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Mason Plumlee Development Disproves Duke Big Man Stigma

Over the last 10 or so years a stigma has developed surrounding Duke Basketball, specifically its big men and how they develop in the program.

With most stigmas there typically is little truth to them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t resonate and actually have an impact on a program. Duke is an example where that one thought could very well have played a factor in several players decisions to not become Blue Devils.

If you look at the list of Duke’s big men targets over the last 10 years, something has seemed to keep them away. From Patrick Patterson, to Greg Monroe to more recently Tony Parker, it seems like all Duke’s primary post targets in certain classes have ended up rebuffing the Blue Devil advances, but is there a reason why?

One rule of thought that has floated around and has become common knowledge if not common belief, is that Duke’s big men do nothing but set screens for the Blue Devil shooters and that big men do not develop in the program as offensive weapons. Whether the blame falls on Mike Krzyzewski’s system or who the big man coach is or isn’t, some of Duke’s big man targets have bought into the stigma.

The latest such player to perpetuate the rumor is current Michigan freshman big man Mitch McGary who during his recruitment essentially said that was a concern of his in a blog he wrote.

“The con for Duke would be the perception that all their big men do is set screens and rebound and that they don’t get a lot of touches,” McGary wrote in his blog.

Apparently, the play of big men like Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and Shelden Williams over Kryzewski’s tenure did nothing for McGary or anyone else who has bought into the belief. Duke has had a few years where guards dominated the team but to me the big man issue is essentially a case of the chicken or the egg.

Did Duke become a guard-oriented team because they couldn’t land a big man or did the inability to land a big man come about because they became a guard oriented team?

I’d tend to lean toward the former, but I don’t think there is any truth to the fact that all Duke’s big men do is set screens. The list of great Duke big men is too much to overlook. Now if you look at the 2010 National Title team, the Blue Devils did not have a great big man.

Their starting post players Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas essentially were on the floor to rebound, and set screens and weren’t the centerpiece of the offense. That was a year when one of the aforementioned targets, Patrick Patterson was a senior. Duke made due with what they had and that speaks to the coaching they have. What they had in 2010 was a guard oriented team that could shoot and big men who set good screens and rebounded.

If you look at this year’s team and the development of Mason Plumlee, you’d have to think that you could start to put the stigma of Duke being unable to develop big men to bed.

Plumlee has become a complete player in his senior year. He has always been a very athletic, high rising player, but he has lacked confidence and decision making. So far this season he is averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. A double-double average is not bad for any big man and some college basketball analysts have gone as far as to say Plumlee has been the best post player in the country to date.

That is quite a transformation for a player that hasn’t development and a school that doesn’t develop big men.

Currently the Blue Devils run their half court set through the post quite often and as Plumlee has become a better free throw shooter and more confident catching and making a move in the post, he is passing the ball out to shooters less and less. Does he still do it? Yes, of course, even the most post-dominated teams would have to from time to time. Still he has proven that a Duke post man can become a dominant offensive force.

Duke still has good guards and good shooters but the best player on the court is Plumlee, and guess what, he still sets screens from time to time. Any big man will have to do that no matter what team he plays on. I watched Michigan’s game against NC State just the other night and saw first hand McGary set multiple screens, and he certainly isn’t the center point of a guard dominated team like Michigan.

But it isn’t just players like McGary but media both local and nationally that have questioned Duke’s inability to land or develop big men, but the development of Plumlee as a dominant post player has turned that belief on its proverbial ear.

Duke is arguably a favorite for one of the better post players in the class of 2014 in Jahlil Okafor and if Plumlee continues to play at the level he currently is and turns out to be a potential NBA Lottery prospect like some feel he could become, you’d have to think that would only help in changing the thought process of those who want to try to argue that Duke doesn’t utilize or develop big men.

You won’t convince everybody over night but the evidence that shows Duke can and does utilize and develop quality big men is there and believe it or not, they don’t just set screens and rebounds.