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Duke Basketball: Can Rasheed Sulaimon Be Better Than Austin Rivers?

Photo courtesy of draftexpress.com
Photo courtesy of draftexpress.com
Chris HummerAnalyst IJuly 18, 2012

Incoming Duke University freshman Rasheed Sulaimon will be a better basketball player than the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year, Austin Rivers.

Yes, that's the same Austin Rivers who was the No. 10 overall pick in the NBA draft, and the same guy who hit a buzzer-beater to topple North Carolina.

Rivers was sensational last season. He started off a bit slow, but grew into his role as the Blue Devils' top scorer and closer.

However, Sulaimon will be better.

He may not be an NBA coach's son or even as celebrated as Rivers entering Durham, but he has a similar game to Rivers and does a few things better.

Both players are listed anywhere from 6'3" to 6'4", both are slightly undersized shooting guards who scored at a prolific rate in high school and both entered Duke with high expectations.

Aside the aesthetics, though, they have very comparable playing styles.

Both Rivers and Sulaimon are excellent mid-range shooters. They can pull up with ease off the dribble and excel in catch-and-shoot situations.

From beyond the arc, though, both entered Duke as developing shooters.

Rivers found his three-point stroke during the middle of ACC play and became a real threat from the outside. Sulaimon is also a developing outside shooter, but all indications are that his stroke is doing nothing but improve from three.

Rivers and Sulaimon also share freakish athletic ability and explosiveness off the dribble. Both players shine in isolation and can create space as easily as they could spout off their ABCs.  

Each player is gifted at finishing at the basket, and like Rivers did as a freshman, Sulaimon should shoulder the Blue Devils' scoring load.

Offensively their floor games are similar, but Sulaimon separates himself from Rivers in one way: unselfishness. 

Rivers was Duke's main offensive option but, at times, it seemed as if he had blinders on and couldn't see anything but the basket. He would take the ball on the perimeter and go one-on-one, totally taking the team out of the offense.

Sulaimon won't do that.

He's a very heady player and almost always looks to make the correct basketball play. In high school, his first job was to score, but when there was a better look, he dished the rock to the open guy.  

This willingness to pass will serve Sulaimon well in coach Mike Krzyzewski's ball movement-heavy system.

Sulaimon will also separate himself from Rivers in one other aspect of the game: defense.

In his freshman season Rivers was an adequate defender, but he could have been great.

Despite his 6'7" wingspan and his electrifying athletic ability, he just didn't make much of an impact on that end of the floor.

Sulaimon won't suffer the same flaw.

He's long, tough and highly competitive. You won't see him settle for just an average effort defensively. He has the size to defend either guard position, and if his 186-pound frame continues to fill out, he could be a defensive stopper.  

Both players have high basketball IQs and are great students off the court, so Sulaimon compares favorably to Rivers there.

Sulaimon won't likely score at quite the same rate that Rivers did, but the incoming freshman will still have a better season.

His unselfishness and defensive prowess will separate him from the newly minted New Orleans Hornet.

Most importantly, though, Sulaimon will lead Duke past the first round—the same round that the Rivers-led Blue Devils were upset in by No. 15 seed Lehigh.

Sulaimon is not entering Duke as highly touted, but in the end, winning is the most important aspect in defining a player’s impact.

This is what will really separate the two.

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