While emerging offensively, Taurean Thompson remains unproven on defense

first_imgAfter St. John’s scored 12 straight points, Syracuse needed to answer on the offensive end. The Orange had already burned two timeouts as it sputtered in the first 12 minutes of the game.Taurean Thompson caught a pass while posting up on Kassoum Yakwe. He took two dribbles, spun over his right shoulder, past Yakwe, and easily scored a lefty layup. If only for a moment, Thompson stopped SU’s bleeding.But on the Red Storm’s next possession, Bashir Ahmed received an entry pass in the paint and finished a layup in the core of Syracuse’s defense. Thompson, playing center at the time, not only couldn’t defend Ahmed, but he also fouled the 6-foot-7 St. John’s junior.The 25-second sequence reflected Thompson’s adjustment to the college game.The freshman has thrived on offense, providing a versatile threat in the paint. But defensively, he’s still learning the nuances of Syracuse (7-5) head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. After beginning the year exclusively at forward, he’s played more and more at center over the past four games. His transition to the new position has been iffy.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s OK. He’s no worse (defensively) than anybody else,” Boeheim said of Thompson. “He’s a better offensive player than anybody else (down low).”In Syracuse’s past four games, Thompson is averaging 13 points and 21.3 minutes while shooting 21-of-33 from the field. Thompson’s offensive breakout might be the biggest bright spot for SU as it flounders in unchartered territory with five nonconference losses for the first time in program history.Thompson has even hit two 3-pointers in the past four games, a testament to his ability to stretch the floor and be a threat from several different locations. Against Eastern Michigan on Monday, he commanded the game from the high-post position, finishing with 11 points and five assists.“He just did a great job of making the right decision,” EMU head coach Rob Murphy said. “Took the short jumper. Made it. Drop down pass to a teammate. He also passed it out and was able to drive the ball as well.”Thompson, though, is still adjusting on the defensive end. Over the past five games, the 6-foot-10 Thompson has played at center for 45 percent of Syracuse’s games, 3 percent more than starting center Dajuan Coleman, per Kenpom.com.Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo EditorHe fouled out against St. John’s with eight minutes left, a result of often being caught out of position inside. And after Syracuse beat North Florida by six points on Dec. 3, Boeheim said “he’s got to get better” as an interior defender.Thompson played man-to-man defense “100 percent” of the time in high school. He began the season playing and practicing only at forward and struggled to rotate quick enough. As the season progressed and he began getting more minutes at center, his mindset also began to change.He used to view scoring just two points as a bad game. What Thompson said he’s starting to realize is having four blocks and 10 rebounds can also qualify as a solid performance, even if he didn’t score much.Despite Thompson’s defensive struggles, he ranks 67th nationally in block percentage at 8 percent, per Kenpom, meaning the rate at which he blocks two-point shots based on the number of minutes he plays.“As a big man, you just have to anchor the defense,” Thompson said, “you have to block shots, they look for you to rebound, just be a presence down there. We’re the core of the defense.”Against Georgetown on Dec. 17, the Hoyas placed one offensive player near the free-throw line and another along the baseline under the basket. That forced Thompson to play in between the two of them and put him in a tricky spot when he had to guard both at the same time. He said it was tough playing center against the alignment without much previous experience.At forward, Thompson had to use his length and athleticism more often as he slid out to the wings, something he was often slow to do, which allowed open 3-point attempts. Playing center requires him to be more physical as he defends against picks and seals set by opposing bigs.What Thompson brings to Syracuse offensively is the reason he’s garnered playing time. If he can improve on the defensive end, his minutes could increase even more.“I don’t think it’s really a freshman thing, I just think it’s just like a consistent thing,” Thompson said. “You have to be committed to being a good defender.” Comments Published on December 24, 2016 at 3:11 pm Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschweds Facebook Twitter Google+last_img