Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jim Boeheim And The Draft

Over the weekend, as is his wont, the Syracuse coach caused a stir when he downplayed the importance of being drafted in the middle of the first round. Just another selfish coach trying to profit off the labor of his "student-athletes" was the consensus. As many pointed out, Boeheim's players had a long history of under-performing their draft position in the NBA. Syracuse, for all their success under Boeheim, has not exactly been an NBA factory.

That is true but it's worth unpacking a bit. What that really means is that he has won over 900 games despite not having a lot of NBA talent on his rosters. As the coach at Syracuse University, one of the coldest and more remote universities in the country, Boeheim couldn't count on getting the best recruits on a year-to-year basis. He would have to figure out a way to consistently win with more limited recruits - in essence, he was being asked to re-invent the wheel.

Boeheim runs a very specific system - an aggressive 2-3 match-up zone - and recruits players whose strengths are accentuated by the 2-3 and whose weaknesses are limited. That means a lot of tweeners - guards stuck between the 1 and the 2, forwards stuck between the 3 and the 4, big men stuck between the 4 and the 5. In a man defensive scheme, where their weaknesses are more exposed, they are not nearly the world-beaters they are in a zone.

This presents an obvious problem when his Syracuse players go on to the NBA. They don't really have an NBA position and it's very difficult for them to find a role that makes sense for them on a good team. Johnny Flynn, Donte Greene, Wesley Johnson, Kris Joseph, Hakim Warrick, Fab Melo, Andy Rautins, Dion Waiters, Etan Thomas - ALL these guys underperform their draft slots and that's a knock on Boeheim? Maybe it means he's getting his guys as much money as they possibly can in the draft by putting them in a position to succeed at the college level?

It's the same story with the three NBA prospects on this year's team - Tyler Ennis, CJ Fair and Jerami Grant. Ennis, at 6'2 180, is not a great athlete, but we don't know how bad he is at man defense because he doesn't play any at Syracuse. Fair, at 6'8 210, is a prototype tweener - not perimeter-oriented enough to be a 3, not big enough to be a 4 in the NBA. Grant, at 6'8 210, has no jump shot and will have difficulty hanging with bigger 4's in the NBA. Boeheim has these three somewhat limited players as the main cogs on a Top 10 team - that's damn good coaching!

Grant has the most upside of the bunch, but he has to develop a jumper. If he can't stretch the floor, he's not going to be very effective in the NBA. He'll have to live around the rim and he won't have the huge edge in size and athleticism that he does at the college level. Boeheim has watched generations of his players either succeed or not in the NBA - he has a VERY GOOD idea of what does and doesn't work at the next level. Don't just call him an asshole and congratulate yourself on your moral superiority.

Just because his players don't succeed at the NBA level doesn't mean a coach is doing "a bad job of preparing them". It could mean that he is turning lemons into lemonade and he's made his players a lot of money at the expense of NBA front offices who can't see through his tricks.

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