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Are Alex Murphy Concerns Warranted?

The simple answer to the headline is yes, but the more complex answer to that question is not yet.

There really are two ways to interpret any questions about Alex Murphy and if his not playing in Duke’s season opener is anything to be concerned about. In my opinion it is a concern for the short term, but shouldn’t be a problem in the long run.

If we look at the immediate impacts of him not playing, there is plenty of reason to be worried. Murphy was supposed to be Duke’s best wing player after a season where the Blue Devils really didn’t have any answers on the wing. The 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman started both of Duke’s exhibition games but he didn’t look particularly good in either.

In the first exhibition against Western Washington Murphy scored 6 points, grabbed 4 rebounds in 19 minutes. In the second tune up, he scored only 2 points and got 5 rebounds in only 14 minutes. In comparison he was generally out played by true freshman Amile Jefferson who put up good numbers, but more importantly, he brought a burst of life to the Blue Devils.

So, based on those two games I wasn’t entirely surprised that Murphy didn’t start but was a bit shocked that he never even saw the floor against Georgia State. Speculation grew quickly. Some thought he may be sick or injured, but it was clear from watching him in warm ups that he physically looked fine.

When he was asked after the game a very subdued looking Murphy said he was healthy but nothing more. His coach when asked was cryptic at best.

“We didn’t get to where Alex would play. But Alex has got to be able to play,” Mike Krzyzewski said.

That first part has to be a bit alarming, but again only for the short term. Duke needs a guy with Murphy’s talent. The performance of Jefferson has been a pleasant surprise, but at this stage in their careers, Murphy should be the better player and as of right now he isn’t.

With Krzyzewski not one to throw his players under a bus, all we can do is speculate that Murphy isn’t doing something in practice, or isn’t playing with the level of intensity that Krzyzewski demands. It could be a lack of communication, poor execution or focus on the defensive end, the list of possible reasons for the benching are there.

And if he isn’t doing something right it isn’t that unusal for Krzyzewski to send his players a message by not starting or playing them in games. He has certainly done this before.  And if Jefferson continues to play like he is he could steal some of those minutes intended for Murphy.

That may not seem like a bad thing, but when Duke needs another scorer out on the floor, Jefferson for all he has offered, can’t really offer the Blue Devils that yet. In games where perimeter players get hurt, or in foul trouble, a guy with the versatility of Murphy will be important in those cases as Duke isn’t particularly deep in the back court.

He can play on the perimeter and could potentially play some guard, but if he doesn’t have the confidence of his coach he won’t play. And that is a big problem for the Blue Devils if they want to achieve some of their more lofty goals this season.

So the short term issues are problematic but some of the long term concerns I’ve been hearing, including transferring, I believe are way too premature to speculate about.

The positive part of Krzyzewski’s very brief statement on Murphy is that he said “Alex has got to be able to play.” To me that indicates that Krzyzewski believes that Murphy can perform at a level that will help the team. If he didn’t he would have never even mentioned that fact.

Later in his post game press conference he also brought up the fact that Duke needs all 10 of their guys to play. That 10 would include Murphy so there is reason to believe that Krzyzewski realizes that the team is better with him than without.

The long term repercussions of whatever the issue is with Murphy, in my opinion, isn’t a concern; at least not yet. I’ll concede that the situation, whatever it is isn’t good and it appears to be, based on Krzyzewski’s comment, something that Murphy will have to work on.

If he can do that then the long term issues won’t be worth thinking about, but if the issue isn’t resolved, and Murphy continues to sit, well I don’t have to tell you what happens to players who have talent but don’t play enough and aren’t willing to wait.

All of this though is just talk from fans and curious media types. It is only one game and there are just too many things that are unknown but chances are that the next game against Kentucky won’t only be a telling one for the Duke team, but for Murphy’s development as well.