By Marcus Shockley
Image Courtesy UPI.com
Syracuse doesn’t return the firepower and senior leadership that made them so formidable last season, but they are still talented as a crop of new starters must work to replace the lost talent. Still running Jim Boeheim’s effective zone defense to thwart and slow down opponents, the Orange are off to a strong season start.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Syracuse’s early season success is the newly-svelte Rick Jackson, who shed 35 pounds in the off season. He’s blowing up and down the court, hammering the boards and offensive putbacks while playing himself into a legitimate NBA prospect. When the Orange faced off against Michigan State, no less than 60 pro scouts were in attendance, and even though the NBA draft is eons away at this point, Jackson has already shown that he looks like he might be worth a pick. He’s also gone from a role player to being possibly the most consistent player on Syracuse’s roster.
Overall, the Orange do not have the outside shooting that made them so dangerous all over the court last year, but they are playing Boeheim’s signature zone defense again to perfection, frustrating opponents and clogging the lane. The big bodies that Boeheim has managed to recruit fill this role perfectly, and the guards, while not scorchers from outside, are athletic and strong defenders. Scoop Jardine, who I watched at the CP3 camp this summer, has all of the look of a flashy point guard who just needs a consistent outside shot to make him a match up nightmare. Brandon Triche, who is a more pure point guard than Jardine, and also attended the CP3 camp, doesn’t add the scoring that Jardine does, but he’s strong and a solid ballhandler and passer.
Syracuse has not been strong from the free throw line this season, and must improve in order to finish off close games.
The player who is moving into the most involved new role is Kris Joseph, the small forward who was playing in the 6th man role last year and is expected to contribute at a much higher level this season. Syracuse is also getting good minutes from freshmen Dion Waters, who adds some offense as well, and Baye Moussa Keita, a 6’10″ PF/C who is long and adds serious shot blocking ability. I’d say Keita is definitely a player with some pro potential. C.J. Fair, another freshman, adds some serious athleticism at 6’7″ and can slash to the hoop and finish.
Fab Melo, C, 7’0″
Big body who automatically has the ability to bang in the paint and be physical. Right handed. A true center who eats up space in the paint. Moderately nimble, not a big stiff center, more mobile than most seven-footers. Has a lot of the raw tools to be a force in the paint in the NBA, but still is a work in progress. Has good hands. Still raw, but not a project. Still working to be consistent at the 10 foot jumper and hook shot. Needs to show he can consistently score around the rim, but has a lot of potential. Not a good free throw shooter at this point. Still needs to work on his balance and in the zone works as a lane-clogger well but can get caught out of position at times. Can pass well for a true center, but isn’t drawing double teams yet. Probably needs a little time to really see what kind of upside he might have.
Scoop Jardine, PG, 6’2″
Scoring point guard who is looking more fluid in the role of running the offense while also knowing how to look for his shot. Has good strength and a pit bull attitude at the point. Right now, not a consistent outside shooter and hasn’t proven he can get to the rim as needed, but with his strength and athleticism, could be dangerous with an outside shot. Still needs time to show he can be an NBA player, but definitely will play pro at some level.
Rick Jackson, PF, 6’9″
Runs the floor extremely well and can catch the ball on the move and finish. Left handed. Very active around the rim and a problem for slower defenders in the post. A post player who has the size and agility to potentially play at the pro level. Has lost a lot of weight in the offseason and looks very good now on the move, much more agile and active. Plays hard under the rim, follows his own shot hard, grabs loose balls and finds ways to contribute. A solid rebounder on both ends of the court. It’s hard to tell how any of the Syracuse players will be able to defend in the man-to-man of the NBA, since the Orange run a 2-3 zone exclusively, but he is active on defense as well, deflecting passes and sticking to his assignment. Jackson is not a long range shooter and he gets almost all of his points at point blank range, so it would be nice to see him develop a 10 foot jumper or hook to go with his putback offense. Definitely a pro player at some level, almost certainly will get a shot in the NBA.
Kris Joseph, SF, 6’7″
Athletic forward who is active and a high flyer. Can get up and down the court and is a physical small forward. Right handed. Has the physical size and strength for the pros already. Doesn’t have the ballhandling to play the guard position. Still looking to find consistent scoring this season. He’s most effective in transition, but struggles at times in the halfcourt and is not a serious outside threat at this point. Can slash to the hoop and is explosive when he gets a step on his man. Joseph is projected as a first rounder right now but I’m still not sure if his explosive slashing moves and transition dunks are enough to warrant a first round pick, although the season is young and he looked really solid at times last season coming off of the bench. He is scoring in double digits and laid 22 on Michigan in a close game, but too many times it seems like he’s more a complementary player who disappears for stretches and then suddenly has a couple of explosive highlights.
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