Last night the regular season got underway for the Duke Blue Devils. A 74-55 win over the Georgia State Panthers was a good way to start the season. (Here's the box score.) In fact, in nearly mirrored the North Carolina Tarheels' 76-59 victory over the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs.
As with the two exhibition games, I’ve graded each Duke player’s performance and averaged the scores together to get a team GPA.
So after two practice tests, here are Duke’s first grades that actually count.
Team GPA: 2.95
The game’s outcome was never really in doubt, and Duke’s decision to play only eight players in a rotation that gave heavy minutes to the starters looked to be a nod toward preparing for the Kentucky game.
Interestingly, Alex Murphy, who started both exhibition games, wasn't one of the eight guys in the rotation.
Overall Duke played fine but fell far short of reaching its true potential. That’s okay; it’s the first game of the season. Plus, Mason Plumlee, who looks like he's set for a true tour de force, was able to put the Blue Devils on his back.
Plumlee’s monster game aside, Duke’s defense held the Panthers to 37.3-percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers, scoring 16 points off those defensive stops. The Blue Devils committed 15 turnovers themselves but showed a nice ability to score inside with Plumlee and then use that post threat to open up opportunities to kick the ball out for good shots from the perimeter.
Duke spent the first half establishing its inside game, only attempting seven three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, when Georgia State’s defense was shifting in and out of different looks, Duke went 8-of-17 from three.
So Duke ultimately didn’t play up to full potential, but the Blue Devils did give an indication of how high the ceiling for that potential could be.
Mason Plumlee (A+)
It looks like when Coach K said this was going to be Mason’s team, the big senior took it to heart. Not only did he have 19 points and 14 rebounds, but he also ran around the court like a man possessed.
Yes, he committed three turnovers, and, yes, he went 3-of-7 from the line, but he more than made up for any shortcomings with his hustle. Plumlee might run the floor better than any big man in the country, and his movement around the court helped him make four blocks (two of which were on the perimeter) and come away with a sneaky steal underneath the offensive basket.
This looks the Mason Plumlee Duke fans have been hoping for. He’s seems committed to averaging a double-double for the season and taking on the responsibility of being the team’s leader.
Tyler Thornton (A)
Surprisingly slipped into the starting lineup over Quinn Cook, Thornton delivered. Historically an offensive albatross, the defensive specialist shot 3-of-6 from three and 4-of-7 overall. For the most part, Thornton picked his spots to shoot well and didn’t force up any less-than-ideal jumpers.
Due to his four turnovers, he may not have solidified himself as a starter.
Still, he had 13 points and three assists and played nine minutes longer than Cook, so it might be safe to assume that, for now at least, Thornton is Duke’s primary point guard.
Seth Curry (A)
The good news is that Curry was deemed healthy enough to start and played 30 minutes. And in that time, the senior guard went 5-of-10 for 15 points.
The bad news is that he clearly looked hobbled, especially on defense. He racked up four personal fouls trying to cling to his man, which says to me that his leg injury has significantly hampered his movement and speed.
For a guy playing at less than 100 percent, though, Curry showed enough guts to deserve an A.
Ryan Kelly (C+)
It was another subpar shooting night for Kelly, who was 2-of-6 from the floor. The good news is that three of his six shots were from inside the arc, so he is showing his willingness not simply to jack up threes.
The bad news is that, even inside the arch, he was 1-of-3. His three rebounds were also subpar.
He did have one block and once again, for the third straight game if you count the exhibitions, led Duke in assists, compiling four for the game.
Rasheed Sulaimon (C+)
Like Kelly, Sulaimon didn’t shoot particularly well. More frustrating was the fact that he wasn’t able to penetrate as easily as he had been in the exhibition games. Chalk that up to Georgia State constantly switching defenses between man to man and a variety of zones.
But, hey, he’s a true freshman making his first regular-season start. Going 2-of-3 from three for six points and tying Ryan Kelly for the game high in assists with four is a solid output.
Quinn Cook (B-)
Coach K told the press that the reason that Cook didn’t start was that Tyler Thornton offered a better matchup against Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter. It’s worth mentioning that Hunter is a freshman.
So against whom exactly is Cook going to be a better matchup?
Coming off the bench, Cook didn’t seem particularly enthused. He had eight points and, unlike in the two exhibition games, had as many assists as he did turnovers, landing at two apiece. So that was an improvement, I guess.
The more worrisome thing for this game was that Cook settled for outside shots. The point guard who was supposed to offer a dribble-drive threat took four shots in the game, all of them from three. He did make two, but ideally Cook would be creating more shots off penetration.
Amile Jefferson (B-)
Like Sulaimon, Jefferson was more muted in his regular-season debut. The true freshman saw only 13 minutes and didn’t really insert himself into the offensive sets. He did take the ball to the hoop aggressively, and he drew a fair number of fouls for his effort.
He also ran the court well and played solid defense. Five points is a fair start to the freshman’s season, especially if he continues to come off the bench bringing defensive energy and strong post play.
Josh Hairston (D+)
The junior only got eight minutes on the court, so he almost earned a grade of "incomplete." Hairston used his limited time to grab one rebound, make one turnover and commit three personal fouls.
Not a great stat line.
More frustrating was that he felt compelled to attempt a three. Of course, he missed it, and his 0-of-2 night led to zero points. Throughout the season Hairston will be brought in more often to spell Kelly or Plumlee, so he needs to figure out a way to contribute more effectively to the team.