Dougherty: Michael Gbinije, thriving or not, is tailor made for Syracuse

first_imgMichael Gbinije could be playing himself into a trap. Not in the corner, near half court or on the baseline. A metaphorical trap, somewhere between expectations, reality and how much one player can mean to a basketball team.Because if Gbinije stays on his current pace — carving up every defense, stuffing every box score — his personal bar will be set at a near unreachable height. Through nine games, in which SU has already beaten two ranked teams and fallen to Wisconsin and Georgetown, Gbinije’s 19.7 points per game ranks third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. His 31 3s is the most in the conference and he’s shooting a mind-boggling 50 percent from deep. His 2.9 steals per game is first in the ACC by a full takeaway, and he’s seventh in the country in that category.So what happens when a new year brings tougher competition and a defense shuts Gbinije down? It’s inevitably going to happen. At least once. But the catch is that Syracuse won’t crumble. Not with Gbinije on the floor.The fifth-year senior could be the best two-way player in a talent-laden ACC and is perfect for the Orange on both ends. Just the threat of Gbinije’s 3-point shot spaces SU’s perimeter-focused offense. His 6-foot-7 length clogs passing lanes and forces turnovers in the 2-3 zone. With him, Syracuse is a constant competitor because he’ll either score at will or help teammates produce in his place.“Man, is there a better word for more important?” said SU freshman forward Malachi Richardson. “He’s been our guy this year. We follow him around, he’s like our LeBron. He’s making everything happen for us. I don’t think he’s had a game where he didn’t really perform well.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn SU’s perimeter-focused offense, an ideal point guard should be able to hit 3s, break down an extended defense off the dribble and distribute to teammates while on the move.On defense, he is long and reads passes like a free safety. Then he jumpstarts the break on his own, taking steals and turning them into high-percentage scoring opportunities on the other end.Gbinije — whether or not you believe those prototypes were crafted without him in mind — is a model quarterback for this Syracuse team. On top of his scoring ability, he’s averaging 4.6 assists per contest and has five or more in four of his last five games. Due in large part to his length atop the zone, the Orange is holding opponents to an ACC-best 30.4 3-point shooting percentage.His offensive numbers are as gaudy as they are staggering. In three years, Gbinije progressed from a transfer who couldn’t play at Duke, to off-the-bench hustle player, to pure scorer. And still, his natural contributions will make the biggest difference.“I do know this: When you have a Michael Gbinije on your team, playing at the level he’s playing at and the shots that he’s making, you kind of just sit there and go, ‘Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” said SU interim head coach Mike Hopkins, as he blessed himself at the postgame podium after the Orange beat Colgate on Tuesday night.“Because that kid is playing. He passes, he makes plays. He’s high-character, and he gets the defense going. That kid does not stop. So to have a kid like that makes you a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable as a coach, no question.”Richardson didn’t stumble on his words, or even smile, as he likened Gbinije’s value to the most transcendent player in basketball history. When Gbinije was told what the freshman said, he laughed and said he had no comment. LeBron James? Come on.He would never give himself that much credit. He never gives himself much credit all. He’s introspective and answers questions both quietly and delicately. He compliments teammates, offers tempered team criticism and always deflects praise.But he’s loud on the court. His defense talks. His jump shot yells. His presence screams. And opponents are going to have a very hard time shutting him up, even on the off chance that they shut him down.Jesse Dougherty is the Web Editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at or @dougherty_jesse. Comments Published on December 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more