Syracuse basketball needs Trevor Cooney to be more efficient

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Syracuse needs more from its senior guard

After taking the Bahamas by storm, raining 3s all the way, Syracuse has vaulted to No. 14 in the AP Top 25. But lost in the hysteria over Tyler Lydon and Michael Gbinije combining to shoot a ridiculous 54 percent from 3 has been Trevor Cooney’s terrible inefficiency.

Let’s start with effective field goal percentage (EFG), which takes into account 3s and 2s. As a team, Syracuse ranks 91st in the country with an EFG of 52.6 percent. Cooney, however, is shooting just 44.2 percent. For comparison, Malachi Richardson’s EFG is 54.5 percent and Gbinije is in another stratosphere at 67.1 percent.

Upon hearing this, most fans immediately think of Cooney’s inability to back up his reputation as a deadly 3-point shooter. Cooney is shooting just 31 percent from beyond the arc (13-42) thus far. This is a small sample size, but his percentage is almost identical to last season (30.09 percent). Over his career, Cooney has shot 617 3s and made 202 (32.7 percent). By now the Orange knows what it’s getting: high volume at a low percentage.

But this season, Cooney’s bigger problem has been his lack of efficiency inside the arc. Although he’s converting a respectable 55 percent of shots at the rim, he’s shooting just 25 percent on 2-point jumpers. If you’re picturing Cooney shooting a contested fade-away along the baseline, that’s what this statistic is referring to. For comparison, Tyler Roberson – who despite a summer of practicing his mid-range game has been essentially forbidden from shooting outside of 4 feet – is shooting only a hair worse at 23.5 percent.

At some point, other teams are going to catch on. Cooney has continued to attract the attention of opposing defenses based on reputation, but that attention will soon shift to Lydon and Gbinije if they continue to make more than half of their 3s.

» Related: Gbinije named Battle 4 Atlantis MVP as Syracuse defeats Texas A&M

Theoretically, this should free up Cooney for more open shots, but unless he converts them SU’s offensive efficiency will plummet. Cooney already takes 25.4 percent of the Orange’s shots, the highest on the team. Even more problematic is that he plays 95.8 percent of possible minutes – the 4th highest in the county. As his legs inevitably tire over the course of the season, it will become even more difficult for him to shoot efficiently.

All of this is not to say that Cooney is a bad player. He has been drawing fouls at a higher rate than in years past, attempting 36 free throws for every 100 shots. As a result, his true shooting percentage and overall offensive efficiency have not been as bad as the rest of his shooting would indicate. Additionally, Cooney is active at the top of the zone with a relatively high steal percentage (3.1 percent).

While Cooney’s defensive prowess may be a big reason why Coach Boeheim plays him the entire game, it will not be enough to overcome his offensive inefficiencies and win games if opposing teams find ways to slow down Gbinije and Lydon. He must shoot more efficiently.

But the onus is not entirely with Cooney. He will play more efficiently if he can get more
rest, and he won’t get more rest until Boeheim feels comfortable replacing him with Frank Howard or Kaleb Joseph.

Although Howard has shown himself to be a precocious passer, it’s easy to forget that he has yet to make a field goal this season (0-4). Joseph, meanwhile, has shown such little improvement from last season that it’s easy to remember he’s only 2 for 11 on the year. It’s early for these types of advanced stats to mean much, but it’s worth noting that Joseph has averaged just 0.004 win shares per 40 minutes while Howard is only a smidge higher at 0.057. Even combined, that’s about half of Trevor Cooney’s value.

It’s tempting to hope that Cooney will simply break out of his 2-year-long slump and return to 2014 form (37.5 percent from 3, although even that was plagued by inconsistency). But as Cooney’s percentage of minutes and usage have steadily risen the last three seasons, his offensive rating has steadily fallen.

The Orange needs Cooney to play efficiently, and if Cooney is going to play efficiently then Howard and Joseph need to prove themselves as adequate back ups and give the guy a rest.

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Jeff Irvine

About Jeff Irvine

Jeff has covered Massachusetts Minutemen basketball for The Maroon and White and The Daily Hampshire Gazette. He has also written for The Daily Orange. Jeff is an Amherst, Massachusetts native, and graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyirvine.
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