Mercurial Kaleb Joseph showing signs of improvement for Syracuse

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Kaleb Joseph has had an up-and-down season

Freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph came into the season with high expectations. The two young men who played the point before him for Syracuse both left early after just one season of starting for the Orange and both were first round picks in the NBA draft.

So, why wouldn’t another freshman point guard just step in and be great? Well, what if he was not a true point guard?

Well, the up-and-down reality of on-the-job training sunk in fairly early for Joseph, who rang up some high turnover counts in the early part of the season, even while he was posting some impressive stats in other columns of the stat sheet.

In four of the first six games of the season, the freshman coughed up the ball four times. In that span, though, he averaged over six assists and tacked on a couple double-digit scoring efforts. And when he committed eight turnovers against Louisiana Tech, at least he bounced back with ten dimes against Villanova.

His shooting could generously be described as spotty. In his crash course at the one, Joseph has been reminded frequently that his job is to set up the scorers on the team, be it Rakeem Christmas in the post or Trevor Cooney off a screen.

The side effect of the sometimes harsh lessons given to him is that Joseph, at times, looks scared to shoot, particularly from the perimeter. He has connected on only 4-of-22 threes and has only shot from deep three times in the last nine games. Defenses sag off him, ignoring him when doubling Christmas down low or helping off to pester Cooney on the perimeter.

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Combine all that with his shaky jumper and it certainly looks like Joseph is hesitant to pull the trigger, to say the least.

Defensive lapses, well, we know how Jim Boeheim feels about those. Joseph does, too.

All that considered, Joseph is still growing into the position.

While spending some time on the bench due to mistakes, particularly on defense, Joseph has only turned the ball over once in each of the last seven games. That has been a key to his 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in that span.

Joseph’s assist total has also been hindered by spending time on the bench. In those same seven games, he has played 189 minutes, or just 67.5 percent of the available time. His playing time is also on the upswing, as he has logged at least 32 minutes in three of the last four games, suggesting he is becoming Boeheim’s preferred option at the point.

When he finds himself wide open on the perimeter, Joseph still passes on those shots where no defender is within ten feet. But, he takes advantage of all that space, driving into the key to get a lay-up (for him or a teammate), hoist a short floater, or even to drive
through the lane and come out in an attempt to distract a defender to create a passing lane and a good look for a teammate.

While driving right into the teeth of the defense is not ideal, especially when multiple players are crowded around Christmas on the block, Joseph is often making something good come from it.

The shooting is still a work in progress, as evidenced by his 10-of-32 mark in a half dozen ACC games. Joseph, however, has at least found himself comfortable at the free throw line, making 25 of his last 32 tries there, good for a 78.1 percent success rate. If he continues to tidy up his work on the defensive end, Joseph will certainly find himself on the floor in the closing minutes of tight games.

It has not been easy for him, but Joseph is improving. The Orange desperately need that, though, as the schedule is going to ramp up and a postseason berth is on the line.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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