One of the glaring issues coming into this season for Syracuse was who will be able to put points up on the board with the departures of reliable options such as Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair. Many fingers point to senior Rakeem Christmas to step up and produce offensively in the paint. But can the Orange rely on the big man against better competition?
The Orange has not had to rely on its big men to score points for quite a while. Whether it was Dion Waiters, Michael Carter-Williams, or Tyler Ennis, the majority of the scoring the past few seasons has come from the top of the key and wing positions. This year’s squad does not have the same luxury. Chris McCullough, the prized freshman, does have the raw talent to be a leading scorer for the Orange but needs time and game experience to become a reliable option. Nobody knows how Kaleb Joseph will develop and if tougher competition could faze the first-year. Trevor Cooney has been inconsistent on the floor, while Tyler Roberson still needs to find his game in a somewhat limited role.
That leaves Rakeem Christmas, the leading scorer in both games for Syracuse this season.
The Orange faithful has waited year after year to see Christmas take the next step and become a force in paint. He has only proved himself from the defensive side of the ball coming into this year. 21- and 15 points against Kennesaw State and Hampton, respectively, changes the expectations set for Christmas offensively.
The Philadelphia native has proved through a few games that he can be a double-double threat every night in the paint. Yes, Syracuse has not played stellar competition yet. However, Christmas’s stroke and effort down-low is something that has not been seen yet in his tenure.
Despite the immense promise Christmas has, there is an elephant in the room: Fouls.
He was whistled for four personal fouls in each game this season with the unproven Chinonso Obokoh as the only backup. DaJuan Coleman is a major question mark as the Orange waits to see if he can even play this year, giving Christmas the added pressure to play aggressively on both side of the ball yet not fouling early in games.
Christmas does have the skills and experience to lead the offense at least in the first half of the season. Not every hook shot is going to find the hoop, but the second-chance opportunities that Christmas can create should not only help him put points on the board, but also help his younger teammates on the perimeter.
The Orange will need a reliable scorer this season. With such a young rotation, it will be up to the senior to step up and lead on the offensive side of the ball.
Posted: Zephan Mayell