Saturday, March 10, 2007

As Freshman Rebounders Go

Anyone who has watched Syracuse freshman Paul Harris play this season quickly realized that he is a terrific rebounder. Despite starting only one game this year, he is second on the team in rebounds with 229, and had a masterful 15 in the loss to Notre Dame the other night. Harris came to Syracuse with extremely high fan expectations (far too high in my opinion at the time), and it is rumored he would have gone straight to the NBA if new rules had not prohibited it.

The new rule probably is fortunate for Harris. While he shows sparks of defensive brilliance, and outstanding rebounding, he has often seemed totally lost in the offensive scheme and has demonstrated little shooting ability 10 feet and out. He has shown he is an explosive scorer near the hoop, and there is a lot of promise in this young man, and it appears we are fortunate to have him gracing the Orange uniforms. A few years in college basketball should help him adjust and develop his offensive game.

How good has Harris’ freshman year been? He hasn’t been a starter, so his stats may look askew. He has only 7.2 rebounds per game. I say only, because that’s still an impressive number as a freshman. Only five Syracuse freshman have ever exceeded that mark and they were all starters:

Carmelo Anthony 10.0 rpg
Dale Shackleford 8.8 rpg
Derrick Coleman 8.8 rpg
Roosevelt Bouie 8.1 rpg
John Wallace 7.6 rpg

In terms of total rebounds, Harris is still fifth behind the following: Anthony 349, Coleman 333, Billy Owens 263, Shackleford 256 and Bouie 242.

Harris’ stats are deflated because he has not been a starter nor played starter minutes. I figured I would check all Syracuse freshman since 1982-83 (the first season I have minutes played information), and see which freshman had the best rebound per minute. I multiplied the number by 35, since a start player would play about that many minutes per game if given the opportunity, and that makes the numbers more intuitive I think (it doesn’t change the results). I also restricted the list to freshman who played at least 300 minutes. Harris has 229 rebounds in 693 minutes of playing time. That works out to 11.57 rebounds per 35 minutes played, which is by far the best number any Syracuse freshman has had (at least since 82-83, and freshman couldn’t play prior to 73-74 anyhow). The top seven Syracuse freshman rebounders per 35 minutes played is as follows:

Paul Harris 11.57 (229 total rebounds)
Derrick Coleman 10.02 (333)
Hakim Warrick 9.66 (168)
Wendell Alexis 9.61 (134)
Carmelo Anthony 9.60 (349)
Etan Thomas 9.01 (105)
John Wallace 8.96 (221)
Rony Seikaly 8.94 (198)

Coleman was always a terrific rebounder, and if you remember had 19 rebounds in the national championship game against Indiana. Alexis was somewhat of a surprise to me, though I do remember how often he and Rafael Addison used to come into games their freshman year and help out the Orangemen. Alexis sat behind Tony Bruin and Andy Rautins’ dad Leo, so it was tough getting his playing time. Carmelo didn’t have any upperclassmen in his way, so he got all the playing time he needed.

In fact, if you look at the top five Orangemen in terms of rebounds per 35 minutes played, regardless of class, Harris would be #4 on this list. Mr. Derrick Coleman, the NCAA’s all time leading rebounder, holds the top three positions with 12.04, 11.95, 11.86. Harris would be fourth with his 11.57, and then Rony Seikaly comes in fifth at 10.81, and Owens sixth at 10.69.

Of course, it is important to remember that when you extrapolate statistics, you are making assumptions that may not hold true. Averaging 21.7 minutes per game, Harris can expended a lot of energy in short bursts, and that could help to inflate his rebounds per minute. If he were to play 35 minutes per game, he could likely tire and be less effective per minute, though still getting more total rebounds.

Just to look into the ‘what if’ scenario a little further, I figured out what Harris’ scoring would be if he played 35 minutes a game (same caution holds as mentioned above). He would have 14.2 points per 35 minutes played, which would be good for 8th on the all time Syracuse freshman list. The top five freshman in scoring per 35 minutes played are:

Carmelo Anthony 21.4
Lawrence Moten 18.9
Sherman Douglas 16.6
Rafael Addison 16.0
Eric Devendorf 15.8

The surprise on that list was Douglas. For those of us old enough to remember the General, he came out of no where his sophomore season to lead the Orangemen to the national championship game. Yet, if we had looked at the numbers the year before, you could see was quite productive in his minutes played, limited because of the great Pearl Washington ahead of him.

I will be curious to see how Paul Harris develops and grows the next couple of years, especially with the graduation of Syracuse’s front line: Demetris Nichols, Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts. He’ll have ample opportunity to get his playing time next year and show what he can really do on a regular basis.

For now, we can just sit back and watch him provide his rebounding spark against the opposition in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

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