Note: this article was written by Francesco Simone
The season is young for Syracuse, after all the Orange have only played one game, but we have already seen some differences in the way Jim Boeheim and company will operate this season. There is, of course, the man-to-man defense as well as the traditional 2-3 zone, but also there’s a change in the size of the rotation, at least early on.
Boeheim is famous for playing six or seven guys, and, as the Hall of Famer will tell you, that’s what most teams do. However, there were 10 players in the rotation against Lehigh, continuing the trend from exhibition play. That will not be the case come March. Boeheim said it will be whittled down when players separate themselves from one another, but one guy who isn’t going anywhere is Maliq Brown.
The freshman was a three-star recruit, and probably the second-least touted prospect in this six man SU class, ahead of only Peter Carey. Brown is a true power forward, listed at 6-foot-8 213 pounds. His self-described priorities are defense and rebounding, while finishing around the basket when he gets the opportunity.
For someone who grew up in the Steph Curry era, where kids run to the three point line, that is a unique attitude to have. It’s also one that seems like a coach’s dream. He knows what he’s good at and does it. Brown doesn’t try to be someone he’s not.
Defense and rebounding are going to be paramount for this SU team, obviously, as they are for every team. However, given Syracuse’s youth, of which Brown is a part of, those aspects are going to be a work-in-progress.
The reason Brown is so valuable is defense and rebounding are what he’s good at. Of course, he can and will improve, but he can already be a stabilizing force in those departments. He showed it in game one against Lehigh. The freshman scored seven points on ⅗ shooting in just 13 minutes of action, while recording three rebounds and a steal.
The numbers don’t jump off the page, but that’s just it, they don’t have to. Brown does the little things, which makes him valuable and puts him in a great position to have a defined role on this team.
Now, if someone gets more playing time, somebody else has to get less. In this scenario, that’s Benny Williams. The sophomore struggled against Lehigh, scoring just two points on ¼ shooting in 23 minutes, along with three rebounds and he turned the ball over twice.
To recap, Brown had five more points and the same amount of rebounds in 10 less minutes. Beyond the numbers, Williams just didn’t look comfortable. He’s taking mid range jumpers, which are not only not what he’s good at, but the least efficient play in the sport. He’s also being boxed out by much smaller players.
Boeheim has said Williams needs to be more aggressive, and he’s right. The talent is there, but there’s some kind of block preventing him from becoming the player that his borderline five star rating suggested he should be. Brown, meanwhile, may not have the same level of talent, when it comes to athleticism, or quickness, or wingspan, or whatever metric you want to use. He’s even a little smaller than Williams. The advantage he does have is aggressiveness, which you need to play power forward, and it’s the reason why, even as the rotation gets whittled down, Brown is going to be in it.