Thursday, October 12, 2006

Who'll Start At the Point?

Lot’s of discussion among the Syracuse faithful this year on who will play point guard for Syracuse. Candidates range from Josh Wright to Eric Devendorf to Paul Harris. Practices haven’t started, so who knows how well anyone is going to play or fit in with their teammates. Maybe Wright has improved over the summer. Or Devendorf has worked on his ball handling. Or Harris is so multi-talented he can handle the point. I don’t really know.

I do know the following however.

While I think Jim Boeheim prefers to have a strong point guard on the court, he has more than a couple of precedents over his career where he's tried playing with no true point guard, in favor of putting more overall talent on the court. He’s always been a big fan of putting the best five players on the court, whenever possible. That doesn't mean it always works out, but it has been tried.

In 1989-90, he tried starting the season with Stephen Thompson at the point so he could get Dave Johnson into the starting lineup. That did not work out well; Thompson was far more suited to playing above the rim, then 20 feet away, and by mid season, Johnson had to be benched so that Michael Edwards (a pure freshman with significantly less overeall talent than DJ) could start.

In 2001-02, DeShaun Williams was the starting point guard at the season’s beginning, so that Boeheim could insert Hakim Warrick at the power forward, and also play Preston Shumpert, Kueth Duany and Craig Forth. By mid season, he inserted James Thues at the point, shifting Williams over to the shooting guard, Duany to the small forward, and Shumpert to power forward (hard to believe!). Warrick, who would eventually end up being an all-time Syracuse great, ended out of the starting lineup; and the 2001-02 team ended up being so fractured, that I don't know if any move would've salvaged the team.

Last season (2005-2006), he continued to start Gerry McNamara at the point and had Eric Devendorf as the two guard, benching Josh Wright, clearly because he wanted the overall skills of Devendorf over Wright. Boeheim never made a switch there, either because he was happy enough with GMac at the point or unhappy with Wright's development and ability to take over at the point. As much as the team struggled at times late in the season, I’ve got to believe it was more of the latter than the former.

In 1978-79, he started Hal Cohen and Marty Headd at guards in order to get more perimeter shooting, while having Eddie Moss, a better defender and ball handler come off the bench. Late in the season, he swapped Moss for Cohen. Not a big change there as Cohen/Moss/Headd where splitting time fairly evenly regardless of who started

So looking at past seasons, it’s clear that Coach Boeheim could well start both Harris and Devendorf (I imagine it really doesn't matter which is the point). If it gels, he’ll stay with it... if not, he'll put one on the bench and start Wright. If he benched a young Hakim Warrick and a young Dave Johnson (both eventually drafted in the first round of the NBA), it's not unfathomable that Devendorf or Harris could be benched. Or that Harris would move to small forward and Terrence Roberts or Demetris Nichols would be benched.

Of course, the bigger point is which five finish the game, not who starts it. Starting is for pride, but finishing is for victory.

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