Syracuse has found its new center. After Jesse Edwards left for West Virginia, the Orange needed to make a move in the portal to bolster an inexperienced group consisting of Mounir Hima, Peter Carey and William Patterson.
It comes in the form of Naheem McLeod, a former Florida State Seminole, listed at a towering 7’4 255. McLeod spent his freshman season at a junior college before a couple of years in Tallahassee.
If you were hoping for a sure-fire production in the middle to replace Edward’s double-double average, McLeod doesn’t provide that. He averaged just five points and two rebounds two years ago, and four points and three rebounds last season. McLeod did average over a block per game in the 2022-23 campaign.
Those relatively low numbers came in limited action. He averaged 13 minutes per game last year primarily as the backup center. McLeod only played more than 20 minutes seven times last year.
His best game of the season, and probably of his career, came against Syracuse. McLeod scored a career-best 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, the second most he has ever had, but his highest mark against a power six opponent, with his career high of nine coming against Mercer last year.
It’s hard to put expectations on McLeod for the season to come. Physically, he’s everything you could want from the standpoint of height and weight. That means the potential is there. If you want to make the comparison to Edwards, it took him a couple of years before he found himself as a dominant player in the ACC as well.
The fact that he didn’t start at FSU and only played sparingly explains why the numbers are low, but it tells you everything you need to know about where Leonard Hamilton, a highly respected coach, felt McLeod was in his development.
Simply put, that needs to change. If you look at the team as a whole, Syracuse is losing nearly 15 points per game and over 10 rebounds per contest off a non-tournament team. That gap needs to be filled and exceeded for the Orange to get back to where they want to be. McLeod doesn’t need to do that on his own. In fact, it’s unfair to expect him to match Edwards’ production or even come all that close to it. If he does, great, but that shouldn’t be the expectation.
Instead, it should be that he fills the gap well enough to the point that he limits the damage done by Edwards’ departure. If he can be a steady presence inside, that can allow JJ Starling and Chance Westry to improve the team through their added talent. Guys like Benny Williams, Chris Bell, Justin Taylor, Maliq Brown and Quadir Copeland can do the same through an offseason of development. Plus, Judah Mintz might still come back.
So, it’s important that Adrian Autry and company got a center who can start. If they develop him into something more, that’s terrific. But, what they need is for McLeod to at least be a serviceable 20+ minute per night big man.