Mike Krzyzewski made the right decision cutting back on Rasheed Sulaimon's minutes, and he must stick by it until the sophomore finds his shot again.
After getting over 20 minutes of playing time in six of his first eight games, Sulaimon's inefficiency from the field has earned him the ire of Coach K. The 6'4" guard did not play at all against No. 22 Michigan, and his return to play against Gardner-Webb was short-lived.
Rasheed Sulaimon went scoreless tonight for Duke. Took two shots. Played about five minutes. #doghouse— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) December 17, 2013
Sulaimon did start strong this season. In the win over Davidson and loss to No. 5 Kansas to start the season, he shot a combined 11-of-19 from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, scoring 33 points in his first 53 minutes of play.
Since then, however, he has shot 6-of-30, including 1-of-10 on threes, to score 24 points in the following 132 minutes over eight games. Unsurprisingly, that kind of offensive ineptitude forced Krzyzewski to take drastic action to keep him off the court.
It's a disappointing turn for Sulaimon, someone expected to excel this season as part of a stacked group of Blue Devils. Forced to start from Day 1 in 2012-13, Duke hoped he would be able to make a leap in the sixth-man role, giving him fewer responsibilities and allowing him to focus on his ability to create off the dribble.
That plan hasn't worked out as intended, and the difference between his freshman stats and his production so far this season highlights the severity of the slump:
Coach K is not going to tolerate that poor play, and it's important to remember that he doesn't have to. Duke does not have the same dearth of on-ball scorers it had last season.
In that regard, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are so much better than anyone Sulaimon has played with. Parker is averaging 22.0 points per game so far, while Hood is putting up 18.9. Seth Curry, who was primarily a spot-up shooter, led the Blue Devils last season with 17.5.
With Curry and Mason Plumlee as his primary weapons, Krzyzewski was beholden to Sulaimon's raw talent in 2012-13. As a second-unit guy now, Sulaimon's ability to complement the stars is more important than his athleticism, and Duke's other guards are better in that regard.
For a bench scorer, Coach K can turn to Andre Dawkins.
Though he has played just 12.7 minutes per game this season, Dawkins has shot the lights out in that time. His 53.2 percent shooting and 48.6 percent from beyond the arc have produced 8.6 points per game, allowing the senior to outscore Sulaimon in nearly half the playing time.
While Sulaimon is a much better defender than Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, another senior, is still Krzyzewski's go-to guy to come off the bench and lock down the perimeter. That platoon is more experienced than Sulaimon is and plays better basketball than Sulaimon does on both ends of the floor.
Unless Sulaimon starts shooting again, there's no reason for Coach K to play him over Dawkins and Thornton. One could argue Krzyzewski risks stunting Sulaimon's growth as a player, but Parker's presence and the chance at a national title this season are more important to this team than Sulaimon's potential.
So for now, Sulaimon will remain glued to the bench. While he's there, Duke will be just fine without him.