Syracuse Basketball: What question does the offense need to answer

The Syracuse basketball men’s team is scheduled to take on the Bryant Bulldogs Friday. The Orange need to determine where they will find offense this year.

Syracuse basketball is (hopefully) on the verge of tipping off their season Friday afternoon against the Bryant Bulldogs. The Orange will transition into a life without Elijah Hughes who was just selected in the NBA Draft.

Without Hughes Syracuse needs to find a way to replace almost 37 minutes a game, 19 points, and 3.4 assists. Hughes’ numbers, while quite impressive, don’t tell the whole story on his impact on the offense. He was the focal point in what was an isolation heavy offense and made plays for himself and others. Out of all ACC players who played in 15 games and averaged at least 15 minutes a game, Hughes was 7th in usage percentage.

So where does the playmaking come from? In the past, you would just look at the guards on the team and Syracuse returns two guards with experience in Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III. However, both guards are cut from a modern cloth of basketball and may both do better off the ball instead of being the primary ball-handler.

Boeheim and Girard III both have about average true shooting percentages last season even playing off of Hughes. Usually, those types of efficiency numbers do not rise even when the game’s most elite players are asked to take a bigger role.

Another factor with the consideration of Boeheim and Girard III is their rate of getting to the line. Per-100 possessions last season, Girard III was at an ok clip with about 5 free throw attempts but Boeheim’s decreased from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign and was under three.

Why is this important? Think of all the times you watched Syracuse big men like Bourama Sidibe get in foul trouble over the years and the impact on the Orange’s defense. Drawing fouls on opposing teams and converting at the free-throw line will always be one of the most efficient ways of scoring.

There is hope with another offseason of maturity for college athletes they can develop strength and athleticism they did not possess before. For Boeheim and Girard III this means that they take their isolation attempts from a year ago, Boeheim resorted to a lot of pullups from the foul line and off-balanced step-back threes for Girard III and turn them into more downhill attacks of the rim to score, get to the line, or use their playmaking to create for others.

Putting all of the playmaking on Boeheim and Girard III will be a mistake and asking only one or two guys to replace the All-ACC production of Hughes could be costly to the Orange’s offense. So Syracuse needs more chefs in the kitchen, and allowing Illinois transfer Alan Griffin to cook might just be the boost this offense needs.

Mar 1, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Alan Griffin (0) hits a three-point shot against the Indiana Hoosiers during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Griffin was primed whether it was in Illinois or Syracuse to be that junior who took a big leap into being an all-conference type performer. In two seasons with the Fighting Illini Griffin appeared in 58 games coming off the bench in all but two games.

Illinois is an upcoming team with more talent than they have had in a while which allowed Griffin to operate off the ball and become a prolific bench scorer and three-point shooter which by now is no surprise to Syracuse fans. Griffin hit 41.6% of his threes a season ago and averaged 13.2 attempts per-100 possessions which is an almost identical rate as Boeheim, meaning Syracuse will see a lot of threes this season.

Griffin tallied an over 21% usage percentage a year ago but that mostly came on catch and shoot attempts and not creating for himself off the bounce. It will be interesting to see where Griffin fits into the offense and if he is an on-ball focal point or off-ball run of screens and catch-and-shoot guy.

There are two other possible options for where playmaking might be found. One is a returning forward who will create for his teammates while the other is a freshman wing who will hopefully put pressure on defenses himself.

The first is Marek Dolezaj who is back for his fourth year and coming off his first where he averaged over 10 a game. Dolezaj was expected to take a bigger role offensively last season and it seemed as he was put into position at times to be the guy in the offense with guys cutting and moving around him but mixed results throughout the season, especially in the season opener with Virginia calmed any real expectations for Dolezaj to take that role. Can he improve and regain that trust in the coaching staff so Syracuse can incorporate a motion offense off of him?

The final candidate to find playmaking seems to be freshman Kadary Richmond. The 6-foot-5 guard is a natural slasher and even in a bench role has a chance to lead the Orange in free throw attempts and points in the paint. Matthew Gutierrez of The Athletic  was spot on when he said he has more preseason hype than any “Syracuse freshman in the last several years.” As well as being a good defender Jerry Meyer of 247sports.com describes Richmond as “an off-the-ball scorer. Great change of direction moves on the drive.”

Syracuse has the potential talent and depth to be competitive in the ACC. They might not have that star or 2021 NBA Draft pick on their roster but one that could potentially compete game in and game out. If they find the answer to how they will create plays offensively as a team, their ceiling will only rise.