Sunday, December 14, 2008

9-0 and unstoppable Onuaku

Arinze Onuaku is off to terrific start to his junior campaign. He is averaging 13.3 points a game, with 7.8 rebounds, despite playing only 27 minutes a game (and typically not for foul trouble, but just to get some rest). However, those aren’t his impressive numbers. 79.4% is the number to look at. That is Onuaku’s field goal percentage for the season. When Onuaku gets the ball inside, he is virtually unstoppable, and for his last 17 attempts he has been, making each and every one of them (credit Brent Axeman for noting that one).

At Onuaku’s current pace he would shatter the Syracuse single season field goal percent record. The current record is 65.4% by Roosevelt Bouie in the 1979-1980 season, when he made 189 of 289 attempts. Onuaku’s effort is especially noteworthy because Syracuse has been playing some tough basketball teams this early season. They have not faced any dominant centers like they will in a few games this Big East season, but there are not too many players in the country with Onuaku’s build, so those types of matchups are going to be rare not matter who they play.

That’s not to suggest that Onuaku is Superman. His kryptonite is the free throw line, where he continues to challenge Terrence Roberts for the distinction of being the worst ever for Syracuse. However, I did question earlier this year why Syracuse was not feeding Onuaku the ball more often, instead relying on the three point shot or driving the lane from the perimeter. It would seem to me that you would want to feed Onuaku as much as you could, which should soften up a lot of defenses.

I know there have been some occasions where Onuaku has not played aggressively and has not worked to get open inside. Notably, he took some flak in the Cornell game for getting outhustled down low (though it we need to be fair and report that he was 5-5 from the floor that game). But there are a lot of moments in the game where Syracuse does not appear to be trying to work the ball down low. That comes under the responsibility of the point guard.

Let’s look at the numbers of two Syracuse players this season, both prorated to 40 minutes of playing time.

Player 1:

14.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 2.6 steals, 32% from 3 point range, 70% FT pct.

Player 2:

21.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 41% from 3 point range, 74% FT pct.

Which of those players is the point guard, and which is the shooting guard? It’s a little obvious if you’ve been watching Syracuse basketball this year; Jonny Flynn is player #2. A little less obvious is player #1 which is Andy Rautins. However, doesn’t it seem like player one has more of the stats of a point guard? Clearly a better turnover to assist ratio, and more steals, along with a lower scoring average.

I had mentioned earlier this year that I was concerned that Flynn was leading Syracuse is scoring every single game. Don’t get me wrong; Flynn is having an outstanding early season, and is a very special player. He has been making the clutch shots, and Syracuse is 9-0. But Flynn came to Syracuse with a reputation of being a strong playmaker, and I’m not seeing a player like that right now.

I remember the legendary Magic Johnson was always credited with sacrificing his own scoring to make sure his teammates scored. If Magic was on a fast break with an easy layup, he would always dish the ball off to a trailing teammate to reward his teammate for hustling down the court with him. I have not seen that selflessness from Flynn yet. I segued into this earlier by stating I did not think the team was getting the ball to Onuaku down low enough. And that responsibility falls on Flynn.

Flynn had an off shooting night against Long Beach State on Saturday. I have no problem with that; those nights occur. But Flynn ended up with only two assists. I would have expected my team’s point guard to have a big assist night, a big playmaking night in a game where he realized early he wasn’t shooting well. And he did not end up having that night.

Syracuse could go quite far this season, particularly with Flynn playing the way he has been playing. I am just of the belief that the primary job of the point guard is to elevate the play of all his teammates. It does bring concern to me that he is not developing that reputation right now in games that do not require him to score for Syracuse to win. There will be more than one game remaining this season where Syracuse will need Flynn to be the hero to win. Letting his teammates be the hero for some of the other games would pay big dividends down the stretch.

1 comment:

Chaz said...

You are right on point here. Too many fast breaks where the lead person does not reward the trailing player. This includes others besides Flynn, such as Devendorf and Harris.

Still, Flynn is leading the team with 5.0 assists per game. Rautins total of 3.8 is nice for a non-starter.