Where Have You Gone Rasheed Sulaimon?

With all due respect to Mr. Paul Simon I was asking myself this question yesterday as I watched the NC State students rush the floor after their victory over Duke.

Well actually I was asking it and making a point of it the entire game and I’m not the only one. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke’s dynamic and exciting freshman guard for reasons yet unknown has hit a wall and specifically in the last two games he has flattened out like Wile E Coyote running into one of the Road Runner’s traps.

Sulaimon in the last two games is averaging three points and is shooting 1-15 from the floor. For a kid that earlier in the season was averaging 12-13 points per game and was shooting well and playing with confidence this is a drastic turn and one that the Blue Devils could ill afford especially with Ryan Kelly going out for up to 4 weeks with a foot injury.

I’ve said that I’ve felt that this year’s Duke team is much more equipped to deal with the loss of Kelly than last seasons. One of the main reasons is because of Sulaimon. So far he has stepped in for the departed Austin Rivers and really has been a better all-around player than Rivers was. He is an excellent defender as a freshmen and he moves and plays very similarly to Nolan Smith on the offensive end.

In the first half of the season that is pretty much what he looked like. In the first 9 games he was averaging 12 points per game, but has dropped off by just over two point in the last seven. It may not seem like that big a deal, but when you look at the numbers he is clearly trending downwardly at least offensively.

And you can really see it on the court with his body language. He isn’t as aggressive with the ball and when he is he puts himself in compromising positions where he is forcing tough shots. The game has gotten harder for him as the season has gone on instead of easier and for Duke’s sake he needs to get back to that level of play.

Kelly was averaging 13.4 points per game and Sulaimon is going to have to offset set that loss. In the loss to NC State, Josh Hairston scored 8 points and Amile Jefferson scored 10, well above both players’ averages. That is 18 points you typically aren’t getting in a given game and that more than makes up for Kelly’s 13.4 points as long as Sulaimon hits his average. He clearly did not.

He scored 4 points all from the free throw line and was 0-10 from the floor. Maybe if Duke got something from Tyler Thornton they could have offset that performance, but they got nothing from him and you really can’t expect that from Thornton, that isn’t his game.

It is a lot of pressure on the freshman to have to keep up that average and based on his play I have to wonder if Krzyzewki in an effort to get his head right might end up tweaking the lineup to bring him off the bench. The only problem is who do you bring in and can Duke, who had several defensive lapses against NC State, afford to take one of its best defenders off the floor?

There are no easy answers. Freshmen hit walls, just think back to Andre Dawkins who started off red hot then cooled. He obviously had some significant personal issues going on but his level of play was noticeably less later in the season. Duke without Kelly is going to have to hope that Sulaimon can bounce back and bounce back fast.

Sulaimon has not played like a freshman most of this season, but right now he has clearly hit that freshman wall, and unless he can bounce back or Krzyzewski can find someone to help compensate for  his drop in scoring Duke will likely struggle more until Kelly returns.

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