Tyus Battle’s return to Syracuse has had to be disappointing. After declaring for the NBA draft after his sophomore season, but opting not to sign with an agent and return to Syracuse, the 2018-2019 campaign has had to be a letdown.
Battle was All-ACC Second Team last season and was named to the preseason All-ACC First Team this season. He will be hard-pressed to make the second team again this time around.
Battle’s overall scoring total of 17.1 points per game is still good enough for sixth in the ACC (he ranks tenth in ACC games, averaging 16.4 points per conference game). While it is down from last season’s 19.2 points per game mark, that is understandable with the addition of Elijah Hughes to the Syracuse rotation.
With Hughes in the mix, Battle’s field goal attempts have dropped about ten percent on a per minute rate from last season. Between Hughes’ presence and Battle playing slightly fewer minutes than last season, this dip in scoring is more than understandable.
On the good side of the coin, Battle’s overall field goal shooting has returned to its freshman levels when he was a complementary player instead of the focus of an opposing defense. A large part of that is that he has been more persistent at getting to the rim.
Based on the numbers from hoop-math.com, much of Battle’s gain in overall field goal percentage is due to having 27.4 percent of his attempts come at the rim this season as opposed to last season’s 17.5 percent rate. His shooting percentage at the rim has jumped from 60.2 percent to 67.5 percent, as well.
While that improvement is great, it is offset by Battle’s three-point shooting mark being at a career low. Season-by-season, Battle has slid from 36.6 percent to 32.1 percent to 30.2 percent. At least he has reduced his percentage of attempts from deep down from 40.9 percent last season to 29.4 percent this time around.
His free throw shooting has tailed off, as well. After hitting nearly 80 percent at the line as a freshman and just under 84 percent last season, Battle is shooting 77.2 percent from the stripe this time around. That mark is good enough to lead the team, but still significantly down.
Part of it is the situation Battle has found himself in this season. Battle has been counted on more as a playmaker than as a scorer due to a combination of Frank Howard’s early-season injury rehab and Jim Boeheim’s frequent substitution to an offense-first personnel group where Buddy Boeheim replaces Howard on the floor.
With Howard on the shelf to start the season, Battle was handed the primary ballhandling responsibilities. Battle shot 21-for-52 from the floor in those first four games, just 40.4 percent, including a meager 1-of-11 on three-pointers.
Howard’s return seemed to free Battle from the extra weight of running the offense. Battle went off for 70 points in the next three games, shooting over 50 percent in each game and 64.8 percent (24-for-37) overall. His long ball radar was honed in, as well, as Battle hit 8-of-11 from deep. It seemed all was well and the banner year was on.
In the last dozen games, though, Buddy Boeheim has become the first perimeter option off the bench, seeing at least 15 minutes nine times. Most of that playing time has been at the expense of Howard, as Battle has sat for 39 minutes total in those 12 contests. And while Boeheim is on the floor with him, Battle is the de facto point guard.
Battle has been hit-or-miss in those dozen games, and more frequently the latter. His shooting rate is 40.5 percent in that time, including making under 35 percent of his shots six times. While great at Duke and Boston College and at the Dome against Florida State, Battle was lousy at Virginia Tech, Pitt, and NC State, and the same against Louisville and Duke at home. He is currently mired in an 11-for-40 slump, including a 4-for-17 mark Saturday night against the Blue Devils.
His playmaking has been good at times (he does lead the team with 68 assists), but he has racked up 26 turnovers in those last dozen games. That rate of 2.2 per game is markedly higher than his 1.3 turnovers per game in the first 15 contests.
Battle sometimes looks tentative early in games, unsure if he should be looking to create his own offense or set up his teammates. Even with Howard in the game, Battle does not always appear as aggressive as last season. Sometimes, this is offset if Howard gets off to a quick start, such as his eight points in the first six minutes against Duke Saturday night, essentially creating a reversal of roles between the guard duo.
Battle also seems to be wearing his frustration on the outside much more often. The junior is much more confrontational with referees, barking and making dismissive gestures when he feels either a call or non-call is wrong. While he is yet to receive a technical foul this season, it is not out of the question that he will continue to run that risk.
Battle is still a key player for the Orange as the season winds down. It just remains to be seen how he finishes and if it helps finish off SU.