Who will be Syracuse's number two guy?

C.J. Fair will be the go-to guy for the Orange this season, but basketball beat writers Tom Rende, Tyler Greenawalt and Joe Diglio pick who will be the Orange's second option on offense.

C.J. Fair is recieving praise even before the regular season starts. He's already been named the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and looks to build on a stellar junior season where he averaged 14.5 points per game and 7 rebounds per game. Fair will get his stats, but who will become the Orange's number two man in the team's first season in the ACC?

Tom's pick: Grant is Robin to Fair’s Batman

Being number two isn’t as satisfying as being number one. But in some cases, it’s still pretty good. In the case of SU basketball, sophomore forward Jerami Grant is poised to fill the role of Robin to C.J. Fair’s Batman.

Grant will be coming off the bench this season. That isn't always an encouraging sign for a basketball player, but with the best player in the ACC filling his position, it makes perfect sense that he would be the first man off the bench. Grant showed that he could be that immediate spark of energy during his freshman season, grabbing rebounds and playing with reckless abandon when he attacked the basket.

He finished the season with 3.9 points-per-game and 3 rebounds-per-game. But when he filled in while James Southerland had eligibility issues, Grant averaged 33.2 minutes, 9.8 points-per-game and 5.5 rebounds-per-game. Those stats, if averaged out for the entirety of last season, would have placed Grant in the top-5 of all of those categories on the team. This season, three of the SU’s top four scorers are gone, leaving Grant second to Fair in every single category.

Those two attributes will be integral for SU to survive. And when the second unit plays without Fair, Grant will ensure the team can continue to score. That’s where Grant fills in seamlessly. The added level of responsibility is something that Grant seems prepared to deal with, already taking on a greater role this season.

“Definitely more of an offensive role,” Grant said. “My experience last year, even though I didn’t play as much as the other players on the team, I feel like I can help lead the freshman this year.”

Coach Jim Boeheim showed two seasons ago that starting players on the bench has no factor on their minutes. The best example is Dion Waiters, who came off the bench during the 2011-12 season and played in more minutes than two of the team’s five starters, averaging 12.6 points-per-game. One circumstance doesn’t necessarily fit another, but it’s an example that shows Boeheim’s reliance on bench scoring, something Grant can provide.

To get to that level, Grant will have to be a bit more aggressive on the offensive end and show off the newfound confidence of being the number one option on the second unit. His jump shot already looks much improved from last season and his aggressiveness hasn’t wavered; he attempted 16 free throws in the first two exhibition games. Batman can’t survive without Robin, and Grant will have to be that for this team to survive. 

Tyler's pick: Christmas comes early for Rakeem

Big men take time to progress in Jim Boeheim’s system. Fab Melo did not play up to his preseason Rookie of the Year hype in 2010, but rebounded to become the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and was drafted 22nd overall by the Boston Celtics that year. Rakeem Christmas has taken longer to progress, but is ready to take the reigns as Syracuse’s number two option in 2013. 

With the inexperience in the backcourt, Boeheim will look to take pressure off Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, and instead look to the frontcourt for offensive. Fair will get his points, as is expected, but that also means teams will be targeting him early and often on defense. So, the Orange will be forced to give the ball to Christmas, who will be receiving more action than ever before.

Christmas showed life at the end of last season in the NCAA tournament. His averages of 3.8 points-per-game and 3.4 rebounds-per-game are not impressive on paper, but he was playing up against some great post players in Davante Gardner (Marquette), Cody Zeller (Indiana) and Mitch McGary (Michigan).  

Earlier this fall, when the Orange played in Canada, Christmas posted a double-double against Ottawa, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

While playing alongside DaJuan Coleman, Christmas racked up 10 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time against Ryerson. Now, Ryerson is not an elite basketball school, but Christmas was still playing against some big bodies at his height level.

At 6-foot-9-inches and 250 pounds, Christmas can be a presence in the paint. If he asserts himself against sizable forwards and centers, freshman point guard Ennis will feed him and Fair will look to him when he’s in trouble. 

Joe's pick: Cooney isn't just a three-point specialist anymore

The redshirt sophomore is now in his third season on the hill; it’s time for him to step up.

In his first season of eligibility, Cooney managed just 3.4 points-per-game. He was the first guard off the bench, but he was behind two exceptional starters in Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, limiting his playing time to just 11.2 minutes-per-game.

This year the Orange finds itself with the same lack of depth in the backcourt, except now Cooney is one of the starters. That means he’ll be forced to play plenty of minutes, giving him more of an opportunity to score.

But what makes Cooney such a good breakout candidate is not only the increase in usage, but his status as the team’s de facto sharpshooter. With Carter-Williams, Triche, and Southerland all gone, the Orange lost its three biggest three-point shooting threats from a season ago. Now, Cooney will have to fulfill that role out of necessity.

Looking at his 26.7 shooting percentage from three-point range, it may not seem like Cooney is prepared for this task. However, after the team’s trip to Canada in August and its two exhibition games in the Carrier Dome, he seems much more capable. Cooney appeared much more confident in his shot and is more aggressive in looking to take threes. He doesn’t suffer from the leaning and fading away that threw his shot off nearly as much as he did last season, and he isn’t hesitating to shoot when the opportunity presents itself.

While the team may rely heavily on Cooney to hit three-pointers and stretch opposing defenses, it would be an injustice to pigeonhole him as solely a long-distance shooter. Last season, Cooney shot a respectable 46.3 percent on two-point field goals. If he’s hitting threes, defenses will have to respect his range, which will open up more chances for him to score from inside the arc.

Cooney spent his first season on the bench and his second relegated to a minor role behind two talented guards. Now he has his chance to be a major factor. Cooney came to Syracuse with the expectation that he’d be a shooter; this season, he’ll do just that, and do it extremely well.

(All photos were taken by Ziniu Chen during the Syracuse-Ryerson game Nov. 5 in the Carrier Dome.)

Who will be Syracuse's second option on offense?
Jerami Grant
Rakeem Christmas
Trevor Cooney
Tyler Ennis
DaJuan Coleman

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