In 2015-16, when the Golden State Warriors set a new NBA record with 73 regular season wins, the team’s not-so-secret weapon was the aptly-named “Death Lineup,” featuring five players who could each handle the ball, facilitate the offense, defend several different positions, and — most importantly — knock down jumpers from the perimeter. This year, Syracuse could feature a lite version of that lethal group.
Just like Draymond Green, with his über-versatile skillset at center, is the anchor of Golden State’s soul-crushing unit, Tyler Lydon is the key to the Orange’s replica. The sophomore is what some basketball fans call a “unicorn” — the rare player who can hit three-pointers on offense, and protect the rim on defense. That uncommon combination of skills is the reason why Lydon appears in the lottery of some NBA mock drafts; you just don’t find many guys who can do both. When a team does stumble upon a unicorn, it opens up a world of possibilities.
In SU’s case, Lydon can act as the fulcrum of Jim Boeheim’s most potent offensive lineup. When the 6-foot-9 forward is surrounded by four guards, Syracuse is almost impossible to stop. Franklin Howard, John Gillon, Tyus Battle, and Andrew White III join Lydon on the floor to form a five-headed pace-and-space monster.
With five shooters dotted around the three-point arc, opposing defenses cannot sag into the paint, opening up driving and cutting lanes for the five athletes, who have each demonstrated a strong ability to finish at the rim. The Gillon-Lydon pick-and-roll has already looked effective, and should be even more dangerous when the floor general has three spot-up options ready to catch-and-shoot.
Through two exhibitions and two regular season games, Boeheim has yet to unveil that group, but he hasn’t had a reason to. The Orange has trampled Indiana (Pa.), Le Moyne, Colgate, and Holy Cross by an average of more than 30 points, so the legendary coach didn’t need to pull it out of his arsenal.
Lydon has, however, played center in the past — during both the current season and his freshman campaign. The New York native proved he can be a capable back-line of defense in last year’s tournament, when he swatted four shots per game during Syracuse’s run to the Final Four. In Tuesday’s 90-46 win over Holy Cross, Lydon anchored the 2-3 zone for about four minutes (but not with the four guards alongside him), and the Orange outscored the Crusaders, 10-6.
“I’m probably happier when he’s at center,” Boeheim said after the game. “He’s a good player. There’s not many that can do that.”
Lydon packed on 18 pounds of muscle over the offseason (according to his listed weight on SU Athletics’ official website), perhaps in anticipation of spending increased time at the 5. With him in that spot, Syracuse can reach a new level of offensive explosiveness.