has the potential to be the lead initiator for this year’s Orange. Even if the outside shot (30% from three) isn’t the best, he’s willing to take them (3.1 attempts per game) and that won’t be the majority of his shot diet with the Orange.
As you can see with the highlights down below, he’s got good speed, craftiness around the basket, and a decent handle to pair with his six-foot-four and 200 lbs. frame:
The other good news for Syracuse is getting back the trio of Benny Williams, Chris Bell, and Justin Taylor to keep Syracuse’s half-court spacing intact.
Williams shot the highest percentage out of the trio at just under 40%, but on only 48 total attempts this season, though it’s an improvement after shooting just 1/11 on threes in 2021-2022. Bell (35%) is willing to take them (3.8 attempts per game last season), while Taylor (39% on 61 attempts) had his heat-check moments off the bench.
One or two of that trio will need to be on the floor given the amount of defensive-minded, perimeter-limited shot creators the Orange will have entering next season.
Assuming the Orange start seven-foot-four center Naheem McLeod out of Florida State next to Starling, Syracuse will need some quality options on the perimeter to hit their threes. A hypothetical five-man lineup of Starling, Taylor, Bell, Williams, and McLeod should give the Orange enough half-court spacing without sacrificing too much on the defensive end.
Another option for the Orange: going small with Maliq Brown at the five. Based on the current personnel for Syracuse, Autry should be running more pick-and-roll actions since McLeod is less of a one-on-one post-up player compared to Edwards. Maybe he could unlock Brown as a small-ball five who can still grab rebounds and play defense, but also attack the basket and force the issue on his end.
On that note, compared to last season, this Syracuse team will rely way less on pure isolation scoring and more on attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and kicking out to the perimeter players.
The challenge for Syracuse will be finding enough scoring punch on this roster. Brown and Quadir Copeland, especially in transition, could take a leap in the scoring department heading into their sophomore seasons, but like many on the Orange, the outside shooting is questionable at best.
Outside of maybe Starling, it’s hard to also count in any of the Orange’s incoming transfers to solve that issue, either. Auburn’s Chance Westry went 0/14 from three in his 11 career games with Auburn, Kansas’ Kyle Cuffe has played six career minutes in college, and McLeod is a big who lingers around the basket.
To be clear, this is not to say Syracuse’s new style offensively will totally collapse. The Orange’s offense last season revolved mainly around tough baskets in isolation and contested shots finding their way in the basket. Autry could look to embrace a run-and-gun style offense around getting out on the break while relying less on half-court scoring. In the half-court, the priority will be to give Starling some room to operate and emphasis more pick-and-roll action.
If Autry is looking to add one more piece, the ideal goal is probably getting another shooting guard or small forward who can be a microwave scorer, as well as possibly another playmaker at the guard spot (depending on how much confidence he has in Copeland).
The theory of Syracuse’s offense is there. The question is whether it will work or not.