Potential is a funny thing in sports. Scouts and talking heads fall in love with a player simply based on size, athleticism, and pedigree. Players are often overrated, and paid as such in the pros, based on little more than what people want them to be, not what they actually are. Tyler Roberson has that magic word, potential. He’s had it since he stepped foot onto the Syracuse University campus. As a freshman, it was fun catching glimpses of what type of player he could be. As a sophomore, we need to see the reality; the Orange needs to see it in order to succeed.
I’m asking a lot from a player who averaged only 8.1 minutes per game last season, and shot a measly 29.8% from the field en route to 2.2 point per game. But as I wrote about in my last column, Roberson is the next man up at small forward, replacing C.J. Fair. And, I’m not the only one asking him to step up his game.
“Tyler Roberson, he’s a big key. He has to be able to really change production,” coach Jim Boeheim said back in June. “He’s got to go from nothing to 10-11 points a game, 5-6 rebounds. That’s a big jump. If he rebounds, he’ll score because he’ll get some offensive rebounds.”
Is that reasonable? Can we expect a guy who didn’t score more than six point nor grab more than 5 rebounds in any game last year to put up 11 ppg and 5 rpg on a nightly basis? History says it’s possible, and fairly probable.
Kris Joseph was a 6’7 forward with heaps of potential on the 2008 team. He only saw the court for 13.2 mpg and scored 3.4 ppg and grabbed 2.8 rpg as a freshman. One year later he average 10.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg in 26.7 mpg for Boeheim. Those are the number expected from the 6’8 Roberson.
So, how many Syracuse small forwards have made that jump as a sophomore in the past 10 years? Just Joseph.
C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Demtris Nichols all needed another year, and didn’t make the leap to reach those numbers until their junior year. Hakim Warrick and Jerami Grant made the leap in their sophomore campaigns, but those two were freakishly athletic power forwards, where as Roberson is more of Nichols/Joseph shooter type of player. Still, if we include them he’d have a 50/50 chance.
So why do I think he’ll do it? Because there’s no one else in front of him. Nichols had to wait for Josh Pace to move on. Southerland and Fair had to wait for Joseph and Wes Johnson. With Fair gone, the only small forwards on the roster are Roberson and fellow sophomore B.J. Johnson.
They both played well in early August for the USA East Coast All-Star team that participated in the Four Nations Cup in Estonia. But Roberson is the one who averaged 11.8 ppg and 10.3 rpg. Roberson is the one that came into Syracuse as the 10th best small forward in the country. He’s the one who got the playing time, limited as it may have been, and appeared in twice as many games as Johnson last year.
OH! And there’s this interesting fact: You have to go back to the 2003-2004 season to find a team that had a starting small forward who averaged less than 10ppg and 5rpg. (Josh Pace averaged 9.5ppg and 5.3 rpg, not far off).
It’s not a secret that Boeheim recruits a certain type of player to fit his system. Within that system, the same type of player seems to replicate itself over and over. We’ve had Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins, and now Trevor Cooney as streaky shooting guards. We’ve had Craig Forth, Fab Melo, and Rakeem Christmas as low stat-producing defensive centers. We’ve had the recent run of point guards that Kaleb Joseph is now representing. And, of course, we’ve had the small forwards- athletic wings recruited to play the zone that always emerge as offensive weapons on Boeheim’s teams.
Roberson will be that weapon this year. He will average at least 10 and 5 and help bridge the gap left by the departure of C.J. Fair. He’s the next man up and he is ready to shed the label of “potential star” and become a key cog of the Syracuse offense.