The sixth man is one of the most unique roles in all of sports. Usually reserved for a quick scoring spark off of the bench, sometimes a team will stash a better player to come off the bench. In the NBA, reigning Sixth Men of the Year usually cash in on huge paychecks, especially for a bench player. So, when Jim Boeheim announced that Michael Gbinije would be starting at point guard, Kaleb Joseph found himself in a very precarious role as the sixth man.
Syracuse has had a ton of success over the last ten years with sixth men. Look no further than Dion Waiters, who played himself into the top five of the NBA Draft without ever having started a game in college. Waiters would finish his last year in college averaging 12.6 points per game on 47 percent shooting in just 24 minutes. More recently, the Orange has not had the depth or the scoring to have a true sixth man come off the bench, and with just nine scholarship players, few believed that Kaleb Joseph was going to be that spark.
Joseph has a message for those doubters, though: he’s drastically improved and he’s ready to provide a sorely-needed scoring spark off of the bench. In the Orange’s opener against Lehigh, Joseph only scored eight points in 14 minutes. But, those points came at pivotal times in the game, including a three at the end of the half to stretch the lead and another when Lehigh closed the gap to just six.
The Orange rotation, in general, was a little sloppy in the opener because Dajuan Coleman and Chinoso Obokoh were both in serious foul trouble. The two combined for nine fouls in 28 minutes. Assuming they can figure out how to stay out of foul trouble, Joseph will once again become the most important player off of the bench. His improved three-point shooting stroke will be clutch more times than not, especially if continues to shoot as efficiently as he has (2-5 against LeMoyne, 3-4 against Florida Southern, and 2-3 against Lehigh).
I’ll be the first to admit that I was very suspicious of Joseph taking so many threes, considering it got him benched last year, but like Waiters before him, Joseph looks like he will settle into a role off the bench that puts very little pressure on him and still allows him to run the offense at times. Come conference play, the much maligned starting point guard from last season will become the most important player off the bench for SU, and if he can put up numbers even close to Waiters’, the Orange will be quite alright.