In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse basketball. Today’s topic: What kind of freshman season will Malachi Richardson have? The Juice Online’s Steve Auger and Wesley Cheng explored.
Wesley Cheng: Steve, a couple of weeks ago, I tried to predict how Malachi Richardson’s freshman season would go. I said that in 15 minutes per game, he’d average 6.0 points on 40 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from downtown. What predictions do you have?
Steve Auger: I’m much more optimistic about Richardson’s production, Wes. I think he’ll average 10.0 points per game while consistently making enough 3s to get Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije more open looks from beyond the arc. Long-range shooting was a struggle for Syracuse last season and, at 6’6″, I see Malachi as being able to contribute to solving that problem. Six PPG seems pretty low for the recruit who’s the gem of Jim Boeheim’s class. Do you not see him getting the minutes to make a bigger splash?
WC: I have no doubt that if Richardson could get the playing time, he’d get a lot closer to averaging double figures. The question is, where does that playing time come from? Richardson isn’t a point guard, so he won’t really take too many minutes away from Kaleb Joseph. Cooney was among the leaders in minutes played in the ACC. If Joseph is playing 30 minutes a game and Cooney is at 35, that only leaves 15 minutes for him in the back court. He’s too small at this point to really compete for minutes at wing. I think he’d need at least 25 minutes to average double figures. Where does the playing time come from for you?
SA: I understand your thinking with regards to his minutes but I’m not going to speculate about exact minutes per game average. My reasoning is that if he is a good enough shooter, especially from three, JB will find him the minutes because the offense will need his shot. There might be times where he’s part of a very small lineup: Cooney, Joseph, Gbinije, Richardson, and DaJuan Coleman. Yes, that’s small, but Cooney-Gbinije-Richardson have the potential of a pick-your-poison for opponents. Again, my reasoning is all predicated on Malachi being a consistently good 3-point shooter. I’m having a hard time thinking a recruit of his quality will ride the pine. Now, if KJ doesn’t make The Leap at the PG spot and G has to fill-in for parts of the game, how much more time and production do you see Richardson receiving?
WC: Let’s say that Joseph doesn’t make any sort of leap and it’s relegated to around 25 minutes per game. And let’s also say that with another good shooter on the roster, Cooney gets more breaks and plays only 33 minutes a game. That leaves 22 minutes for Richardson. An average of six points over nine minutes means that Richardson averages 0.4 points per minute played. So if you factor that into 22 minutes per game, that comes out to 8.8 points per game, which I think would be fabulous numbers for a freshman shooting guard. Name the last freshman shooting guard who didn’t start who also averaged more than 10 points per game?
SA: While I don’t know the answer to that, I’m pretty sure you do, Wes. If I had to guess, I’d say it hasn’t happened. If KJ doesn’t make The Leap, then SU has a whole different set of problems other than finding more minutes for Richardson. But since this debate centers on minutes for Richardson, let me ask you this: will he see end-of-game minutes? If he does shoot the way we hope, that, along with his wing span in the zone, should make him an asset to close out games, no?
WC: Well, at the very least, I can say that it hasn’t happened in the last ten years. As to your question, that depends on a lot of things. How effective will Joseph be? Which Cooney will show up? And perhaps the most important thing, how good will Richardson be on defense? If he can’t man his part of the zone effectively, Boeheim has had a history of not playing that particular player. If I had to make an educated guess, he’ll be in line for situational end-of-game minutes, but he probably won’t play over Joseph or Cooney with the game on the line. Last question for you, Steve: How many minutes does he ultimately end up with per game?
SA: I think that comes down to two factors: how well he picks up the 2-3 zone in practice (Thou shalt play defense to earn minutes under JB) and, again, how well he shoots. It’s totally up to Malachi to force the coaching staff into one of those good-problems-to-have scenarios. I’ll say worst case he plays 12-15 MPG and best case he plays 18-20 MPG. Of course, there could be exceptions for bigger minutes on occasion if, say, Cooney is struggling with his shot that night or if Cooney or Mike G get into foul trouble.