June 22, 2021

Klinger: Syracuse’s Christmas shuts down opponents, adds emerging offense to defensive prowess

first_imgEditor’s note: Two beat writers were assigned to make a case for which player they would rather have for one game — one for Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, one for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.I’m trying to remember the last time Rakeem Christmas actually lost a defensive post matchup.You know, that time when an opposing team’s big man controlled the paint against him. It’s almost as hard to remember as it is to do — mostly because it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s why if you give me one game and a head coaching job, I’d take Christmas over Jahlil Okafor.This is a today question, by the way. Okafor’s a lockdown lottery pick for the NBA Draft. Christmas is trying to get drafted. When the two are both retired from basketball, I expect that Okafor will have a more decorated pro career. But that’s not when this game is being played.Instead, it’s happening in a season when Christmas doesn’t lose on defense. And that’s really what this boils down to.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBoth he and Okafor have demonstrated that they’re too dynamic to be contained. They both average 18 points per game, they’re both going to get a lot of touches and they’re going to explode past their defenders to the rim or arc shots in over them.Their athleticism is truly an inevitability.Their passing is, too. Okafor can’t be double-teamed out of a game, partly because his teammates are some of the best in the country, but mostly because he has fantastic hands. That said, Christmas’ passing is highly underrated. Even in his worst outing of the season, he burnt Boston College by zipping passes to open teammates.“Really he should’ve had more assists,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “I guess they might’ve put them on the floor or something, but he made a lot of passes out of those double teams that got guys good shots.”Which brings us back to why Christmas wins.Okafor struggles to defend the pick-and-roll. That would be the offense that Syracuse runs all the time.And it leaves viewers with the distinct possibility of not getting to see Christmas versus Okafor much at all when SU has the ball. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski could opt to have Amile Jefferson defend Christmas instead.Think about that. We’re arguing about who you’d rather have when the other guy might just sit out half the matchup because he doesn’t defend one of the simplest offensive plays in the game well enough.Duke might even drop into a zone to deny Christmas, who I expect to show off some 15-foot range on Saturday.But OK, fine, write off that glaring hole in Okafor’s still-developing game and take a look at how Christmas is going to defend him. It’s pretty much straight up. Christmas doesn’t let his men turn and face. And while that’s a no-duh aspect of playing defense in basketball, I’ve been watching Christmas dominate with it all season.Duke knows it, too.“The impact he has defensively with blocking shots, about two a game, those are big, big-time numbers,” Blue Devils associate head coach Jeff Capel said.I do expect Okafor to get his offensively. If we’re lucky as a viewing public, we’ll be treated to a real duel. Regardless, Duke has too many weapons to not free him up.But you give me one man for one game, I’m going with Christmas. He’s defensively undefeated. And if Okafor gets the best of him on Saturday, he’ll be the first to do so.Don’t feel too badly for the Duke center. He’ll probably leave the Carrier Dome on Saturday with a win. It’s just that Christmas will have the belt for best big man in the country.Jacob Klinger is the development editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Jacob_Klinger_. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 13, 2015 at 12:49 amlast_img

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