Rasheed Sulaimon's Surprising Dismissal Doesn't Change Duke's 2014-15 Outlook

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 29, 2015

AP Images

Duke dropped a bombshell Thursday afternoon, as word broke that the school dismissed junior shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon from the Blue Devils' basketball program.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, via Duke's official website, "After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program."

None of us saw this coming, but perhaps we should have.

After the Dec. 3 win over Michigan last season in which Sulaimon did not play a single minute, Tyler Thornton told Laura Keeley of The News & Observer"As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do. We need him. That’s all I can really say about that."

That was the first sign that this was more than just a slight injury or a decision made by Krzyzewski based on the flow of the game. When one of the team captains calls you out for not being enough of a man, there's some sort of behavioral problem going on.

Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

Sulaimon played in each subsequent game of the season and really became an integral part of the offense, scoring in double figures in 17 of Duke's final 24 games, including 21 in the big win over Virginia and 20 in the tournament loss to Mercer.

We never learned what actually led to his spot in Coach K's doghouse, but a couple of games there seemed to serve him well. And for the third straight November, we were expecting big things from Sulaimon.

However, he never found his niche in this year's rotation. He played regular minutes but always seemed out of placenot so much his offensive or defensive positioning on the court, but he either didn't have a defined role or willfully refused to adopt it.

A little over two weeks ago, Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com had this to say about Sulaimon's role on the team:

As it turns out, though, it was his fit outside of games that was becoming the bigger issue. ESPN's Jeff Goodman quoted a source close to the Duke program as saying: "It was an accumulation of a whole lot of residue. It had built up over time. His issues didn't outweigh his talent."

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports added this note on Sulaimon's strained relationship with Coach K:

Maybe we'll find out more details behind the decision in the coming hours, days or weeks but maybe not. We rarely get clear-cut explanations when players are suspended or dismissed for violations of team rules.

Regardless, as ESPN's Andy Katz tweeted, Duke is coming off a loss and about to play arguably its most difficult game of the season, so it's time to move on without Sulaimon:

If there's good news in all of this for Duke, it's that Sulaimon was the least valuable offensive weapon in the rotation. According to KenPom.com, his 104.6 offensive rating was the lowest among Blue Devils who played at least 12 minutes this season.

Sulaimon was a more valuable perimeter defender than Tyus Jones or Quinn Cook, but that's not exactly saying much.

Jan 11, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Rasheed Sulaimon (14) reacts to a call during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at PNC Arena. North Carolina State won 87-75.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The harsh reality is that if Duke had to lose one of its seven players averaging at least 10 minutes per game (with at least 20 games played), Sulaimon was the most expendable one. There might be an adjustment period, but more minutes for Matt Jones and Grayson Allen should be a good thing in the long run.

Frankly, we've been wondering for a long time why Allen can't seem to get any playing time. He seemed to play well early in the season against the likes of Presbyterian, Fairfield, Furman and Army, but the three-point assassin who won the McDonald's All-American slam dunk contest never got anything close to the chance that the other three freshmen on this roster received.

Allen has averaged just 2.8 minutes per game since the end of November, but that's inevitably going to change on a roster that now has just eight scholarship players. He actually ranks second on the team in points per 40 minutes (18.4), but most of that playing time came in low-leverage situations against weak opponents.

It will be fun to see what happens when he all but inevitably plays a handful of crucial minutes at Virginia on Saturday. Whether he can handle that type of workload may dictate where Duke goes from here.

While there should be optimism surrounding Allen and Matt Jones' increased involvement, keep in mind that Coach K already hadn't much cared to get his bench involved this season, and it has had little impact on Duke's success.

Starters scored 68 of 73 points on Wednesday night against Notre Dame. Two weeks ago against Louisville, all five starters played at least 31 minutes, and Matt Jones' six points were the only ones that came from the bench.

In the 66-56 win over Connecticut earlier this season, bench players scored precisely zero points.

Because he was a McDonald's All-American and once regarded as a likely first-round draft pick, Sulaimon's dismissal probably feels like a bigger blow to Duke's title hopes than it actually is.

The man with 1,000 career wins should find a way to properly divvy up those minutes and have this team competing for a title again without missing a beat.

 

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.