Duke basketball is 11-0 and has the title of No. 1 team in the nation. As the players head home to celebrate the holiday season, The Chronicle is giving a position-by-position analysis of this year’s team, starting with the point guards and continuing with the frontcourt. Today we will look at the shooting guards and wings.
Coming into the 2012-13 season, the off-the-ball perimeter unit was one of the biggest question marks after Duke’s size deficiencies, and suspect chemistry on the wing caused it last season. Despite still predominately utilizing a three-guard starting lineup, the Blue Devil coaching staff has received upgraded play from the two and three positions, which is one of the key reasons that the squad has an unblemished record and sits atop of the rankings.
Based on his performance to date, most would not be able to tell that senior guard Seth Curry has been battling through a lingering lower leg injury, which has forced him to miss practices on a weekly basis and kept him out of the Delaware game earlier this month. Playing through pain, Curry is still managing to play his best basketball as a Blue Devil. With sophomore Quinn Cook’s stellar play at the point guard position, Curry’s has thrived playing full-time at his natural position as an off-the-ball guard, averaging 15.7 points per game—the second highest figure on the team and fifth best in the conference. The 6-foot-2 veteran has a shooting stroke as reliable as anyone in the country, connecting on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts and shooting 83 percent from the charity stripe.
In addition to his in-game contributions, Curry’s leadership—along with fellow seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly—has been invaluable for the team’s improved chemistry.
How will Curry’s leg hold up the rest of the season? That remains one of the biggest concerns as the schedule heats up with ACC play. Curry’s minutes are projected to increase and there is less turn-around time in between games.
Next to Cook and Curry, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is the team’s third guard in the starting five. The newcomer has made quite the splash in his first season of collegiate hoops. One of the best freshman in college basketball, Sulaimon brings a unique element to the team with his ability to create offense for himself, as well as adding size—at 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan—and length to the perimeter. The young Texan is the team’s third leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, which is the second best average among ACC freshman next to N.C. State’s T.J. Warren. ‘Sheed is also Duke’s best shooter at the free-throw line at 84 percent on the year.
Defensively, ‘Sheed has been a big asset for team and often checks the opposing team’s best perimeter-wing scorer.
While Sulaimon has exceeded preseason expectations, redshirt freshman Alex Murphy has progressed slower than what many fans had hoped for prior to the start of the season. At 6-foot-8, Murphy—the only true small forward on the team’s roster this year—was penciled into the starting lineup by many. For the team’s two exhibition games, he was in the starting lineup, but struggled mightily. Consequently, he did not even play in the first game of the season. Since, Murphy has only played sparingly—averaging 6.6 minutes per game.
Lately, however, he has improved with more opportunity to play—registering 10, 5 and 7 points in recent games against lesser foes Delaware, Temple and Cornell, respectively. He has shown glimpses of promise as he gains more confidence with increased playing time.