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Syracuse men’s basketball: the on-court impact of Judah Mintz’s return

Coach Autry has a lot to work with now that Mintz is back in the mix.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange fans are still jumping for joy following Judah Mintz’s decision to return to the men’s basketball team for the upcoming season.

The freshman phenom for the Orange nearly made the All-ACC third team while averaging 16.3 point, 2.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game last season. Now, he’ll be the spearhead of a program looking to redeem itself after back-to-back underwhelming seasons.

Mintz’s homecoming announcement - coupled with new head coach Adrian Autry’s productive offseason - puts Syracuse in an optimistic spot heading into the 2023-2024 season.

Now comes looking at the fun part: figuring out how Mintz’s return impacts Syracuse on-the-court. What does it mean for Autry and the rest of the staff heading into next season?

When the Nunes crew reacted to Judah’s return, our James Szuba brought up the point that Mintz’s scoring production is a surefire asset Autry possesses for the coming season. Last season, Jesse Edwards and Joe Girard contributed 30.9 points per game, or nearly 42% percent, of the Orange’s a scoring offense. Bringing Mintz back into the fold means Syracuse has a proven offensive hub it can revolve the team around.

Mintz’s return trickles down to the rest of the roster. Autry doesn’t need to count on transfer J.J. Starling (11.2 PPG on 42% shooting) to shoulder the load on offense, or force one of Syracuse’s returning players to become more of a distributor and on-the-ball creator. This team has a collection of guys who are unproven at the collegiate level, so Judah’s return takes some of the pressure off this group on the offensive end.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

That begins with the aforementioned Starling, a former five-star recruit who had ups and downs in his freshman year with the Notre Dame. Together, the Mintz-Starling duo brings ball-handling and an ability to attack the basket while having the length to make some plays on the defensive end.

With Mintz back, there isn’t as much pressure on Starling to be the lead initiator in a bigger role. Instead, he can shine as the secondary creator next to Mintz while taking up some on-the-ball responsibilities with him off the court.

While neither Mintz (30% on 2.1 attempts per game) nor Starling (30% on 3.1 attempts per game) are efficient marksmen from three, Syracuse possesses a wing trio of Benny Williams (40%), Justin Taylor (39%), and Chris Bell (35%) who could fill the perimeter threat that Girard brought last season.

Speaking of those Syracuse wings, Autry should feel ecstatic having Taylor, Bell, Williams, Quadir Copeland, and Maliq Brown all back on the roster and with an additional year’s worth of on-court experience. Depth and versatility sound like they will both be themes for Autry this season, and keeping all of those contributors helps to build on that.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Second Round - Syracuse vs Wake Forest Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

And, ideally, those wings will an important but not an outstretched role which includes defensive intensity, the ability to switch to multiple positions, run out on a few fastbreak chances, make a few shots and, the most crucial of all, rebound.

Offensively, there will be enough spacing to operate within the half-court but enough athleticism to take advantage of the turnovers Mintz and Starling will generate along the perimeter and create transition opportunities for the role guys.

You also can’t forget about Auburn transfer Chance Westry, a defense-first 6’6” guard who can defend the one through three and fit seamlessly next to either Mintz, Starling, or both on that end of the court. We don’t know what defense Syracuse will implement next season, but they have the positional depth to play at a higher tempo than we’ve seen in recent years.

Mintz’s return also puts less pressure on Syracuse’s bigs to transform low-post scorers. Neither Mounir Hima nor Florida State transfer Naheem McLeod have thus far demonstrated consistent offense. McLeod’s offensive ability is below what Edwards gave last season, but two guards who can get into the lane should give him opportunities at the rim.

There are a lot of questions that the Orange must address between now and November, but Mintz’s return should make the Orange a fun team to watch next season.