Generally speaking, we think the N&O's Laura Keely does a solid job, but we do have a couple of quibbles with her most recent column, entitledÂ "12 thoughts on Duke's season thus far."
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"I touched on this earlier, but, on paper, Rasheed Sulaimon has posted similar numbers to Austin Rivers through this point in the season. Sulaimon has taken 93 shots thus far (second most on the team), just 10 fewer than Rivers after nine games last year. Rivers averaged more points (15.6 to 12.3), but Sulaimon is in the same ballpark....The main difference for Duke is that Sulaimon has three seniors in Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry that carry the team whereas Rivers was more or less a one-man show (and thereâs plenty of fault to be shared for that). Maturity has done wonders for this Duke team."
The part about the seniors is certainly true: it was unfortunate that Duke had to run so much offense through Rivers last year, and he took a lot of criticism for it even though he was doing what he was asked to do. He would have benefited from having these three seniors.
But even if he had that, it wouldn't have affected the flaws in his game. Rivers was a brilliant penetrator and very capable of generating his own offense. But he was not a great passer and his defense was not great. In short, he was not a complete player, a fact which has come to the fore with the Hornets. The measure of his gift is that his ability to drive and to score outweighed his weaknesses and often kept Duke in games when Seth Curry or Ryan Kelly or either Plumlee couldn't.
All that said, we prefer Sulaimon. He may not be as great a pro as Rivers becomes once he corrects his weaknesses, but he's incredibly solid and varied. He instinctively shares the ball and rarely jumps out. His points come within the offense and his defense is light years beyond that of Rivers.
"The one clear weakness for Duke has been defensive rebounding. The Blue Devils are giving up 14.1 offensive rebounds per game. The person in the best position to improve this area of the game is Ryan Kelly, who, as the 4, plays closer to the basket on defense than a guard would (the theory being that he is guarding another tall player who likely takes close-range shots)."
As we said recently, rebounding has never been the main focus of a K-team. They routinely lose the battle of the boards. But Duke tends to get the rebounds that matter, and here's why: after pushing someone so hard for 35+minutes, the opponents legs get tired. Shots tend to come up short, and those rebounds in winning time, Duke tends to get those.
But even if you don't buy any of that, even if you are willing to buy into Ken Pomeroy's statistical model which cannot account for many intangibles, Keeley fails to consider one very large factor, and that's literal: the return of Marshall Plumlee.
We haven't seen very much of MP3 yet, but the other day Coach K said that before he got hurt, he was the sixth man. He's a bit different than his brothers in that he apparently sees himself more as a center than a forward. You probably won't see him on the perimeter or bringing the ball downcourt.
Marshall Plumlee is going make his living near the basket, and he's got a quick way to get minutes on this team: hit the boards. Hard.