Coming into the season, the Syracuse Orange had one of its most inexperienced backcourts in recent years, and one of the key figures in that backcourt was supposed to be sophomore Michael Gbinije, a transfer from Duke.
Gbinije was supposed to split time at shooting guard with Trevor Cooney, who was coming off a disappointing redshirt freshman season, while also backing up freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who was expected to go through typical freshman growing pains.
However, that is not how the season has gone for Gbinije, who is playing less than 15 minutes per game and averaging less than four points per game as Syracuse moves into its inaugural season in the ACC. So what has happened to him this year, and why isn’t he contributing more to the second-ranked Orange?
Gbinije has two main problems; the first is that he hasn’t played a lot of basketball over the past two years. He played sparingly at Duke as a freshman and then had to sit out all of last season because of NCAA transfer rules, which means he’s essentially had two seasons without playing basketball outside of practice, which can be damaging to the growth of a young player.
Gbinije is now three years removed from high school, but he’s playing meaningful minutes for the first time since he was a senior in high school, which explains why he’s off to a slow start this season.
His’s other problem has been the play of Ennis and Cooney, which has obviously been an asset to the Orange this season. Aside from his poor shooting day in the ACC Opener against Miami, Cooney has been one of the best perimeter shooters in the country this season, which has made it hard for Gbinije to get extended minutes in close games.
Meanwhile, Ennis has far exceeded even the highest of expectations. Not only has he not gone through typical freshman struggles, he’s been one of the best point guards in the country, leaving Gbinije with few minutes to play as the backup point guard.
Even when he does get minutes at point guard, they are minutes at a position he’s unfamiliar with and is still trying to learn, which means he’s not in optimal position to have success, even though Syracuse has no one else that can back up Ennis at point guard.
Although Gbinije’s contributions have been small, they are important. He’s essentially a mini stat-stuffer who is usually good for a few points, a couple of rebounds and 1-2 assists per game. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s been helpful in Syracuse getting off to a 14-0 start, especially since Gbinije is trying to work his way back into form.
As long as Ennis and Cooney continue to excel, Gbinije just needs to keep playing his role on the team as the backup guard regardless of what statistics he puts up. Syracuse fans shouldn’t worry about his lack of production this season as he’s just playing his part. That said, he is in good position to become a more meaningful contributor at some point.
For that, he’ll likely have to wait until next season, depending on a potential early exit of Ennis or possibly Jerami Grant. However, there is still a chance that Gbinije can find a way to make a profound impact for the Orange before season’s end.