Let’s just get the obvious out of the way: Duke is one bad Seth Curry ankle away, not to mention an injured Ryan Kelly, from becoming nothing more than a very good team with unfortunate health issues. However, if Curry can remain productive (22 points against N.C. State Saturday), Coach K’s attention can be turned to the power forward position. Luckily for him, he has three candidates that may prove to be suitable substitutes for Kelly in Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson, and Alex Murphy.
When you break down Ryan Kelly’s game, he excels in three central categories: points, rebounds, and taking charges. Luckily, the Blue Devils should have plenty of firepower to coast in his absence. Rather than expecting any of our candidates to fill in by putting double-digit points up every game, the load is instantly placed on Rasheed Sulaimon. In Kelly’s first missed game of the season, Sulaimon tallied a mere four points while going 0-10 from the field.
The sudden dip in offensive production started against Santa Clara. In fact, in the past five games, Sulaimon’s field goal percentage has dropped more than 21 points compared to his first 11 outings (44% to 23%) and his points per game has dropped from 12.7 to 6.4 per game. There is no doubt that the freshman guard can break out his slump at anytime, but the offense will need Sulaimon to play at the same level as the beginning of the season in order to keep the team’s championship hopes alive.
This, of course, does not answer the question of rebounding. Sulaimon is a good rebounder for a guard, but our candidates can do more in the post. Hairston has performed admirably in his time on the floor, raking in the most rebounds per game (2.3) out of all of the candidates. However, when the statistic is adjusted to rebounds per 40 minutes of play, it is freshman Amile Jefferson (9.3) whom reigns as the rebounding champion.
The duo combined for 18 points and nine rebounds against N.C. State, most of which came in the first half. For this particular category, I do not believe Murphy can compete with Hairston and Jefferson, although his offensive potential may outweigh either of the big men. Based on small sample sizes for both Hairston and Jefferson, the edge goes to Jefferson in rebounding.
If Duke men’s basketball is known for two things, it is three-point shooting and taking charges. Kelly can do both. While the crack stat team of the Chronicle was unable to find an exact statistic tallying who has taken the most charges this season, the consensus pick is Hairston. In the past few games, Hairston has come in and taken multiple charges, a play that is equally exciting for the defense and demoralizing for the offense. Edge has to go to Hairston in this one.
So here we are, almost done with the column, yet no closer to a solution for who will fill in for Kelly. Oh but I disagree. Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook, Curry, and Sulaimon will be forced to play more minutes, but implementing a fifth starter by committee can work for this Duke team. Jefferson can score and rebound on the defensive end, Hairston is good for a few offensive rebounds and charges per game, and Murphy could prove to be just the offensive spark the Blue Devils need. As The Beatles once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”