Down Edwards, Syracuse should feature Girard in 3-guard look

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Nov 13, 2019; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Joe Girard III (11) reacts to his three-point basket against the Colgate Raiders during the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long time since there has been a true point guard in the starting lineup for Syracuse. Where have you gone, Tyler Ennis? I mean, aside from that Los Angeles-area grocery store where my friend saw you a few years ago.

With the latest turn of the season, perhaps Jesse Edwards’ season-ending injury should be just the thing to get a true point guard close to a starter’s share of minutes, if not an actual starting role.

Hear me out.

The Orange have only played one game since Edwards was lost, so there is not a lot of data on the team’s performance without him. That said, the team’s calling card this season has been their offense, specifically their three-point shooting capability. Their defense, even with everyone on deck, has been poor. The team’s performance on that end of the floor has improved to 215th in the nation at KenPom in the last week.

So, SU should lean into it. Just as the Orange did a handful of seasons ago with Tyus Battle, John Gillon, Tyler Lydon, and Andrew White III pacing an explosive offense and trying to distract from a leaky defense, lean into three-point shooting and try to outscore your opponents.

As we are reminded every NCAA Tournament when some school with a student body under 3,500 that you never heard of until Selection Sunday knocks off a team from a power conference, three-point shooting is a very volatile trait that can lead a team to beat anybody on any given day. And with as good a group of perimeter shooters as Syracuse has, there is even more reason to lean into it, as two or three or maybe even four guys on this roster can strike from long range at least three times in a game.

But, how does that get back to Jesse Edwards’ injury and increasing playing time for a true point guard? It’s simple.

It’s time to trust Symir Torrence as a distributor for bigger minutes and move Joe Girard III to the two with Buddy Boeheim bumping up to the three. Maximize your best shooter’s minutes (yes, I said it) by removing the yoke of point guard responsibilities from Girard’s shoulders and getting a pass-first player on the floor to take them over.

What this gets back to is looking at what has been successful for your starting backcourt over the last two seasons and trying to recreate those conditions as much as possible to maximize the results.

And what are those conditions in which Boeheim and Girard flourish? Well, we will look at them separately, even though the two are strongly intertwined.

First, Boeheim was a better shooter last season when paired with Girard than with Kadary Richmond. During the 2020-2021 season, Boeheim shot 43.3 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range. Here is the breakdown in how Boeheim shot in two-guard lineups (all data has been pulled from play-by-play in box scores at cuse.com):

  • Boeheim shooting stats with Girard (214 total attempts): 46.3 percent field goals, 40.2 percent from three
  • Boeheim shooting stats with Richmond (138 total attempts): 40.6 percent field goals, 37.2 percent from three

Boeheim blistered the nets during the last ten games of the season, helping propel Syracuse into the Sweet Sixteen by averaging 22.7 points per game and boosting those shooting percentages to 53.2 percent overall and 45.5 percent from three in that span. And during that time when Boeheim was shooting out of his mind, his numbers were even better when paired with Girard. Those numbers:

  • Boeheim shooting stats with Girard (78 total attempts): 59.0 percent field goals, 48.9 percent from three
  • Boeheim shooting stats with Richmond (74 total attempts): 50.0 percent field goals, 45.6 percent from three

How do you employ that this season? Keep the same starting five as against Virginia Tech, but focus on trying to get Boeheim going early by spreading the floor and have Girard focus more on being a set-up man than a shooter when he has point guard responsibilities.

Girard’s strongest attribute going back to when he was a recruit is his shooting/scoring ability. While shooting and scoring are not exactly the same thing, they are intertwined for Girard, a player with range that extends well beyond the arc. There is one aspect of that skill that does not show up in Girard’s stat line. It does, however, show up in Boeheim’s stat line.

While he is asked to sacrifice his own scoring by running the offense, the simple threat of Girard’s shooting ability being on the floor makes his backcourt mate a better shooter. Whether spreading out the opponent on defense, being enough of a threat that his defender cannot sag off to provide help, or any other reason, the numbers show Girard’s presence on the court having a strong positive effect on Boeheim’s shooting.

Girard will still need to look for his shot every now and then to keep the defense honest, but the goal is to get Boeheim going when he has a better matchup against an opponent’s shooting guard.

So, how to maximize Girard? Go to Torrence off the bench earlier, play him for longer stretches, and give him more total minutes. Pair him with either Boeheim or Girard in the backcourt (the latter option, despite being an effective one, has basically dropped off the face of the earth as an option the last five games, seeing a total of 4:44 in that time) or use this trio in a three-guard offense where Girard as the top option.

» Related: Syracuse may not be able to avoid losing record

Here’s why Torrence getting more minutes is so helpful:

  1. Like his starting backcourt mate, Girard has been excellent working in tandem with Torrence this season, shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
  2. Run a three-guard offense with Girard playing the two and Boeheim bumping up to small forward, only with Girard as the top option. Add Boeheim and the defensive attention he draws to the mix and Girard goes out of this world, shooting 61.1 percent overall and 57.1 percent from three. Girard also pulled off this trick last season, shooting 52.4 percent on field goals and 50.0 percent on triples when paired with Boeheim and Richmond.
  3. Torrence playing more also works for Boeheim. When paired with Torrence in the backcourt, Boeheim has become lethal in the last ten games, shooting 48.2 percent overall from the field and 62.5 percent from three. It took half the season for these two to get comfortable sharing the backcourt, but they have figured it out.

The reason Girard is the first option in this three-guard alignment is the problem? To this point, Boeheim has struggled in them, most likely because he draws a tougher matchup in the opponent’s small forward, normally a taller, longer defender whose size can create difficulty. Last season, he shot 30 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three in a three-guard lineup. This time around, those percentages have slid to 25 percent overall and 18.2 percent from three.

However, with the strong play Boeheim and Torrence have shown in recent games, there is reason to believe this can be translated to a three-guard set-up.

Yes, slicing up the minutes of 53 basketball games makes for very small sample sizes, particularly for the three-guard lineups. The Boeheim-Girard-Richmond trio saw 68:19 of playing time last season and Boeheim-Girard-Torrence has 49:08 this campaign, with 36 total field goal attempts for Boeheim and 39 for Girard. It is not much to go on.

But, why not go for it?

The team is going to have trouble rebounding? Defending? Something else? They were not particularly good at these things prior to Edwards’ injury.

The old saying “desperate times call for desperate measures” may come to mind.

This is not that. This is playing to the strengths of these players and, in certain cases, you could argue that some of these elements should have been going on the whole time.

There is literally nothing for Syracuse to lose except a couple games that it was probable they were going to lose anyway. Go down shooting.

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About Jim Stechschulte 805 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. He currently resides in Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.