With Duke beginning its postseason journey Friday in the ACC Tournament, The Blue Zone is reviewing each player's regular season performance and examining their role heading into the end of the year.
Jefferson’s year was really a tale of two seasons—one with and one without Ryan Kelly. Prior to Kelly’s foot injury, Jefferson was primarily relegated to the bench, competing with junior Josh Hairston for the minutes needed to give Kelly or Mason Plumlee a breather. Jefferson only tallied points in seven of the 14 games in which he played before Kelly went down Jan. 8 against Clemson. After that, though, Jefferson’s minutes increased tremendously, as he and Hairston continued to battle to take over Kelly’s minutes in his absence.
When he’s been on top of his game, he’s been extremely hard to contain, whether penetrating off the dribble or raining threes from the perimeter. It was Sulaimon who led Duke to a comeback victory against Ohio State, pouring in 17 second-half points.
But things haven’t always been rosy for ‘Sheed over the entirety of his first college season. A few dreadful mini shooting slumps have plagued him (he went 0-for-1o from the floor against N.C. State), and seem to have affected his confidence. Currently, he’s in another down stretch, with only 17 points in his last four contests.
Murphy was rumored to be a starter for this team before the season started. In fact, he started in the exhibition games. However, when opening night came around Murphy was nowhere to be found. Not only did he not start, he didn’t leave the bench. The rest is history. Murphy has been buried on the bench behind Amile Jefferson and has only seen meaningful minutes in a handful of games, usually due to injury.
After redshirting last season, Plumlee caught a tough break at the beginning of the season as he injured his foot, putting him out for the first two months. That was after coaches had raved about his development, saying he was primed to potentially be the team’s sixth man. He played his first game Dec. 19 against Elon, but never really broke into the rotation—a tough thing to do midseason.
If you didn’t catch Quinn-sanity at some point this season you weren’t playing attention to Duke’s charismatic floor general. Fans went into this season expecting Cook to be a good facilitator for the Blue Devils’ three seniors, finding ways to get them the ball and then let them do their job to score. While Cook’s passing was everything that was expected of him, his shooting is what turned him into the irreplaceable piece he is today. After shooting a paltry 25% from beyond the arc as a freshman, Cook has hit 42.5% of his attempts from long-range this year.
Hairston and freshman Amile Jefferson comprised the forward tandem tasked with filling the big shoes of Ryan Kelly after Kelly suffered a foot injury Jan. 8 against Clemson. Prior to Kelly’s injury, Hairston had contributed admirably as a role player, and was rewarded with the first two starts after Kelly’s injury.
Thornton has held the same role he did last year: defensive stopper whose production doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. He began the year starting but was quickly overtaken by Quinn Cook, who quickly established himself as one of the premier point guards in the ACC. That was no discredit to Thornton, just a testament to Cook’s growth as a sophomore. Meanwhile, Thornton still regularly plays 20 minutes per game and started the regular season finale against North Carolina over Rasheed Sulaimon.
Seth Curry’s season is truly remarkable when you consider that he is playing with not one, but two bad legs. The man who’s third in the ACC in scoring—his 17.1 points per game is just 0.1 behind teammate Mason Plumlee—has barely put in any time at practice because he needs to rest his weary legs to be ready for game play. Curry has been especially deadly of late, eclipsing the 20 point mark three times in his last four games. Earlier this year he set his career high against Santa Clara with a 31-point explosion.
Duke hasn’t lost a game with the White Raven healthy this season… they haven’t lost with him on the floor since an overtime defeat to Miami last February. But Kelly missed a significant chunk of this season, going down Jan. 8 against Clemson and missing 12 games with a foot injury. The most important part, though—Kelly didn’t miss a beat when he came back, scoring a career-high 36 points in his return to action, carrying the Blue Devils past Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It’s easy to get frustrated with Plumlee’s play sometimes, but that’s only because he played so tremendously at the beginning of the year. He still has a great chance of being a first or second-team All-American—that’s not something we expected going into the year. He has exceeded our expectations, played in every game, and despite a few hiccups has been a reliable force down low. It’s also important to note he upped his scoring this season while also upping his field goal percentage. He’s making 58.9% of his field goals, up from 57.2% last year when he scored just 11.1 points per game.