The Duke Blue Devils recorded their third blowout win of the 2010-11 season Friday night with a 110-58 rout of the winless Colgate Raiders.
Duke is now 3-0 this season and has an average margin of victory of 41 points.
So that makes it three up and three down for the Blue Devils so far in 2010. But along with these three wins, Duke is experiencing some ups and downs despite the dominating start to its season.
Let's take a look at three positives and three negatives pertaining to Duke early in its title defense season.
It’s hard to imagine a better three-game start for any player in the nation.
Though Smith is now starting at the off-guard position with freshman stud Kyrie Irving running the point, Smith has been playing as well as you could play early in this young season.
The senior captain is averaging a team-high 16.0 points and 7.3 assists per game. Not to mention, Smith is averaging nearly two steals per game and is shooting 54.3 percent from the field.
What this means is that Smith has not relinquished his playmaking duties. Like Irving, he is able to advance the ball up the floor on fast breaks and produce offense for the team with the ball in his possession.
Though many believed teammate Kyle Singler was the favorite to win national player of the year and a candidate for the All-American team, with this impressive start by Smith, he could be in contention for those honors at the end of the season if he maintains his current quality of play.
It’s not merely the fact that Duke has depth this season; it’s more of a matter of how Duke has depth.
Currently, 10 different Blue Devils are averaging between 10 and 30 minutes played per game. Smith leads the team at 26.7; Tyler Thornton is averaging 11.3.
More interestingly, the top five players in minutes are all perimeter players. Smith, Irving, Singler, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are all averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
The next four guys are post players. Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Miles Plumlee and Josh Hairston are averaging between 12 and 20 minutes per game.
What this seems to indicate is that coach Mike Krzyzewski intends to employ a fast-paced, fast-break, guard-oriented offensive system throughout the season. Quite frankly, he would be stupid not to.
The overall ability of Duke’s perimeter players far exceeds the effectiveness of the big men.
To beat Duke this season, a team will have to expose Duke on the interior in a major way.
But Coach K is smart. He is going to limit an opponent’s chance to do that by keeping his guards on the floor a lot and limiting the minutes of his big men.
As a team, Duke is shooting 44.7 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Though it’s unlikely Duke can maintain this percentage all season long, what this number does do for the team is give them confidence in its three-point shooting. Confident shooters who are the most lethal ones.
A statistic of note relating to this percentage is attempts per game. Right now, Duke is attempting 25.3 three-pointers per game.
As long as the Blue Devils continue to splash the net from deep, expect the attempts per game to remain high. But if the percentage starts to decline, expect the number of attempts to decline as well.
Kyle Singler’s Slow Start
By Kyle Singler’s standards, he is off to a slow start. Most players in the country would be having career years if they were averaging 14 points, six rebounds and two steals per game.
Though it’s not necessarily his per-game averages that label his start “slow,” his shooting percentages are a bit concerning so far after three games.
From the floor, Singler is 15-of-37—40.5 percent. From behind the three-point arc, Singler is 3-of-13—23.1 percent.
He ranks last in three-point percentage among Duke players who have attempted more than one three-pointer.
Now, for this reason, Singlers’s shooting woes are not concerning. Duke has yet to play a formidable opponent and his teammates have played well.
But, if Singler continues to struggle shooting the ball, the Blue Devils may lose their go-to scorer. Which begs the question, how can you be the best player in the nation if you’re not the go-to scorer on your own team?
The good news, however, is that Singler has proved that he is capable of producing at a higher level than where he is currently. And, the senior captain can always adopt a distributor’s role if his shooting struggles continue, even though the preseason All-American is a 6’9” forward.
Free Throw Shooting
Again, the disparity in productivity between the perimeter players and the big men is evident.
The top five perimeter players in the rotation are shooting 51-of-57—89 percent—from the free throw line. The four big men are 11-of-25 for just 44 percent.
Now this hasn’t been an issue in the team’s three games, but in games when Duke is facing a legitimate opponent, whether Duke wins or loses the difference in the game may come down to free throws.
For Duke’s sake, let’s hope the free throw shooting among the big men improves.
This problem is nothing that is reflected in the box score. But, just by watching Duke in its first three games this season, I am concerned with the way they pass the ball.
Not in how often they pass or in consecutive passes in their half-court sets, but when Duke has the opportunity to make a simple or fundamental pass for an easy bucket, it is not being done routinely enough.
Constantly, such passes are inaccurate, not thrown with the appropriate velocity, tipped or stolen.
The lack of proficiency in their passing is partly reflected in the number of turnovers. But a breakdown of turnovers isn’t a statistic that is usually readily available.
In order to increase the number of easy buckets the team converts, each player needs to focus on making better, crisper passes when making passes around the rim.