He’s a fan favorite. He’s the glue guy. He’s the one that does the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
When he first committed to Syracuse back in May of 2017, nobody thought much of the skinny kid from Slovakia. SU was his only offer and the only school he visited and despite being rated as a four-star recruit, he was nothing but a gigantic question mark when he got to campus that fall.
He quickly answered a lot of those questions and became an important piece off the bench for the Orange before securing a starting role during ACC play and exploding in the postseason (career-high 20 points in the Orange’s win over Wake in the ACC tournament), capped off by that wild run to the Sweet 16 (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg in the NCAA Tourney).
He flip-flopped between being a starter for SU and perhaps the team’s most important player off the bench a season ago, but after everything Syracuse lost to graduation and the NBA, his spot as a starter for the 2019-20 season is pretty much solidified. But what is SU going to get out of Dolezaj in his junior season. Is it simply going to be more scrappy play with not a ton of stats to back it up (4 ppg, 3.5 apg)? While it’s not a guarantee, it seems like the ingredients are there for it to be a much more special year than that for Marek.
First and foremost, his role on offense is going to increase drastically. Syracuse returns just two of its top five scorers (Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim) and only three of its top seven (Dolezaj at 4.2 ppg). Gone are the days of the offense running strictly through Tyus Battle and having he and Oshae Brissett dominate the box scores on a nightly basis.
Hughes is most definitely going to be the top scoring option for Syracuse this season and Buddy is going to get his because of how good of a shooter he is, but from what we’ve seen his arsenal is a bit limited. SU needs another versatile scorer that can step out and make a jumper (Dolezaj has worked on this a lot and the shot is much improved), but can also take it to the bucket, finish through contact and be an impact post scorer which the Orange haven’t had in quite some time. Dolezaj can do both of those things and if he can get a rhythm going and he finds himself a larger part of the offensive game plan (which he almost certainly will) he has the ability to give you more than the 4 ppg he did last year.
It seems like the coaching staff and specifically Jim Boeheim also have a bit of increased confidence in him and are excited to see how he handles himself this year and that confidence can only bode well for not only his playing time, but also how much he’ll be incorporated.
“He’s gotten better,” Boeheim said at media day on Friday. “He’s a guy that does a lot of things for us when he’s out there, wherever he’s playing.”
Dolezaj has also apparently improved another element to his game that has made fans fall in love with him over the past few seasons and that’s his ability to pass from the high post and make his teammates better.
“He’s a playmaker,” Boeheim said. “There’s not that many 6-foot-10 guys that are playmakers, but he certainly is one.”
With the way the team is now constructed, Boeheim seems to think that Marek might get more of a shot at making those plays than he did a season ago.
“Last year with the type of team we had, he didn’t get to make as many plays because Tyus and Oshae and to some extent Frank and Elijah made plays,” Boeheim said. “They were more playmakers. I think this year with the change in the lineup, Marek is going to have an opportunity to do more with the ball and be more of a playmaker which I think will be good for us.”
The verdict seems pretty simple, the little things are going to continue to happen. Dolezaj is going to continue being the scrappy guy that takes the charges and muscles down rebounds over guys he has no business beating out. All of that will stay the same. The difference this season will be his role in the offense and the Orange’s willingness to let him shine. For now, he may be the skinny Slovakian kid that everybody loves but watch out for him to become a certified threat this coming season.