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Coming into this season, sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon was a lot more of a question mark than many people thought. This year’s Duke team is so vastly different to last year that a transition should have been expected by more people. Constant reports of Sulaimon being in Coach Krzyzewski’s dog house have overshadowed the fact that Sulaimon simply hasn’t been a necessity on the court.
Freshmen mega-star Jabari Parker may play the power forward position in the current Duke system but really he’s a wing forward. Rodney Hood, the sophomore transfer, is also a wing forward. Those are your two primary scorers. At times last year Sulaimon was relied upon to score, especially during the time when Ryan Kelly was out and Mason Plumlee was inconsistent. This year, he simply is put into a position that was designed to fail. Rasheed Sulaimon is the odd man out.
Andre Dawkins, Matt Jones and even Tyler Thornton have gotten minutes at the shooting guard position this year. In comparison, last year there was no Dawkins or Jones and Thornton played primarily at the point guard position. For Sulaimon to return to prominence, he needs to be on the floor when Hood or Parker is not. He simply is not aggressive enough at this point to take away scoring from those two men. The best way to help rebuild Rasheed Sulaimon is to put him on the floor when Parker or Hood needs a rest. This also means keeping Andre Dawkins on the bench with them. You must force Sulaimon to reassert himself. An ideal lineup for this to occur is Thornton, Cook, Sulaimon, Parker and Plumlee. This is also a lineup that has not played together this season. I’d like to see this lineup in a small five or six minute spurt leading into the middle of January.
Before conference play starts, Coach K must experiment enough to know who his best eight players are. Once that is nailed down, I’m convinced Rasheed Sulaimon is one of those men. Dating back to last season’s 84-64 win against Maryland on January 26, 2013, Sulaimon has been very up and down. He has had no back to back games in which he dominated. The return of Ryan Kelly last year offset the roster in comparison to where they were before and during the period in which Kelly was hurt.
This season may not be the proper barometer for what Rasheed Sulaimon will be next year or during his senior year. The other issue with Rasheed Sulaimon is his defense. I’m not sure there has been a more prepared defensive shooting guard underclassman than Matt Jones in recent years. Sulaimon should be going against Jones every single day in practice with Jones on defense. In addition, Sulaimon should be playing defense on Andre Dawkins & Quinn Cook in practice. He needs to grow in every single facet of his game as opposed to being handed a spot out of desperation like he was as a first year player.
Sulaimon came to life against UCLA, but the bottom line for Sulaimon is that there simply is only one ball on the court. He is best when the ball is in his hands. Next year, Tyus Jones & Quinn Cook may put the ball in his hands consistently. That will not, under any circumstances, happen this season with two studs like Jabari Parker & Rodney Hood. For Rasheed Sulaimon to rise from the fall, he must begin by understanding what he must become as opposed to what he should become.
You can follow Jeff on Twiiter at @TheJeffSchwartz.