We’ve been down this road with Rakeem Christmas before. But doesn’t it feel a little different this time?
The hyper-athletic, laid-back Syracuse big man dropped 10 points on the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers the help the Orange fend off its most challenging opponent of the season thus far and remain undefeated in ACC play.
More impressive was how he got there. Rather than his typical diet of dunks and putbacks, he showed an honest-to-goodness offensive game. At one point, he unleashed a jump-hook that took his defender, and probably the entire Dome, by surprise.
“Rak made a couple really good post-up moves,” head coach Jim Boeheim said after the Orange eked out a 59-54 win. “Rakeem was huge during the zone. When they switched to the zone we went to him twice, and he made two really good post moves when we had to have them.”
Christmas’s offensive stats are way up. He’s shooting an absurd 74% from the field compared to 53% last year. Eight times this season, he hasn’t missed a shot. His PER, an aggregate stat that takes into account the entire box score, is up to 19.7 (16.2 last season). So are his Win Shares per 40 minutes, another advanced stat. His rebounding and blocks are slightly down, but he’s more than making up for that with his efficiency at the offensive end.
“I’m just trying to stay big and take up space down low,” Christmas said.
Rounding out his game, Christmas has also showing himself a more effective passer. His modest per-game assist numbers are up to 0.6, from 0.2 per last year. Midway through the first half against the Panthers, Christmas caught the ball on the block, sucked in the defense, and found Trevor Cooney in the corner for a rare, wide-open 3. Swish.
With the number of scorers the Orange trot out, Christmas is obviously a fifth option on the offensive end. But if he gives the Orange basically any post presence whatsoever, that will be more than they’ve had since Rick Jackson’s departure. It certainly could be a good time to start backing the Syracuse University at betting sites like bwin.
Boeheim has said that, because he came to basketball so late in his life, Christmas is several years behind in his development. Little by little, he seems to be getting there.
Christmas is notoriously inconsistent, but he looks more comfortable than ever on the inside. His teammates trust him. Boeheim trusts him enough to call two zone-busting post-ups in a row for him.
Christmas doesn’t need to score every night. But when more than one of the Orange stars are struggling, he’s showing that he has the ability to pick up the slack.