Duke’s second exhibition game offered some good news and bad news. The good news is that after beating Western Washington 105-87 in the first exhibition despite a lackadaisical defensive effort, Duke held off Winston-Salem State for a 69-45 win while holding the Rams to 29.3 percent shooting (box score here). The bad news is that Duke looked absolutely atrocious on offense.
So without further ado, these are my player grades for the sloppily written paper that was last night’s game.
Team GPA: 2.82
Duke’s second exhibition was basically the inverse of the first. Duke’s defense forced 19 turnovers, nine of which were outright steals, and racked up six blocks. But while the team defense was much improved, the offense was abysmal.
Duke only managed 69 points because they shot a pathetic 39.1 percent from the field. Want an even more frightening stat? Duke, the three-point obsessed team that they are, went 1-17 from behind the arc. For you non-math majors, that comes to 5.9 percent.
The silver lining is that for all the bad shooting, Duke only turned the ball over nine times and when they did score, it was often on stellar drives to the hoop or good post play. Overall, the win was messily constructed and therefore deserving of the B- average.
Mason Plumlee: A
Two games, two double-doubles. He was perfect from the floor, going 7-7, and added 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. On offense, he looked in control and demonstrated some quality moves on the low block. On defense, he gave the undersized Rams fits when they got in the paint. He even passed well.
The reason he doesn’t get an A+, however, is that some guy named Wykevin Bazemore had 17 rebounds for Winston-Salem State. That wasn’t all Mason Plumlee’s fault, but every post player for Duke should be ashamed of that stat.
Bazemore is listed at just 6’4" and 185 lbs. He got all those boards through hustle and grit, something Duke’s frontcourt only showed in fits and starts. Plumlee looked good, and his numbers reflect that, but at times he didn’t look tough or lost concentration and failed to box out. That's especially frustrating for a player who should be dominating the paint.
Rasheed Sulaimon: A
It would’ve been hard for Sulaimon to duplicate his amazing first-game performance, but he once again showed himself to be a stellar asset. Last night, despite going 0-5 from three, he scored 12 points and had two assists. The high grade, though, stems from the fact that when the outside shot wouldn’t go down, Sulaimon started driving to the hoop with menace.
His ability to penetrate gives Duke more diversity on offense. He offered another option for Duke on a night like last night, when the shooting touch is nowhere to be found.
Whether Duke goes with a three-guard lineup, or even if he starts over the injured Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon looks to be entrenched as a starter.
Quinn Cook: B-
Cook also showed an ability to get into the paint. Even without the ball, he made cuts into the lane, received the ball and hit a shot from just inside the foul line. Also, he was the only Blue Devil to actually make a three-pointer. So that's something.
While his nine points were nice, Cook’s one assist and three turnovers left a lot to be desired. Still, it was an improvement on the first game’s six turnovers. Another worrying thought is that in two games, Cook is 2-9 from three.
Ryan Kelly: C-
The low grade is clearly due to his going 0-7 from the floor. That is flat out "F" territory. But Kelly improved his mark by showing he’d improved in other facets of his game. When Duke was getting blasted on the boards, Kelly pulled down four offensive and four defensive rebounds.
His defense looked improved as he tallied another two blocks and added two steals. And once again, the big forward led Duke in assists with three. It would have been nice to see Kelly post up inside more when his shot wasn't falling, but even when he isn’t scoring, Kelly has a lot to contribute to the team.
Alex Murphy: D
I’m not a believer. He doesn’t really seem to know where he fits in the system. While his 1-6 shooting was better than Ryan Kelly’s night, Murphy offered only five rebounds, one assist and two steals. Of course, he undercut those positives with two turnovers.
Look, I’m not saying he’s never going to be good, I’m just saying that we can stop with the Kyle Singler comparisons. He’s a redshirt freshman so he can certainly develop, but as for right now, he’s not a superstar in the making. Come the next game, I doubt he’s even a starter.
Amile Jefferson: A
Just like in the first game, he scored 13 points, this time on 6-10 shooting. Most importantly, he once again showed that his goal is to bang on the inside block. The shots from outside weren’t falling for Duke, but Jefferson offered an interior offensive option. He played particularly well when paired up with Mason Plumlee.
The lone critique to offer is that he, like the other post players, needed to rebound and box out better. While Jefferson only grabbed five rebounds, three of them were offensive, something that led to second-chance points on a night when Duke needed every scoring opportunity they could get.
Josh Hairston: B
He is what he is. And what he is is a tough guy who adds some attitude to Duke’s post. He didn’t make any of his three shots, despite all that alleged work in the offseason, but he did come up with six boards, an assist and a block in his 15 minutes of work.
In limited playing time, he continues to contribute. That’s all you can really ask of Hairston. I think at this point in his career, it’s fair to assess Hairston as a low post version of Tyler Thornton.
Tyler Thornton: B
Speaking of the defensive specialist, Thornton actually scored four points, all off free throws. As always, he was tenacious on defense and came up with two steals. There were times his defense looked a little out of control or overly aggressive, which explains his four fouls, but overall, he gave the Blue Devils 14 minutes of great ball pressure.
On offense, Thornton even showed some ability to drive to the basket. If he can add at least the threat of a dribble drive, Thornton may not be the offensive albatross he has been thus far in his career.
Seth Curry: C
After sitting out the first game due to an injury, Curry didn’t look 100 percent healthy. From the floor he was 1-9, though no one shot the ball particular well. Poor shooting aside, Curry looked to be picking his spots when he would go all out, and then trying not to do too much the rest of the time. That’s the hallmark of a hurt player.
In his limited 17 minutes of play, Curry did manage to show that leading last year’s team in steals was no fluke as he pilfered the Rams twice. But again, his effort was measured so it’s hard to get a fair read on how representative this game was of his capabilities.
Hopefully Seth Curry can come back to full strength soon because the Blue Devils need him desperately.