Duke Basketball: Which Rasheed Sulaimon Will We See in ACC Play?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19:  Rasheed Sulaimon #14 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball in the second half against Zach LaVine #14 of the UCLA Bruins during the CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic on December 19, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Eminem may have asked the real Slim Shady to please stand up, but he could have been talking about Rasheed Sulaimon during the early going of the 2013-14 Duke basketball season.

Preseason expectations were very high for Sulaimon entering the year after a productive freshman season. Many thought he would fill the third-scorer role for the Blue Devils alongside Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood and would surely crack Mike Krzyzewski’s regular starting lineup. It would seem to make logical sense if there was a jump from his freshman campaign that saw him average 11.6 points a night.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29:  Rasheed Sulaimon #14 of the Duke Blue Devils  dribbles against Aaron Gordon #11 of the Arizona Wildcats during their championship game of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 2013 in New York City.
Al Bello/Getty Images

After all, he now has a year of experience under his belt and would seemingly have plenty of open looks with Parker and Hood on the floor.

If the only Duke game you have watched this year was the most recent contest against UCLA, it would appear as if everything was falling into place for the Blue Devils shooting guard. He hit two critical three-pointers, grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists, many of which came in critical moments in the second half.

However, that UCLA game was far from a representative sample of what Sulaimon has done this season.

In arguably Duke’s biggest win of the season, against Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Sulaimon never once saw the court. The following game, which was a blowout victory over Gardner-Webb, only saw Sulaimon on the floor for five minutes. He missed both of his shots and finished scoreless.

Other questionable box scores from Sulaimon came against Alabama (one point on 0-of-2 shooting), Vermont (two points on 0-4 shooting) and UNC Asheville (three points in only 13 minutes).

On the season, Sulaimon is averaging 6.5 points and 1.6 assists per night behind 35 percent shooting from the field. Statistically he has fallen off from his freshman numbers, and his spot in the rotation seems very tenuous even with his impressive showing against the Bruins.

So which Sulaimon will we see in ACC play—the one we expected before the season started who turned the tide against UCLA or the one who has struggled for much of the season?

Unfortunately for Duke fans, the Sulaimon who shows up during the conference slate will likely put up numbers close to or below his season averages on a consistent basis. Frankly speaking, there just won’t be enough minutes to go around for Sulaimon to put up impressive numbers.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27:  Rasheed Sulaimon #14 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball against Shannon Hale #11 of the Alabama Crimson Tide  during their Semi Final game of the NIT Season Tip Off  at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2013 in New
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Blue Devils defense was crippling in many of its early season efforts against the likes of Vermont, East Carolina, Arizona and Kansas. The switch to Tyler Thornton in the starting lineup has stabilized the defense, and impressive performances against the Wolverines and Bruins provide tangible proof.

Duke forced a combined 25 turnovers in those two contests and made the ball-handlers uncomfortable throughout the games.

Furthermore, Andre Dawkins is gradually establishing himself as a spark plug off the bench with his three-point-shooting prowess, which leaves Sulaimon buried even deeper on the bench.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31:  (L-R) Tyler Thornton #3 and Rasheed Sulaimon #14 of the Duke Blue Devils sit dejected on the bench in the final minute of their 85-63 loss to the Louisville Cardinals during the Midwest Regional Final round of the 2013 NCAA M
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

That being said, it would be surprising to see many more games like the Michigan one where Sulaimon never plays, but his minutes will likely be kept in check unless he has a hot hand during a given game. Sure, that is more of a comment on the talent level Duke has at its disposal at the guard and forward spots than an indictment on Sulaimon, but it’s not as if Sulaimon has earned many minutes this year.

He has been a defensive liability, and his shooting percentages from the field, behind the three-point line and from the charity stripe have all plummeted compared to last year. Even his rebounding and assist numbers have decreased. 

If only Sulaimon was a 7-footer, he would see the court on a regular basis with this Blue Devils roster. Alas, Duke has plenty of offensive firepower without him this year, which means his minutes and overall contributions will be negligible in ACC play.


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