This Syracuse Orange team just keeps rolling right along. And the charge is consistently being led by its big three—freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, sophomore forward Jerami Grant and senior forward C.J. Fair.
They were awesome Saturday night in what was an epic 91-89 overtime win over Duke.
|Ennis, Fair, Grant versus Duke|
Ennis, Grant and Fair have each made strong cases to NBA scouts this season. And quite frankly, they each have each other to thank.
With their roles and strengths well defined—Ennis runs the show and presses the buttons, Fair is the offense's go-to option, and Grant is the finisher and clean-up man—the three of them complement each other nicely.
But it really all starts in the back with Ennis, whose NBA appeal is driven by his ability to make his teammates better. He sure did against the Blue Devils Saturday night, and as always, he took control at just the right time.
After Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon nailed a crushing three-pointer at the end of regulation to extend the game, Syracuse scored on three of its first four possessions of overtime, with all three buckets perfectly orchestrated and assisted by Ennis.
It's what he does—he takes command of the offense, organizes it and puts his teammates in position to make a play to their strengths.
Jerami Grant made all three of Syracuse's field goals in overtime, showcasing that incredible 7'2'' wingspan and easy-bucket potential as a finisher around the rim. But those six points wouldn't have come without Ennis, who recognized the mismatch and patiently waited before lofting three perfect entry passes landing between Grant and the rim.
Those three baskets required a total of one dribble for Grant. Here's the first Ennis-to-Grant overtime bucket:
And the second:
And the third:
Though not the most skilled offensive player, Grant was still able to drop 24 points by consistently catching the ball in scoring position thanks to timely passes by his floor general. Ennis even hit Grant in stride for a catch-and-shoot mid-range jumper earlier in the game:
Grant sure helped himself throughout the game by staying active on the glass and making plays in the paint. But he hit seven shots against Duke, and six of them were assisted by Ennis, whom ESPN's Jeff Goodman recently ranked (subscription required) as his No. 1 freshman in the country.
On the flip side, it's Grant's ability to turn tough angles into easy buckets that gives Ennis a high-percentage target to pass to, something all point guards love.
Not only have Ennis and Grant helped make Syracuse the threat they've become, but they've also contributed to the rise of each other's draft stocks. Grant entered the year labeled as a fringe first-rounder, while Ennis was considered more of a two- or three-year college guard. And at this rate, both could be in the lottery conversation by the time June rolls around.
And they're not the only two in the lineup with NBA potential. C.J. Fair has also evolved into a pretty complete offensive player.
Few prospects have expanded their games like Fair, who was limited to one-handed runners and tip-ins as a freshman. Now, he's the leading scorer for the No. 2 team in the country.
This year, he's stepped up as Syracuse's No. 1 option, and he's shown the ability to get his team a bucket when it needs it most. Fair made five field goals for 10 points from the 10:06 mark to the 5:35 mark in the second half against Duke, and he followed with a big-time three-point play to re-take the lead with 3:25 left.
He took over against Duke in what should be a signature game on his resume when he eventually looks back on his journey to the draft.
But again, you can't underestimate Ennis' ability to orchestrate the set and find Fair in his sweet spots.
For example, notice Ennis hit Fair in space and then clear out, giving Fair the room he needs to work one-on-one in his comfort zone.
Fair has become an awfully tough cover in isolation, a part of his game that has really come a long way. Step-backs, pull-ups, floaters, explosive takes off the dribble—Fair looks like a legit triple-threat squared up with the ball in his hands.
And at 6'8'' with deceptive athleticism, he's got some promising physical tools to match his skill set for the NBA wing.
Give Fair all the credit in the world for continuously taking his game to new levels. But there's also no question the transition from role player to featured scorer has been aided by his counterparts.
“That’s big for me, especially when you’re receiving a lot of attention, and people want to stop you,” Fair told Ryan Fagan of Sporting News in reference to the support he's getting from teammates. “When other guys are contributing, it keeps them honest and makes my job easier.”
This year's Syracuse team has been easy on the eyes—they play an under-control, unselfish brand of ball. And what's helped each of the team's top three NBA prospects stand out is their ability to naturally play off each others' strengths.
Ennis, Grant and Fair—individually, they each have their weaknesses and flaws. But when together, those weaknesses often go hidden, while their talent tends to glow.