Gerry McNamara. Andy Rautins. James Southerland.
Those are just a few of the great shooters who have come through Syracuse recently. Now, Trevor Cooney is the designated sharpshooter for the Orange, and shoot sharply he did.
For the first half of the 2013-14 season.
Once ACC play began, however, Cooney's performance fell off a cliff. He shot 50 percent for the first half of the year and around 25 percent the rest of the way, including a few notable o-fer performances at Wake Forest, Duke and in Syracuse's NCAA tournament loss to Dayton.
However, it is still too soon to write off Cooney. He just finished his redshirt sophomore season, which was the first in which he received meaningful playing time.
An article from The Juice details how some shooters in the past—Rautins and Southerland included—improved from their sophomore to junior seasons. It even mentions how Cooney's sophomore statistical performance was ahead of those of the former players mentioned.
But how exactly can Cooney be a more dependable threat in 2014-15? There are a few things he, as well as Jim Boeheim, can do to help Cooney give defenses nightmares more consistently.
Vary the Play-Calling
For the majority of the year, Boeheim only used one play to get Cooney an open look. He would run along the baseline past a series of screens to try and shake his defender. Generally, it was either that or step into a shot off a pass along the perimeter.
If Boeheim tosses in a few wrinkles here and there, he can keep defenses guessing as to where Cooney is going to go.
For a little inspiration, look no further than the best shooting backcourt in the NBA: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors.
What you see above is what the Warriors call the "elevator doors play." Basically, it ends up with the shooter running up the middle of the paint while two big men set a screen at the foul line. The bigs end up shoulder-to-shoulder, closing off the shooter's defender. This action resembles elevator doors closing, hence the name.
If Boeheim incorporates this play, it can catch defenses off guard.
Boeheim's pet play with Cooney running the baseline can still be the main action, but this can be thrown in every now and then if defenders aren't having too much trouble keeping up with Cooney.
Also, this play creates a shot with the shooter looking straight at the basket. A look from that area is easier because the shooter doesn't have to worry about lining it up. He can just let it fly. And, hey, if it's a little strong and the shot banks in, it's still worth three points—even if banks are closed.
Perfect the Mechanics
If Cooney is on, he is as good as any shooter in the country. However, defenses keying on him in the ACC forced him to take shots while leaning or falling away from the basket, causing his shot to be off.
In the above video, you'll see Cooney lighting up Notre Dame to the tune of 33 points and nine three-pointers. On each of his long-range shots, Cooney's body is straight up and down and he essentially lands in the shoe marks he left when he jumped.
If Cooney concentrates on staying balanced when he shoots, he will find himself knocking his attempts down more often.
Hitting one or two early with the proper mechanics would give him the confidence to hit from the parking lot, like he did on a few against the Irish.
Speaking of confidence...
Gain Confidence from Easier Shots
This can be done in a few ways.
First, Cooney needs to continue to be disruptive at the top of the 2-3 zone. He averaged just under two steals a game this year, so if he can keep that up next year, he can get dunks or open threes in transition.
Additionally, Cooney can use a head fake on the perimeter and look to drive the ball more often. Cooney did sometimes struggle to finish over bigger defenders when he got all the way to the rim, but if he can add more muscle in the offseason, he will fare better when he goes to the tin.
Cooney could also look to use a pull-up jumper or floater from mid-range to get some easier looks. Attacking off the dribble will also help him get to the foul line more, where he was an 84 percent shooter in 2013-14.
Either way, seeing the ball go in from close range can make the basket look bigger when Cooney rises from deep.
With C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis gone, Cooney will be left as the only player with experience who will be a threat from deep. If Syracuse's tournament loss taught us anything, it's that you can't get far if you can't make jump shots.
Cooney will again be the guy Boeheim leans on to make those shots.
He made a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year. If he can make another in his junior season, he can give the Orange offense another gear.
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