James Southerland may be the best 3-point shooter in Syracuse’s rotation, but if you’re looking for the key to his hot start, look no further than his production inside the arc.
Many commentators have rightly praised Southerland’s play in SU’s first three games, but they have also expressed doubt that he can sustain his torrid pace. They correctly point out that he has gotten red hot before (for example, he scored 19 points in his first exhibition game as a freshman), only to cool off the following game. But there is one big difference so far in the young 2011-2012 season: Southerland is shooting more than just 3s.
He has scored 16 field goals in the Orange’s three games, and 10 of those were 2-pointers. To give you perspective, it took him nine games last season to net 10 shots from inside the arc.
Overall last year, nearly half of Southerland’s made field goals came from deep (25 out of 52), and 3s comprised 56 percent of his attempts. Southerland frequently looked lost as he got closer to the basket. Nonetheless, he still managed to shoot 50.9 percent on 2-pointers, comparable to Kris Joseph’s 50.7 percent and CJ Fair’s 54.7 percent.
The potential was there, but he struggled to utilize his size and superior athleticism to create shots. Part of that was likely due to the reins applied by coach Jim Boeheim, but Southerland rarely looked interested in moving closer to the basket from his comfort zone on the wings.
This year has been a different story. Southerland appears integrated into the offense and has shot more 2s than 3s in each of the three games. If you don’t find that surprising, consider that it only occurred in eight of the 28 games he played last season.
As a result, he is shooting an Arinze Onuaku-esque 64 percent from the field, including 6-for-9 on 3s, for a ridiculous 76 percent effective field goal percentage. He has had ally-oops and put-back dunks, but most encouraging has been his ability to create his own shot.
He has displayed a jab-step-back jumper that, at times, looks like Carmelo Anthony’s during the 2003 season. His moves off the dribble are a work in progress, but with the cadre of effective passers on the perimeter, he won’t be asked to utilize them.
The important thing is that he is getting to the hole and it is paying dividends. His three made free throws in three games equal 33 percent of his career total entering the season. Teams can no longer ignore him when he gets the ball inside.
Despite his improved offensive repertoire, Southerland could still find himself the odd man out in the frontcourt rotation if he fails to effectively rebound and defend. He has done both of those well in each of the three games, but it will become more difficult as the opponents’ front lines get bigger. Regardless of what happens, Syracuse fans can expect Southerland to be a weapon on offense whenever he gets in the game.