There’s a lot of anticipation in Durham concerning the Duke Blue Devils incoming freshmen class. Rightfully so, it features four High School McDonald’s All-Americans. With so much young talent, it’s unclear what type of roles will be assigned to Duke’s upperclassmen. The diaper dandies are a talented group, but to assume they will lead Duke to an ACC title is an ill-advised presumption. The junior-to-be Rasheed Sulaimon is primed for a breakout year performance.
The 6-4 guard is capable of taking a major leap in production, and becoming “the go-to guy” on the perimeter for Duke next season. Sulaimon has an arsenal of offensive moves; he has a knack for putting the ball into the basket. Last season, he scored in double figures in 19 games. He was Duke’s most clutch player, nailing two near buzzer beaters against Virginia and Syracuse. The only drawback was his inconsistency. There was an eight game span (games such as Arizona, Michigan and UCLA) in which Sulaimon averaged 4.0ppg. As a result, Sulaimon found himself in Mike Krzyzewski’s doghouse for part of his sophomore season.
However, Sulaimon’s junior season should not resemble his previous. His role on the team will be redefined. Unlike most prized recruits, Sulaimon has had his role adjusted each season in Durham. Sulaimon played like a rising star his freshman season. He played an integral role on an Elite Eight squad. Duke was led by its three seniors which helped Sulaimon transition smoothly into the college game. He was surrounded by upperclassmen that provided leadership and poise on the floor. Thus, Sulaimon was able to play to his strengths. He flourished as a supporting role player. He played major minutes (29.2MPG) while averaging 11.6PPG and 3.4RPG. His strong play had the basketball world speculating his possible future in the 2014 NBA Draft.
But as most Cameron Crazies saw, Sulaimon wasn’t able to consistently find his groove in his sophomore season. He struggled to knock down shots and get to the rim which was a catalyst for Duke’s offense his first year. It appeared he couldn’t find a role that worked well with the team. In his sophomore season, Duke featured two alpha dogs with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. The 6-foot-8 forward tandem was the main source of offense.
During Sulaimon’s freshman year, two of the three seniors were forwards who could do damage offensively in the interior. Sulaimon was the key wing player who attacked and created off the dribble. But with the arrival of Hood and Parker, Sulaimon had to find a new way to be effective on the court without being too ball dominant.
Statistically speaking, Sulaimon regressed in production. However Sulaimon did show promising signs of life later into the season. He worked his way off the bench and scored in double digits in 11/14 final games of the year. More importantly, he started to play major minutes at the point in the latter half of the season. In his final eight games, he had a 2.2 assist to turnover ratio with a total of 20 assists.
Having experience at both guard positon will help take Sulaimon’s game to the next level. At his size and athleticism, Sulaimon can be one of the top combo guards in the country. This season, Hood, Parker Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton will no longer be taking shots away from Sulaimon. Matt Jones and Grayson Allen are both gifted guards but are unproven at the college level as of yet. Coach K needs Sulaimon to be the player he’s capable of being. Sulaimon needs to take more control of the offense. His performance is crucial to the amount of success Duke will have next season.
Sulaimon is one the more complete basketball guards in the country. He is an athletic wing who can knock down a contested jumper. He is comfortable bringing the ball up the court, and with his speed and agility, he can break down defenses off the dribble. In addition to his offensive repertoire, he is also a willing passer and rebounder. More times than not, he’s guarding the opposing team’s best guard.
Duke fans should be excited about what should take place for Sulaimon this upcoming year. If history repeats itself, he should take a major leap in production in his junior season. The chart below speaks for itself.
|Gerald Henderson 07-08||34||26.2||12.7||4.7||1.6||1.1||0.9||2||0.474||0.669||0.317|
|Gerald Henderson 08-09||37||29.7||16.5||4.9||2.5||1.2||0.8||2.2||0.45||0.761||0.336|
|Nolan Smith 08-09||34||21.6||8.4||2.2||1.7||0.9||0.1||1.6||0.426||0.849||0.346|
|Nolan Smith 09-10||38||35.5||17.4||2.8||3||1.2||0.2||1.8||0.441||0.767||0.392|
|Rasheed Sulaimon 13-14||34||25.6||9.9||2.4||2.4||0.8||0||1.1||0.402||0.768||0.41|
Both Henderson and Smith were two guards that received similar minutes to Sulaimon in their respective sophomore’s seasons. Each player experienced crowded guard depth and was not the go-to scorer on their roster. But in their respective junior seasons, there was less depth and they both blossomed into all conference players. Henderson was named first team All-ACC while Smith was second team All-ACC. It’s a high standard, but Sulaimon is surely capable of reaching those accolades.
Sulaimon has the most experience out of all the guards on the team. He needs to lead the way on the perimeter. Duke cannot afford another slump season from their star shooting guard. Sulaimon is just too talented to let last season’s letdown affect his performance this year. We should expect big things from number 14 as he enters his junior season.