In a 97–64 win over Florida Atlantic, Duke looked to be applying the lessons learned from the loss to Kansas. That’s not surprising, given that these Blue Devils players seem to be good students of the game and have an excellent teacher in Coach K.
So, befitting of an academic institution like Duke, here are the player grades for the game against Florida Atlantic.
Rodney Hood (A+)
This was the perfect game for Rodney Hood. Not only could he seemingly not miss from the floor or the free-throw line, but the way Hood got his points was exactly what Duke needs.
En route to his 28 points, Hood shot 8-of-11 from the field and 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. Only two of those shot attempts were from the three-point line. One he missed, and he was fouled on the other.
Every other time Hood looked to score, it was off a drive or by posting up. Without a true big man to get easy baskets inside, Hood has to use his ability to penetrate or back down smaller defenders to get Duke high-percentage shots.
That’s exactly what he did against Florida Atlantic, and it paid huge dividends. He and Parker still need to work on playing together more, but it’s good to know that Hood is capable of stepping up if Parker’s shot is momentarily off.
Jabari Parker (A)
It’s extremely difficult to give the freshman phenom anything other than an A. Even though Parker didn't start off shooting the ball particularly well, he found ways to persevere and contribute in other facets of the game.
In the first half, Parker wasn't hitting his shots at his usual torrid pace. Instead, he deferred to Hood and made use of his talents by making good passes, swiping a couple of steals and cleaning the glass. Against a pretty tall opposing team, Parker led the Blue Devils with 10 rebounds. In the second half Parker’s shooting stroke returned and he finished with 21 points. That double-double marked the first time under Coach K that a freshman had scored 20 or more points in his first three games.
Rasheed Sulaimon (B+)
He finally got to start over Tyler Thornton, and Sulaimon didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. Sulaimon only shot 2-of-6 and totaled just four points, but he made sure to make his presence felt. Sulaimon played hounding defense throughout the game and was rewarded with two steals. He even snaked into the paint for a couple of rebounds.
The best part of Sulaimon’s game was how he kept driving to the basket. He was most aggressive in this aspect late in the game when Parker and Hood were on the bench. With the game out of hand, the refs didn’t blow the whistle as much, but in a normal game situation, Sulaimon would’ve found himself shooting free-throws on multiple occasions.
In recent history, Duke tends to have three primary scorers. If Sulaimon continues to drive to the hoop, he could be the third part of a new Blue Devil triumvirate with Hood and Parker.
Amile Jefferson (B+)
Once again, Jefferson got into a bit of early foul trouble. On the one hand, that’s worrying, but on the other, it shows that he’s intent on playing hard-nosed defense against opposing post players. In the end, Jefferson had eight points, five rebounds and a block. That certainly constituted a solid effort.
Florida Atlantic showcased pretty good height in the paint, but Jefferson was undeterred as he put in yeoman work under the glass. His effort in pursuing offensive rebounds was particularly encouraging. More than any other underclassmen, Jefferson has demonstrated a clear understanding of exactly what is expected of him and executed his duties to near perfection.
Quinn Cook (C)
Well, this is the guy Duke fans are obsessing about. This game was better than the disaster he had against Kansas, but Cook still made some frustrating mental mistakes. Rather than pile on the guy, let’s look at this constructively.
All Cook needs to do is ask himself, "What Would Tyler Thornton Do?" If Cook asked himself that simple question, he wouldn’t take contested threes. Instead, he’d realize that three of the players around him are all future NBA first-round draft picks and deferring to them makes good basketball sense.
Not opting for contested threes would also make Cook more apt to drive the lane (something Cook can do because he’s more athletic than Thornton). This would cause defensive switches that would open up space for other players, thereby allowing Cook to make passes to open teammates.
If Cook just asked himself, "What Would Tyler Thornton Do?" he’d rack up assists, occasionally get to the rim for layups and even allow himself to take wide-open three-pointers every now and then.
So someone make him one of those rubber bracelets with WWTTD? on it and we can all stop cursing at the TV when he takes an unnecessary three early in the shot clock.
Andre Dawkins (A+)
Fully healthy, Dawkins finally showed just how much he brings to the table. From the get-go, the fifth-year senior was draining threes. He finished 5-of-8 from deep and totaled 17 points in just 19 minutes of playing time. It was the Andre Dawkins of old, it had the crowd going nuts and it was a huge boost for the offense.
On top of his hot spot-up shooting, Dawkins never looked like a liability on defense. He even added three rebounds and two assists. On a team that has so many players capable of driving the lane, Dawkins is exactly the type of three-point shooter who can make a defense pay if they choose to collapse in an attempt to stop penetration. It was great to see him out on the court, and he adds another dynamic to a Duke offense that is increasingly potent.
Tyler Thornton (A)
It’s taken me four years, but I have come to really enjoy Thornton. In this game—as in seemingly every game he’s ever played in—Thornton was 1-of-1 for three points and played good defense.
During the game, the announcers mentioned that Thornton has made a three-pointer in nine straight games. I love that stat. It’s at once completely trivial and yet deeply meaningful. I’m going to keep track of it all season because it is so unreal.
The guy takes one—maybe two if he’s feeling feisty—three-point shots each game, and it’s always from the corner. And yet, for nine games, he’s made the most of this minimalist approach. He’s the anti-Quinn Cook, and the WWTTD? bracelets are going to be a big seller.
Josh Hairston (A)
He had two rebounds, two assists and two points. It doesn’t sound impressive, but Hairston did exactly what he needs to do for the Blue Devils. After chucking up two absurd threes in Duke’s first game, Hairston has wisely adhered to the “What Would Tyler Thornton Do?” philosophy.
Hairston isn’t trying to create his own offense. His only bucket came off a shot from down on the block. Against a Florida Atlantic team that boasts a good bit of height, Hairston came off the bench and held his own in the low post. He gave Duke quality minutes when Jefferson got into foul trouble as he scrapped for rebounds and played pretty good defense. When a role player fulfills his role, that’s an A effort, and Hairston certainly did just that.
Alex Murphy, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Semi Ojeleye all played more minutes than usual—which was good to see—but didn’t do enough to be graded.
Team GPA: 3.67
This was easily Duke’s most dominant game of the season. Hood and Parker are proving to be consistent and versatile scorers. Sulaimon and Dawkins are finding their stride, which adds a third and fourth scoring threat. Meanwhile, the support staff of Jefferson, Thornton and Hairston are all performing admirably as role players. Increasingly, Duke looks like a complete team.
Quinn Cook remains the question mark for the Blue Devils. He has struggled to integrate himself into the team dynamic, but the season is only three games old, and the problem is a fixable one.
Duke Football (A+++)
It’s easy to say that you are going to change the culture of a losing program, but this group of players has actually done it. I’m a lifelong fan of Duke football, but I honestly didn’t think they’d have a shot at an ACC Championship in my lifetime. Simply amazing.