It’s a great problem to have: Syracuse has seven players on the roster worthy of starting. Most of the early season rotation debates have targeted the backcourt, as hot-takers called for Kadary Richmond to replace Joe Girard in the starting lineup after just four games.
In reality, the point guard situation is marvelously straightforward. It’s a two-deep position and whoever is playing better on a given night will play the important minutes in the second half. Girard will get the first crack at it for the foreseeable future, but if he’s getting outplayed, Richmond will step in. Against Buffalo, Richmond played twice as many minutes (32) as Girard. All is well in backcourt, and there’s no reason to turn blue in the face about who’s starting.
There’s a much more worthy discussion to be had: when Bourama Sidibe returns, a backcourt traffic jam is imminent. Considering the recent Covid-19 pause, we could easily see Sidibe in SU’s next game. So what will Syracuse’s best lineup be? My friend and colleague Matt Bonaparte recently wrote that upon Sidibe’s return to health, his return to the starting lineup should not follow. I’d like to weigh in. Let’s start with what I agree with.
There are three players who have to be on the floor as much as possible to give Syracuse the best chance to win. Quincy Guerrier has emerged as Syracuse’s best player, followed by Alan Griffin and Buddy Boeheim.
In the opener against Bryant, Griffin started on the bench. But before his second half benching against Northeastern, he had become the team-leader in minutes. His microwave quality is much-needed, as is his speed in transition and rebounding skills. In SU’s overtime win over Buffalo, Griffin’s value to the team was on full display. The turnaround in his performance during the second half coincided with the Orange’s 18-point comeback. He clearly saved the game with both his offense and his chasedown block in the final seconds.
While Griffin has shown sporadic greatness, Qunicy Guerrier has been a model of consistency. He’s averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds, while leading the ACC in field goal percentage (66%). The most impressive thing about Guerrier’s season so far is his steadiness. The French Canadian just doesn’t seem to have an off game.
Buddy Boeheim hasn’t gotten it rolling yet this season, but he’s earned leeway after averaging over 15 points per game in 2019-20.
I agree with Bonaparte that the minutes up for grabs are mainly at the center position. Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj, a natural four, were mainstays in the starting lineup last season, and both seemed to put in great work to improve in the off-season. Still, it appears one will need to watch crucial minutes from the bench.
There is certainly an element of offense-defense here. Dolezaj’s court vision has been key to the SU offense, and his mobility gives him the opportunity to score at the rim and get to the free throw line. While Sidibe is much more limited offensively, he’s bigger and stronger inside, giving him the edge over Dolezaj in rim-protecting, post defense and rebounding. Jim Boeheim could simply rely on gameflow to determine who should play.
However, the Buffalo game showed that the clear area of need for Syracuse is interior defense. The Bull’s Josh Mballa, a heavy 6 foot 8 frame, scored 27 points down low. Dolezaj gained weight in the offseason, but he is still prone to being outmuscled and knocked out of position around the rim.
Ultimately, there should be enough scoring and playmaking on the floor to make a healthy Sidibe the more attractive option at center. Plus Marek’s versatility can allow him to play bench minutes at both the four and the five. Considering both Sidibe and Guerrier have a history of excessive fouling, Dolezaj could easily play 25 minutes off the bench. I know Dolezaj and “off the bench” are not words you expected to see used in the same sentence before the season started, but that’s how the puzzle is piecing together.
Syracuse needs Griffin and Guerrier on the floor together as much as possible, and against ACC teams with size and strength, Sidibe is a necessity. Sorry, Marek.