Preseason predictions are a dangerous game. It’s even more precarious when the prognosticating involves a team with a starting lineup in flux and a key player suffering from an unidentified injury.
Despite Seth Curry’s lingering leg injury, whatever it may be, and the myriad of options Mike Krzyzewski has in terms of a starting five, I’ll go ahead and try to predict the end of season leaders in each major statistical category for the Duke Blue Devils.
I’ve made my best educated guess and tried to incorporate stats into some wishful thinking, but I encourage comments aimed at challenging my valiant but ultimately misguided attempt to see the statistical future.
If Seth Curry were 100 percent healthy, I’d feel confident about picking him to be Duke’s leading scorer. He averaged 20 points a game as a freshman at Liberty and last season was Duke’s second best scorer behind only Austin Rivers.
However, I fear that his injury will slow him for at least the first batch of games and possibly through the season.
That makes Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee the two favorites to lead Duke in scoring, with Rasheed Sulaimon being a dark horse candidate.
My prediction is that Ryan Kelly takes up the mantle as Duke’s leading scorer.
Plumlee has looked great in the exhibition games, but both those teams were undersized D-II schools. He will find it much more difficult to score against conference foes. Plus, while his foul shooting looks to be improved, Plumlee often leaves potential points at the free-throw line.
Kelly, meanwhile, can score from the paint or behind the arc. I know that in the second exhibition game he went 0-of-7 from the floor, but I’m willing to chalk that up as an anomaly.
His offensive game is the most diverse of any Duke player, so Ryan Kelly should be able to adjust to however the defense tries to guard him. He also looks bigger this year and should spend more time in the low post this season. That translates to getting rebounds that lead to easy buckets and getting fouled, which is a positive because he’s great from the charity stripe.
Again, if Seth Curry were healthy he’d be the clear favorite. But given his injured status, Mason Plumlee should lead Duke in minutes per game.
Note that I said, "should." Mason Plumlee should lead in this category because, until younger brother Marshall returns from injury, Mason is the only true center the Blue Devils have.
Unfortunately, Mason Plumlee has shown in the past that he’s prone to picking up fouls. Plumlee has to avoid foul trouble this season to prevent Ryan Kelly from being forced into the center spot.
If Mason can’t stay on the court, Ryan Kelly could chalk up enough playing time to surpass Plumlee, but in order for Duke’s season to be a success, Mason Plumlee will have to be on the court to contribute. He should be up to the job.
This is easily Mason Plumlee’s category. The big senior might very well average a double-double for the season. As I previously mentioned, Mason is Duke’s only true center. So he should see a ton of time in the paint for Duke.
Mason Plumlee’s biggest competition for the rebounding crown might be freshman Amile Jefferson. Jefferson looks to be an excellent post player in the making. He’s quicker than Plumlee and his slight frame allows him to slice around box outs.
In the end, however, Mason Plumlee’s size and bulk make him a reliable bet to lead the team in rebounds. And the fact that he’ll play more minutes than Amile Jefferson should keep Plumlee ahead of his competition.
I foresee Josh Hairston continuing his mastery of the completely unnecessary one-handed rebound. Hairston will also lead the Blue Devils in the categories of most screams and most disgruntled looks.
Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I’m predicting Quinn Cook will lead Duke in assists. Cook has looked bad in the Blue Devil’s two exhibition games, tallying four assists to nine turnovers (Box Score 1, Box Score 2).
Compare that to last year when Quinn Cook, in limited minutes, rolled along to 63 assists and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.5. If Duke is going to be successful this season, Cook needs to take the reins of the Blue Devils’ offense.
If Cook falters, Seth Curry’s ability to play both the shooting guard and point guard positions make him a candidate to be the team assist leader. Oddly, Ryan Kelly might be a dark horse in this category due to the fact that he led Duke in assists in both the exhibition games (see links to box scores).
It may surprise you to know that Seth Curry lead the team in steals last season. I think he’ll do the same this year.
Even if he’s physically limited, Seth Curry is one of Duke’s smartest players. His defensive savvy allows him to read offensive sets and jump into passing lanes. He’s also adept at picking the pocket of ball-handlers not fully paying attention.
And of course, Seth Curry is a senior. So you know he is going to play as hard as he possibly can. In his final season, expect Curry to dive on the floor for loose balls and sneak up on any post players that drop the ball bellow their chest.
The easy answer is Mason Plumlee, but I’m going to think outside the box and pick Ryan Kelly.
While Plumlee will draw the defensive assignment of the opposing team’s best big man, the addition of Amile Jefferson will allow Kelly to, at least on occasion, slide out to the 3 position. Playing on the wing, Ryan Kelly will easily outsize his opponent.
Even at the power forward slot, Kelly is a big body. In the two exhibition games Ryan Kelly had four blocks to Mason’s two. Thanks to his height advantage over most power forwards and his ability to move out to the wing where he'll have an even bigger size advantage, Kelly will have plenty of shot-blocking opportunities.
Also known as The Steve Wojciechowski Award, this goes to the player who most frequently slaps the floor to spur on a strong defensive stand.
I think this will go to Rasheed Sulaimon. As a freshman he’ll be full of energy and will love how an old-fashioned floor slap ignites the Cameron crowd. All season he’ll be the spark plug for Duke’s offense and defense.
I fully expect to frequently see him running back to defensive end after draining an important shot with the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that leads to a crowd favorite floor slap.
Sulaimon's biggest challenger will be defensive specialist Tyler Thornton.
Mason Plumlee has worked on his game and worked on his game and worked on his game.
While he’s gotten better over his college career, the footwork is still an issue. He’s got raw talent in spades, but his fundamental post up moves leave something to be desired.
Last year Mason Plumlee committed 74 turnovers. That’s 2.2 per game. Maybe he’s finally put it all together, and if he has, Duke could be great this season, but I predict the typical clumsiness of Mason Plumlee to persist.
This is the second negative that Mason Plumlee needs to work on. Duke has interesting depth at every position except center. Mason Plumlee needs to stay on the floor for the Blue Devils, so his 86 fouls last year are a legitimate cause for concern.
While I expect the team defense to be better than it was last year, which should reduce Plumlee’s exposure to cheap fouls, it’s still a good bet to assume that Plumlee will be whistled for fouls more than anyone else for Duke.
If Andre Dawkins weren’t taking a redshirt year, he’d take both these categories. With Dawkins gone, Seth Curry stands in as the favorite for most three-pointers made and most attempted.
However, given Curry’s injury it’s possible that Rasheed Sulaimon could be the Blue Devils’ primary three-point shooter. Ultimately, though, I feel that Sulaimon’s ability to drive to the basket means his offense is diverse enough to not just limit him to the role of an outside shooter.
Curry, meanwhile, isn’t going to take people off the dribble and should set up in a sort of JJ Redick role.
This isn’t a stat per se, but this accolade will a good measure for which player contributed the most to Duke’s season.
I’m predicting Ryan Kelly as the season MVP.
It’s a little unorthodox, but the fact of the matter is that he serves as the player that has the potential to launch Duke into the national spotlight. First of all, when he got hurt at the end of last season, Duke lost two of the three games he missed.
Secondly, while Mason Plumlee might seem to be a strong MVP candidate, you know what you’re getting from Plumlee. He should average a double-double but he hasn’t shown enough offense to be able to carry the team entirely.
Kelly, on the other hand, has the ability to not just score 20 points, but he could go off for upwards of 30. In fact, last season Kelly was frequently pushing point totals close to 20 and ended up averaging more points per game than Plumlee.
In short, while Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee are known commodities, Ryan Kelly still hasn’t reached his ceiling. If he can add greater consistency to his scoring threat, he becomes an offensive weapon that opposing teams simply can’t effectively match up against.
A monster season from Ryan Kelly would spell a monster season for Duke. If Duke is going to contend for a National Title, then Ryan Kelly is going to have to play like an NBA lottery pick.
Here’s to hoping he does.