When the Syracuse basketball team takes the court in 2014, it will hand the ball to its fourth starting point guard in as many years.
Michael Carter-Williams replaced Scoop Jardine. Then Tyler Ennis replaced Carter-Williams. Now, all signs point to incoming freshman Kaleb Joseph succeeding Ennis. You can't win in college if you don't have solid point guard play. So will Joseph be able to step in and drive Jim Boeheim's Orange sports car as smoothly as Ennis did?
There's bound to be a few bumps in the road. One thing Joseph will tell you, per Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com, is that he's "not Tyler Ennis."
How right he is. First and foremost, Ennis and Joseph play with vastly different styles. Ennis is a cerebral point guard, taking care of the ball as if it were his own child. He always seemed to make the correct decision, and it showed in his over 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his lone year at Syracuse.
Conversely, Joseph is on another planet athletically compared to Ennis. While Ennis used his quickness to get in the paint and finish with floaters and pull-ups, Joseph can break his defender down off the dribble and finish strong at the rim.
Besides the athletic step up, Joseph will bring another change to the Orange offense. He told Carlson he will bring the transition game back to the Orange, who only attempted 17.6 percent of their field goals on the fast break, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Considering Syracuse is losing three of it's top four scorers with few established scoring threats returning, the easy buckets in transition will be key. Trevor Cooney is the only returning player who attempted over 100 shots last year. The team attempted 1,873 total, so the opportunities are there for Joseph.
Joseph knows, though, that he still has a lot to live up to when taking over for Ennis. He told Carlson about what he thinks sets Ennis apart:
Physically, I'm not worried about that. The thing is my mental approach. That's the only thing that separates Tyler. Physically there's nothing he can do that I can't do twice. The separation is his mental approach to every game, his poise.
Joseph is also aware of what it takes to win. In a story by Donna Ditota on Syracuse.com, she said Joseph averaged 16.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds on a team that was 23-6 and that won its second NEPSAC Class AA championship in a row.
"I think I do whatever it takes to win. I'm not going to try to score 30 points because I can. I want to win the game," Joseph told Ditota.
Besides getting to the rim, Joseph will be able to score with mid-range pull-ups. If he is abusing a defender off the dribble, that will cause the defender to play a step off him and open up the jumper. Boeheim told Ditota about what he likes most about Joseph's game:
He's explosive, he's a good mid-range shooter. He's got to work on his 3-point shooting, which all point guards do. He gets to the rim and he's athletic at the rim. He dunks and he can get up. And he's got a good 15-foot mid-range game.
The biggest key for Joseph will be his decision-making. Will he be able to protect the rock as well as Ennis? Probably not. Joseph plays with a free-wheeling streetball style that could occasionally cause him to try to make the flashy pass instead of the smart play.
Joseph also could be a more vocal leader on the floor than Ennis. He will expect the most of his teammates and will hold them accountable when the team struggles. As long as it doesn't cause a rift between players, it can be helpful as the Orange search for new pacesetters on the court. Joseph talked to Carlson about his competitiveness:
I (can be) an a-hole. I don't like to lose at all. The kids on the team, a lot don't like coming to play pick-up sometimes because if they're on my team and we lose, I'm (mad). I'm not pointing the finger and saying you should have done this or that but it's an awkward tension. I don't like to lose.
Boeheim will likely keep Joseph on a short leash, though, especially early in the season. If Joseph makes a few bad plays in a row, Boeheim will call on Michael Gbinije, who has spent the last two years learning the point guard position from Carter-Williams and Ennis.
But Joseph needs to be the primary option at the 1 for Boeheim. Unlike Gbinije, Joseph is a natural point guard and has the experience playing the position at a high level. If he minimizes his mistakes and leads the team effectively in transition, he can give the offense the boost it needs.
Kaleb Joseph is not Tyler Ennis. But considering what the Orange need next year, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
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