What should Syracuse basketball expect from Kaleb Joseph in year two?

How much will Joseph improve next year?

How much will Joseph improve next year?

One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2015-16 Syracuse basketball season is what kind of improvement point guard Kaleb Joseph will make. The mercurial guard averaged 5.9 points and 3.8 assists, while starting 30 of 31 games in the past season.

It isn’t a stretch to say that Joseph struggled at times, especially in ACC play. But with a season under his belt and an offseason that will likely improve his strength and shot, Joseph should improve in his sophomore year. The question is, how much?

To get somewhat of a predictor in what sophomore leap (if any) Joseph will make, we took a look at the last four point guards to start at Syracuse as freshmen: Adrian Autry, Jason Hart, Gerry McNamara and Jonny Flynn. I initially wanted to include Brandon Triche, who started at point guard in the 2009-10 season, but ultimately excluded him because he didn’t start at point guard in his sophomore year. Conversely, I decided to include McNamara in his sophomore year because, while he didn’t start the season at point guard, he had to finish the season in that position after Billy Edelin left the program.

So, without further ado, let’s start with Autry.

Year GP/GS FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
1990-91 30/31 40.2% 31.7% 5.3 3.73 9.7
1991-92 31/28 36.7% 33.3% 4.0 3.29 11.0
Variation N/A -3.5% +1.6% -1.3 -.44 +1.3

One thing that jumps out about Autry’s stats is that he had a decline in field goal percentage and assists while his points per game went up. That’s a relatively simple explanation: Billy Owens left between Autry’s freshman and sophomore years, so Autry was pressed into more of a scoring role. That being said, the most encouraging statistic is the nearly half a turnover improvement in Autry’s stats, which was his best assist/turnover ratio in his four years at SU.

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The next freshman to start after Autry was Jason Hart in the 1996-97 season.

Year GP/GS FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
1996-97 32/32 37.9% 32.9% 5.8 3.09 9.6
1997-98 35/35 36.6% 26.0% 5.0 3.51 10.1
Variation N/A -1.3% -6.9% -.8 +.42 +.5

For Hart, despite the small uptick in points in his sophomore year, he suffered in nearly every other statistical category. Then again, after the 1996-97 team missed the NCAA Tournament (and was the last SU team before this year not to win 20 games), Hart and his teammates made it to the Sweet 16 in his sophomore year. The dip in outside shooting percentage would prove to be an anomaly, as it jumped to 36.6 percent in his junior year before falling to 33.3 percent in his final season.

Perhaps the most beloved player in SU history would be the next freshman to start at point guard, Gerry McNamara.

Year GP/GS FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
2002-03 35/35 40.1% 35.7% 4.4 2.42 13.3
2003-04 31/31 38.4% 38.9% 3.8 2.54 17.2
Variation N/A -1.7% -3.2% -.6 +.12 +3.9

The numbers are a little deceptive going into McNamara’s sophomore year. If you remember, Billy Edelin played for 17 games that season at point guard, allowing McNamara to shift into more of his natural position at shooting guard, hence the rise in points per game and the drop in assists per game. But what you see is that, for the most part, the field goal percentage and turnovers remained mostly the same.

Boeheim would once again entrust point guard duties to a freshman in the 2007-08 season, Jonny Flynn.

Year GP/GS FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
2007-08 35/35 45.9% 34.8% 5.3 2.71 15.7
2008-09 38/38 46.0% 31.7% 6.7 3.39 17.4
Variation N/A +.1 -3.1% +1.4 +1.32 +2.7

Syracuse’s dream scenario for Joseph would be Flynn’s improvement from his freshman to sophomore year. Though Flynn turned the ball over more, he also was counted on to make more plays, and it showed with a huge rise in assists and points per game. SU’s play as a team improved with Flynn, as the team went from the NIT in Flynn’s freshman year to an NCAA Sweet 16 berth in his sophomore year.

So if you combine all four of the variations, here’s what you end up with:

Year FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
Variation -1.6 -2.9% -.32 +.35 +2.1

And if you apply these variations to Joseph’s freshman numbers…

Year GP/GS FG% 3PT% APG TPG PPG
2014-15 31/30 37.6% 20.0% 3.8 2.32 5.9
2015-16 31/31 37.7% 16.9% 5.2 3.64 8.6

A couple of observations from the predictor:

  • The improvements in points per game and assists per game seem about right. Joseph will (presumably) be playing more minutes next season and be more involved in the offense. Joseph will probably add about 10 pounds of muscle over the summer, so those layups he missed last year should turn into makes.
  • I don’t see that high a rise in turnovers. Something in the neighborhood of 3.3 sounds more correct. Likewise, there’s no way that his 3-point percentage will drop into the teens. All four of the previous Syracuse point guards shot above 30 percent in their freshmen years, and Joseph will likely see a significant bump in his percentage. I would expect him around the upper 20s or low 30s.
  • On the other hand, the field goal percentage seems about right. With Joseph taking more shots and being more active on offense, I don’t see his overall field goal percentage rising (or dropping) by more than a point or two.
  • On balance, the predictor outside of 3-point percentage seems about right. The real question is, can Syracuse be a successful team with those kinds of numbers?

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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