Rasheed Sulaimon Crescendos While Quinn Cook SpiralsPosted by Chris Kehoe on February 7th, 2014
Rasheed Sulaimon came into this season with high expectations for himself, as did most all of college basketball and Duke fans. Sulaimon had averaged 11.6 PPG in 29 minutes per game as a freshman and was coming back better than before, surrounded by even more talent. The shooting guard position seemed to be Sulaimon’s to lose as well, with freshman and fellow Texas native Matt Jones the only other true shooting guard on the roster. Sulaimon was riding an extreme high after his very successful freshman campaign and his gold medal winning summer on the U-19 USA Team, making him a back-to-back gold medal winner. There were even whispers of the 6’4” Texan making the leap to the NBA, but his draft stock never firmly solidified itself in the first round.
Unfortunately for Sulaimon, this type of performance didn’t materialize and surrounded by talented offensive threats like Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, he wasn’t having the ball in his hands as much as he would’ve preferred. Sulaimon made his living as a slasher his freshman year, darting into the lane and creating his own shots. With shooters and primary offensive options like Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly spotting up, this worked well for last year’s Duke team. But with Parker doing exactly that at a much higher clip, those lanes were shut down and a lot of touches for Sulaimon were disappearing. Instead of adapting to a new style of play and efficiently playing alongside Hood and Parker, Sulaimon resisted and was thrown into Coach K’s doghouse where he stayed up until recently, even chalking up a dreaded DNP-CD in December against Michigan. Sulaimon didn’t exactly “break out” immediately after that game versus Michigan, playing only 5 minutes versus Gardner Webb. But since the December 19 game versus UCLA, Sulaimon has been improving and playing with a newfound sense of confidence, outside of two outliers at Clemson and Pittsburgh.
It took him a while to adapt to playing with a ball-dominant scorer like Parker as well as a new efficient scorer such as Hood who account for over 35.0 PPG combined. Also contributing to Sulaimon’s spot on the pine was the emergence of graduate student and one of the nation’s best long range shooters, Andre Dawkins. Dawkins, who averages 10.0 PPG in 15 minutes per game, has been shooting the lights out with a 47.8% 3FG and has been stealing some precious minutes at the two-guard position. Tyler Thornton, a senior perimeter defender and leader, had also stolen some time from Rasheed, playing with a steadying hand and contributing relentless defense on the opposing team’s best guard. Even Matt Jones got a few starts during the season, but plays inconsistent minutes and is primarily used as a lockdown defender. Although Thornton and Dawkins both do certain things extremely well, none of them had the overall talent or pedigree of Sulaimon and could not help Duke in a starting role as well as the sophomore potentially could. Sulaimon has the capability to knock down threes (not as well as Dawkins), play very good defense and guard bigger players at more positions than Thornton. He is also a capable offensive threat who is more versatile than either Thornton or Dawkins and can get to the free throw line and gives opposing defenses another headache to worry about on top of Parker, Hood, and junior guard Quinn Cook. But as Sulaimon has progressed and shed the ‘doghouse’ symbol he had shadowing him earlier, point guard Cook has stumbled a bit as Sulaimon has played more time at the point.
While Cook has not totally disappeared, his scoring has been a bit below average as has his minutes played. Averaging over 33 minutes per game this season and last, Cook has played over thirty minutes only once since January 13 versus Virginia and has only scored in double figures once since January 11 at Clemson. No huge red flags jump out at you, but Cook is going through a small adjustment period of his own, and is used to dominating the ball in the backcourt with non-ball handlers and non-creators like Thornton, Jones, and Dawkins playing with him. Now that Sulaimon has shown he has an integral role to play on this Duke team, Cook will have to adjust much like Sulaimon had to. Hopefully for Duke, his process is much less lengthy and drama-filled compared to the period that Sulaimon struggled through for the first half of this season.