From Operation Basketball, Tyus Battle, the ACC’s Iron Man: “I love college”

Charlotte — Last season was a grind for Syracuse star Tyus Battle. One of the top wings in college basketball, Battle averaged 39 minutes per game; in ACC play, he played over 40 minutes per game, which seems like a riddle. While on the floor, Battle wasn’t just standing in a corner, either; this dude was prominently featured. Battle posted a usage rate north of 28 percent on offense, and spearheaded Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.

Going back to the 2009-10 season, Battle is one of only three players to average over 40 minutes per game in conference games. Battle played in 99 percent of Syracuse’s available minutes in ACC games, too, per KenPom — No. 1 in the nation. According to Sports Reference, Battle and Jon Elmore of Marshall (a pick-and-roll whiz) were the only players in the nation last season to play 38 minutes per game with a usage rate north of 28 percent.

This kind of usage is pretty freaking rare, too. Battle used a total of 758 possessions in the 2017-18 season, per Synergy Sports; if that seems like a lot, that’s because it is.

Dating back to the 2005-06 season — the full range of the Synergy database — only eight ACC players, including Battle, have recorded over 700 possessions in a single season. He became the ACC’s unofficial Iron Man.

I chatted with Battle at ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte; after a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear that he truly embraced that role. Battle said last season’s role made him tougher mentally, although he spent plenty of time on recovery, too. The star wing also mentioned that he got used to ice baths.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is known for rolling with a tight rotation, but the Orange should be able to go deeper into its bench in the 2018-19 season. The arrival of freshman guards Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim will help lighten the load — so too will East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes, who redshirted last season.


Combine Experience

Syracuse received huge news at the end of May when Tyus Battle announced his decision to return to school. Battle participated in the 2018 NBA Draft combine but, ultimately, elected to return for his junior season. As he explained to me, he’s rather happy with his choice: “I love college.”

Going through the combine process, though, was key for Battle’s development. It allowed him to see what the professional basketball experience is like — the work that’s required.

The opportunity also altered how Battle worked out in the offseason. Last season, Battle spent plenty of time on the ball, toggling control of the offense with fellow guard Frank Howard. However, Battle worked on his playmaking craft over the summer; he plans to initiate more of Syracuse’s offense this season.

Battle’s favorite basketball player is Kobe Bryant, so it should come as no surprise that he worked on improving his midrange game over the offseason, too. According to Synergy, Battle shot 34.4 percent (38.4 eFG%) in the half court on off-dribble jump shots, and 36.9 percent on medium jump shots.

It would be a big boon for his draft prospects — and Syracuse’s half-court offense — if he could nudge that numbers north of 40 percent this season.


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John Swofford on the ACC expanding to a 20-game conference schedule