Maybe the biggest question facing Syracuse going into this season was who would start at small forward. With Cole Swider now playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and no veteran option to take over, the three is wide open, and it will be filled by freshmen.
In the preseason, Jim Boeheim said Chris Bell and Justin Taylor are competing for time at that position. The four-star recruits are the second and third most highly touted members of this six-man class behind Judah Mintz, in whatever order you’d like to put them. Offensively, the two have similar games.
They’re both known for their perimeter shooting, with Taylor drawing Buddy Boeheim comparisons throughout the recruiting process. Where they differ is in their build. Bell is more of the long and lanky archetype, while Taylor is much more physically developed.
In the first exhibition game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Bell got the nod to start. However, the freshman’s collegiate debut didn’t go as planned, as he scored just three points on 1-9 shooting, including 1-6 from beyond the arc. Despite starting the game, Bell played just 13 minutes.
Taylor, meanwhile, played 18 minutes off the bench. The IMG alum didn’t set the world on fire, but he was efficient, scoring seven points on 2-3 shooting, including 1-2 from three. So, in round one of this battle the advantage has to go to Taylor, but, as we learned against IUP, it’s not as simple as one of those two will start, the other will come off the bench, and they will share time at small forward with one getting more minutes than the other.
Quadir Copeland, another freshman who’s a point guard by trade, also saw time at the three. Taylor’s former teammate at IMG provides a different flavor than the other two options. Copeland is not a threat from the perimeter, but he is known as an outstanding ball handler. His athleticism combined with a 6-foot-6 frame and a long wingspan provide help on the defensive end, as well.
Playing Copeland with Judah Mintz and Joe Girard gives Syracuse three guys and the floor that can handle the ball. That’s a far cry from last year, when SU couldn’t figure out how to beat a press.
Boeheim seems excited about what a three guard lineup could bring, but it comes with the tradeoff of less shooting threats on the court. Copeland went 0-2 from three against IUP, both tries coming in the first half. Boeheim said postgame that the freshman needs to stay away from that because that’s not what he does well, and Copeland did just that in the second half.
So, who is going to get the lion’s share of the minutes at small forward? We probably won’t have that answer for a while. There’s a good chance the competition between Bell and Taylor will continue into non-conference regular season play, and it may become a game-by-game situation. Whoever has the hot hand plays.
However, don’t discount Copeland playing meaningful minutes at the three for this team. He has a unique skill set that can help, even if it’s just situationally or to give an opposing team a different look.