Rushed Reactions: #7 Duke 63, Clemson 62

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

  1. Don’t trust Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This is admittedly a harsh assessment, and the Blue Devils certainly deserve to be listed among the contenders for the title. When they’re hot, they’re borderline unbeatable. And they have a deep rotation of skilled offensive players. But their defense has serious issues. Duke gave up points on nine straight possessions after going up by 13 points in the second half. They scored some too, so it didn’t look like a dominant Clemson run by any means, but what should have been the time Duke put the Tigers away became the time Clemson held on to challenge for the game. Clemson’s offense is mediocre. Those kinds of runs can’t happen, but they’re beginning to seem like standard second half occurrences with this Duke team.
  2. On the other hand, Duke rebounded really, really well. Unlike defense, many concerns people have with Duke don’t make a lot of sense. This is a very good rebounding team, especially when shots aren’t falling like on Friday night. Amile Jefferson is both a capable offensive player — benefitting from not being the focal point of opposing defenses — and a force on the glass. His and Jabari Parker‘s post games mean Duke has no trouble scoring down low. Jefferson has grown a lot over the course of this season. Remember, during the first half of this season, Josh Hairston was playing comparable minutes to Jefferson (and Marshall Plumlee wasn’t playing at all). As a side note, Quinn Cook’s development has flat-lined — for whatever reason he can’t find much consistency. Offensively, I think point guard play is Duke’s biggest concern going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Heading into March, Duke Much in Need of Its Upcoming Break

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2014

After dispatching Virginia Tech 66-48 on Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke will get a much-needed week off. Going into this break, the Blue Devils have played five games in the last 11 days. It was already going to be a tough stretch in the schedule, but it became even more so when a rare Triangle winter storm forced the postponement of the game with North Carolina, originally set for February 12. The rivalry tilt was rescheduled for play on February 20, the only available date that made sense for both schools, but it created a situation where Duke has basically been playing every other day for the last week and a half. Now with a clear schedule until next Wednesday at Wake Forest, it’s a good time to assess how this Blue Devils’ team is currently playing and their prospects moving forward.

Rasheed Sulaimon's Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Rasheed Sulaimon Is Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Perhaps the best thing to happen for Duke lately is the emergence of Marshall Plumlee. After spot duty and inconsistent play for most of the season, the redshirt sophomore has developed to the point that he is now clearly the top frontcourt reserve. Plumlee had shown some flashes of talent previously, most notably in a home game against Florida State in which he achieved career highs in points and rebounds (seven each). That outing was followed by a total of two points and seven rebounds in Duke’s next four games. But in his last three outings, the youngest of the Plumlees has shown much more consistency. In 47 total minutes combined, he has scored 11 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He has also had an impact on the defensive end, blocking five shots over that period. Earlier in the year, Plumlee was very weak at defending the high pick-and-roll and was often late in help situations. That part of his game has improved enough so that Duke can now take advantage of Plumlee’s size to help with it’s biggest issue on defense – protecting the basket. That weakness was on display again in the Virginia Tech game. The Hokies’ trio of big men, hardly an imposing bunch, converted 16-of-22 field goals against the Blue Devils’ interior.

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ACC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Akil Mitchell‘s offense is starting to come around. His defense has been elite all season, but his offense has taken a major step back from last year. His numbers still don’t match the double-double machine he was, but his shooting splits (not counting the free throw line) are almost identical to 2012-13. The good news is that his rebounding is back at an elite level. This year the Cavaliers don’t need him to shoulder nearly the same offensive load, but he’s absolutely critical for the Cavaliers on the boards.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: So the ratings are back from Syracuse-Duke and it’s safe to say the ACC will want these two schools to play multiple times a year. ESPN’s broadcast on Saturday night outdrew Lebron versus Durant two nights earlier, making it the highest rated sports event of the week (on cable). It also nearly doubled the ratings for North Carolina-Duke last Thursday night, which were admittedly split between ESPN and the local networks. Also, please enjoy more Jim Boeheim memes in the bottom slideshow.
  3. Charlotte Observer: Tyler Lewis finally has the starting point guard job at NC State. When Cat Barber started earlier this season, it looked like Lewis might be destined to become a role player coming off the bench. But as Barber’s freshman mistakes mounted, Mark Gottfried started going to Lewis more often. Lewis still can’t keep opposing guards in front of him, but there’s no denying that the Wolfpack’s offense looks best when he’s at the helm. He needs to improve his defense to keep the job in the long term because Barber will assuredly improve his consistency as he gets older.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Don’t look now but Marshall Plumlee is looking like a talented basketball player. It’s weird to say that there weren’t high expectations for a McDonalds All-American, but Plumlee never got much attention last season or for much of this one. Plumlee isn’t likely to see a huge boost in minutes next year (unless the Blue Devils want to go massive with him and Jahlil Okafor on the floor), but he already looks like a totally different player. He’s become much more confident, and therefore, effective. His shot-blocking and rebounding could end up being the Zoubekian post presence many have suggested that the Blue Devils need to make it to the Final Four.
  5. Blogger So Dear: Wake Forest showed some fight last night, playing spoiler at a sparsely attended game in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons beat Clemson, probably putting the Tigers on the wrong side of the bubble for good (barring a miraculous ACC Tournament run). Most importantly Jeff Bzdelik’s team showed a spark in the second half that had been missing the last couple of games. His team hasn’t quit yet, and still has an outside shot of finishing .500 with winnable games against Boston College and Miami (though that’s on the road) coming up.
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ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014

It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches.  At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.

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Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner Zoubek

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014

He knew he had it within him all along. The skinny 6’9” “power” forward from Philadelphia had always played with an infectious sense of energy — the quintessential ‘hype man’ for Duke. But in Amile Jefferson’s freshman season, he primarily logged spot duty minutes at a clip of about 13 minutes per game. Stuck behind senior frontcourt leaders Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Jefferson struggled to get into a groove and find a defined role in Duke’s system. Coming into this year, the 2012 McDonald’s All-American made it his business to add weight to his frame so he could take advantage of a vacuum of low-post talent in the frontcourt.

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K's lessons to heart

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K’s lessons to heart

Without a true post presence on the floor but all his other pieces aligning, Mike Krzyzewski needed either Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee or senior Josh Hairston to anchor the post while flanked by perimeter-oriented forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Given that the Parker/Hood tandem is a highly efficient scoring duo, the center role in Duke’s scheme this year primarily requires competent rebounding, post defense, and communication while anchoring the back line of the defense. While Jefferson will never be the kind of defensive shot-blocking presence as Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, he can arguably check the boxes that Duke desires in a big man.

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Duke Dominates Florida State in Coach K’s 900th Win at Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 26th, 2014

After a little over eight minutes of play Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke held an 11-10 lead over Florida State, but their coach was not pleased. During the second media timeout, Mike Krzyzewski ripped off his jacket and then proceeded to rip into his team. The Blue Devils responded by outscoring the Seminoles 32-15 during the remainder of the half and maintained a double-figure lead throughout, winning 78-56. It was a milestone win for Krzyzewski, who joined Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim as the only coaches with 900 career wins at a single school.

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During First Half versus Florida State. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During  the First Half versus Florida State.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Here’s what had Coach K so upset. Duke had executed the defensive game plan well early, forcing Florida State into seven turnovers before that second media timeout, but the Blue Devils had wasted that effort with otherwise casual play – four turnovers of their own, 3-of-16 shooting, and only two free throw attempts. Perhaps even more troubling was the four consecutive fast break opportunities that his team had allowed Florida State during that time. Duke was fortunate that the Seminoles only converted on two of those chances with Ian Miller missing a wide-open three and Robert Gilchrist misfiring on those two attempts from the line. From that point on, Duke was much more aggressive. Even though the Blue Devils struggled to make shots — as most teams do against the tall and athletic Seminoles — the Blue Devils found other ways to score. Duke dominated the boards, grabbing more offensive rebounds (27) than Florida State did in total (24), and repeatedly attacked the basket, shooting 43 free throws compared to 18 for the Seminoles. Duke also had a huge edge in bench points (42-11) but part of that was because Rodney Hood (18 points) was unable to start the game due to an interesting uniform issue that required him to borrow shorts from a teammate.

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Duke Looking to Run Early and Often With This Year’s Roster

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 26th, 2013

Duke’s roster this season is merely a shell of its former self. Gone is the backbone of the team, gone are the three seniors, gone are the leaders, gone are 47.9 PPG. You get the point. Duke lost its three leading scorers and a huge part of its 30-win Elite Eight team. Yet people are excited about the prospects of this team, even perhaps more excited than last season. Duke returns both its junior floor general, Quinn Cook, and its sophomore shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon. Another two McDonald’s All-Americans return in sophomore forward Amile Jefferson and redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee. Where Duke changes up the offensive schemes and flips the script is with the two future NBA swingmen on the roster, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and blue-chip freshman Jabari Parker.

Quinn Cook calls Duke's new offense 'a point guard's dream' (USA Today)

Quinn Cook calls Duke’s new offense ‘a point guard’s dream’ (USA Today)

Don’t be mistaken, though, Duke is still Duke. They will continue to have shooters spotting up around the arc for open looks: postgraduate sniper Andre Dawkins, freshman Matt Jones, Sulaimon, Cook, and even senior perimeter stopper Tyler Thornton all can and will fire away with a green light from deep. But as ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out in a recent excerpt about Duke, Mike Krzyzewski above all adapts to his team’s strengths. And with a team full of athletic and versatile players like Parker, Sulaimon, Hood, and Jefferson, Krzyzewski has this year’s team poised to run early and often. “Last year’s team couldn’t run like this team can now,” senior captain Thornton exclaimed.

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Who Won the Week: Duke, UC Irvine and Texas (sorta) …

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 21st, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Duke

Mason Plumlee has led Duke in rebounding 10 times in 11 games as the Blue Devils are 11-0 while ranked third in strength of schedule. (AP Photo)

Mason Plumlee has led Duke in rebounding 10 times in 11 games as the Blue Devils are 11-0 while ranked third in strength of schedule. (AP Photo)

The week couldn’t have gone much more perfectly for the Blue Devils than it did. Achieve top ranking? Check. Land a top recruit? Check. Win both games handily? Check and check. Yes, Duke should probably send some flowers to Butler for knocking off preseason favorite Indiana, but who would have looked at the two teams before Saturday and thought the Hoosiers were better? Outside of the state of Indiana, I’m guessing few would. The Blue Devils (11-0) have the nation’s best body of work, and have dominated it in such a fashion that they look to be the nation’s top team convincingly, and this is before prized prospect Jabari Parker picked Mike Krzyzewski’s squad over Michigan State and BYU. On the court, Mason Plumlee, who has led Duke in rebounding 10 times so far, carried his team to an 88-47 win over Cornell with 18 points and nine rebounds Wednesday and followed that up the next night with 21 points and 15 boards in a 76-54 win over Elon. And as an added bonus, the youngest Plumlee, freshman Marshall, already made a brief return to the court against Cornell coming back from a foot injury.

(Related winners: Mason Plumlee, Butler. Related losers: Indiana, Michigan State, BYU, Cornell, Elon, and especially North Carolina – more to come.)

LOSER: Eastern Kentucky

The Ohio Valley’s Colonels started their season off hot, winning nine straight games before a weekend matchup at also-undefeated Illinois. The major-conference team expectedly pulled Eastern Kentucky apart, winning 66-53, but it was what happened next that wrapped up a bad week in Richmond, Ky. On a rare road trip to a MEAC school, the Colonels were tripped up by North Carolina A&T, who pounded the ball inside while shooting 55 percent from the field and stifling Eastern Kentucky’s guard-oriented offense by holding it to 40 percent shooting. The Bulldogs also nearly doubled up the Colonels on the glass, sealing the game. So much for a hot start.

(Related winners: North Carolina A&T, the 457 Bulldogs fans who watched the game in person. Related losers: Murray State and the Ohio Valley Conference, which both need every break they can get come March.)

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ACC M5: 12.20.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 20th, 2012

morning5_ACC

  1. Sun News: In what was billed as the biggest game in Coastal Carolina history, Clemson did its part to make the night memorable for the Chanticleers. In an unseemly collapse, Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina on the road as a follow-up to last year’s home loss. With a final score of 69-46, the Chanticleers were convincing in their win over the Tigers while Brad Brownell’s team looked nothing more than hapless. Milton Jennings went 2-of-16 from the field and had five turnovers in 31 minutes, a throwback performance for the forward who seemed on the cusp of a solid offensive year. This game raises some troubling questions about the Tigers’ ability to merely compete in the ACC this season.
  2. News & Observer: Texas delivered the other big ACC loss of the night, pulling away from a North Carolina team that threatened to rally but never held on to any momentum. UNC played a lethargic brand of turnover-heavy basketball that resulted in easy baskets for the Longhorns and a furious Roy Williams. Texas has had a disappointing season so far, dealing with the NCAA-imposed absence of Myck Kabongo and a loss to lowly Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Yet against the Tar Heels, Texas looked sharp. Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, it’s safe to assume that the players and coaching staff are going to have to rethink the team’s approach or else North Carolina will likely continue to look lost on the basketball court.
  3. Wilmington Star News: While Duke easily won its last game against Cornell, the match-up came with a tinge of disappointment. Marshall Plumlee, the third of the Plumlee brothers, was set to make his Duke debut after a stress fracture had robbed him of the opening games of the season. Plumlee was on the court for about two minutes before returning to the bench with a “slight sprain.” The forward will likely sit out the next game against Elon as a precaution, but there has yet to be any indication whether this injury is serious.  It wasn’t the debut that Plumlee wanted,  but as long as this new injury doesn’t keep him out for long, I’m sure he will have other chances to make an impression on the court.
  4. Fox Sports South: It’s hard to make too much of this, because it seems like this has happened often in recent years, but Miami has put together a nice string of victories and appears to finally be a legitimate contender for the conference title. The Hurricanes have looked good before, only to wilt under the weight of the conference schedule. Yet, the early returns are convincing: Miami looks really good. While experience suggests that we can’t be sure about this team, the bouquet of victories against Michigan State, Massachusetts, and Charlotte is very respectable.
  5. Washington Post: The heavier players lost weight and the skinnier players gained muscle. In essence, that’s the bare bones of what a coach wants out of his strength and conditioning coach. At Maryland, the team and staff are working hard to do far more than meet this low standard. Kyle Tarp has done a remarkable job transforming the bodies of the Terrapin players and his methods and results seem like something that lots of other programs should seek to emulate (perhaps especially whoever ends up with former UCLA center Josh Smith).
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ACC M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on December 11th, 2012

  1. BC Interruption: The US Department of Education published athletic revenues and profits for athletic departments. A quick note before looking at these numbers: profit can be very misleading. Athletic departments aren’t designed to turn profits, as in many cases, all revenue goes towards paying debts, contracts and travel. The revenue numbers can be misleading too, though less so. Case in point: Louisville’s basketball revenues nearly double those of Duke and North Carolina. How’s it possible for an admittedly strong regional brand to almost equal the sum of two of the three most popular teams in the country? The answer: the Yum! Center. The school’s state-of-the-art downtown arena brings in quite a deal of revenue, which presumably counts towards the basketball numbers. It’s still really interesting stuff.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Ken Pomeroy (and many others) have pointed to Duke’s apparent struggles on the glass as a potential Achilles heel this season. Duke Basketball Report went back into the archives and checked on the rebounding figures from Coach K’s tenure in Durham. The reality is that neither one is wrong. Duke‘s rebounding is at its weakest point this year, but does that mean it will come back to haunt the Blue Devils? Probably at some point. But also remember that Krzyzewski has had great success without great rebounding teams and Marshall Plumlee should help augment the Blue Devils’ board-crashing upon his return.
  3. College Hoops Daily: How did Wake Forest go from being a regular contender in the ACC to a perennial conference doormat? Well, Skip Prosser died; Dino Gaudio signed a team full of players with off-court issues and didn’t win enough to merit the exceptions; and athletic director Ron Wellman hired his friend Jeff Bzdelik. Bzdelik hasn’t improved in his three years leading the team and isn’t likable enough to mask his less than stellar results with charm. This season’s freshman class is really his first real step forward, but the product on the court looks largely the same. Bzdelik may be a great basketball coach, but he’s got to start showing progress right now if he wants to stick around much longer (see: Mark Turgeon).
  4. Washington Post: Speaking of Turgeon, he’s trying some new ways to avoid turnovers. Now, whenever a Maryland player commits a turnover in practice, he performs five push-ups. One interesting thing about the Terrapins’ turnover problem is that it’s not just one player responsible for all the miscues. Eight — yes, you read that right — Maryland players are averaging at least 1.5 turnovers a game. Do the math, and it’s not hard to see why the Terps are last in the conference in turnover margin.
  5. Hartford Courant: Connecticut never really stood a chance in conference realignment. At least not against Louisville. Despite the two schools’ recent head-to-head results, the Cardinals are obviously a football program headed in the right direction. It’s harder to say that is true with Connecticut. Attendance is struggling and strong academics can’t make up for lukewarm fan support. Less importantly, the Huskies don’t share a border with Indiana (Notre Dame, anyone?) or Ohio, a football talent hotbed.
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Night Line: Mason Plumlee’s Post Dominance Keying Duke’s Phenomenal Start

Posted by EJacoby on November 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Plenty of elite teams have impressed in the opening month of this season, but Duke is in a tier by itself when it comes to a complete resume. After exacting revenge on Ohio State from last season’s drubbing with a 73-68 victory over the Buckeyes on Wednesday night, Mike Krzyzewski’s team has now defeated three top-five teams in November. That doesn’t even include victories over Minnesota and VCU, as well, two other likely NCAA Tournament squads. In Wednesday’s win, Duke trailed by eight points at halftime to a tougher-looking Buckeyes squad while itself looking fatigued, and it needed a significant second half spark to change the tone of the game. That’s where it turned to Mason Plumlee, who turned momentum back on Duke’s side with two monster alley-oops from point guard Quinn Cook. Blue Devil fans have waited three long years for Plumlee to become a dominant post force who successfully harnessed all of his athletic potential, and tonight’s 21-point, 17-rebound effort in a comeback win over an elite opponent shows just how far the big man has come.

Mason Plumlee has Duke soaring up the rankings through victories over elite opponents (AP Photo)

We knew Duke had the depth, shooting, and coaching to remain an ACC contender this season, but Plumlee’s transformation into a dominant, All America-caliber forward gives the team a chance to reach greater heights than almost anyone imagined. Through seven games, the 6’10” senior is now averaging 19.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game on 65% shooting from the field; all good for top-five rankings in the ACC. But what’s most astonishing about Plumlee’s stats is his free throw percentage, which at 79% is an exponential improvement over his career 50% shooting coming into this season. Never mind the massive 8.8 PPG  jump; an increase of 30 points on a go-to player’s free throw percentage is enough to change the entire dynamic of an offense. As Jay Bilas consistently pointed out during Wednesday’s ESPN broadcast, Plumlee plays with improved aggressiveness near the basket this season now that he’s not afraid to get fouled. The senior converted 9-12 freebies tonight while also producing a game-high in scoring and rebounding.

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Duke’s Ryan Kelly: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted by mpatton on November 26th, 2012

Ryan Kelly may be Duke‘s most important player. Just look at the Blue Devils’ tailspin last season when he went down with an injured foot. In Duke’s losses last year Kelly averaged five points a game (not including the two Ls he missed due to injury). In Duke’s wins he averaged over 13 points a game. That’s a striking difference. Kelly’s averages from last season are identical to this season (11.8 points per game and just over five rebounds per game), though he’s seen a dramatic drop in his efficiency from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe. The free throw problem is probably a short-term slump and his three point percentage will also likely rise but remain below last season’s excellent 41% mark. But don’t let identical output and depressed percentages confuse you: Kelly is an improved player whose game has evolved a lot even since last season.

Duke really missed Ryan Kelly at the end of last season. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The most quantifiable change has come in his shot selection. Last year over 40 percent of Kelly’s shots were threes; this year just over 30 percent of his attempts come from distance. Rather than taking low-percentage contested twos, Kelly’s mid-range game is flourishing. At 6’11”, he’s virtually impossible for more athletic wings to guard, instead drawing power forwards to the perimeter where he has the advantage. Instead of settling for threes this season, he’s taken one or two steps inside the arc, where he’s nearly automatic. Kelly also appears to be more comfortable operating out around 12-16 feet from the basket, as his turnovers are down this year, potentially because he isn’t forcing things as much.

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