It has been a hot debate on social media as of late discussing who you’d want taking the last shot in a close game. Would you want Mr. Reliable, Michael Jordan? Or would the dynamic LeBron James be your choice? Perhaps you would take the Black Mamba, relying on Kobe Bryant with the game on the line instead?
It’s a tough choice for any basketball fan, but one thing is for sure: any of those players would put your team in a solid position to win — a position Syracuse fans felt reasonably comfortable in when the ball was in John Gillon’s hands with the clock winding down.
Gillon came through on multiple occasions for Syracuse, with the most significant moment being his game winning three over the Duke Blue Devils. Gillon used his ability to penetrate off the dribble to keep the defense off balance, allowing him to beat them from deep when the defender sagged off of the six-foot guard.
Unfortunately, Gillon will no longer be wearing orange next winter, so coach Jim Boeheim is going to need to orchestrate something else for his team in close games down the stretch.
Last year’s roster was filled with upperclassman who were experienced enough to be trusted with the ball in crucial moments, but this year’s team is different as its roster lacks the upper classman experience that coach Boeheim is used to.
Despite the young choices, Syracuse has a few options regarding who they can trust to make a play with the clock winding down. The obvious first thought is Tyus Battle who, similar to Gillon, can keep the defense guessing with his ability to attack the rim.
Battle’s athleticism allows him to create space off the dribble, allowing him to get to the rim which provides an opportunity for him score or find the open man. He wasn’t the most talked about shooter for the Orange, but his 36% shooting percentage from deep is bound to improve even more with a full off season in the lab.
Battle has proven he can be relied on when his name is called—just look at what happened in Clemson. Battle can be even more dynamic with the ball in his hands down the stretch if he is able to come into next season with an improved jump shot to go along with his quick first step.
Another option for Syracuse is junior point guard Frank Howard who struggled to find his rhythm last year. Howard was replaced in the starting lineup by Gillon, but there were still bright spots for the 6’5” forward in orange.
Howard is a pass-first point guard who is able to get in the lane and find the open teammate. He finished the season with four games of double figure assists, proving the point that Howard can be a successful point guard.
Howard struggled to compete when teams found out he lacked the ability to shoot the ball, but his numbers should improve as this is a crucial off season for Howard as he’ll likely be the starting point guard for the Orange come next winter.
Howard is an interesting choice down the stretch because he can play out of the pick and roll, which can not only create space for himself, but it can create an opportunity for Howard to find an open man.
He may not be the one shooting the ball with two seconds left on the clock, but he can certainly be trusted to set that player up with as easy a shot as possible.
A player Howard can set up down the stretch is forward Taurean Thompson who could be a nice asset for Boeheim with the clock winding down. Thompson uses his size to dominate defenses not only inside the paint, but beyond it too.
His versatile skillset keeps defenses on their toes as he has the ability to beat them from all areas of the floor. While he may not be the number one option, Thompson is a unique side-kick for the player with the ball if he finds himself open.
You must see failure before you can succeed, so it’s important for whoever is taking that final shot to realize they may not put the Carrier Dome in flames. However, it is important to have that killer instinct with the ball in your hand—a feeling of confidence and desire to take the shot.
That killer instinct is hard to obtain, but give these Orangemen a chance before you count them out. They may be young, but Syracuse has a few weapons that can be called upon when it matters most.