Jayson Tatum asserted himself with a double-double Wednesday against Syracuse but could not find ...

Duke men's basketball player of the week: Week 16

Jayson Tatum

The statline:

Wednesday vs. Syracuse: 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, 13 rebounds, six assists and one steal in 40 minutes.

Saturday vs. Miami: Eight points on 4-of-16 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 40 minutes.

The good: With few positives to take from Duke’s worst week of the season, it was a reassuring sign to see Tatum go the distance in both games for the first time of the year. Tatum’s play in recent weeks, for the most part, demonstrates why he came to Durham as the class of 2016’s third-ranked prospect, a trend that continued against Syracuse. The St. Louis native has quietly surpassed Grayson Allen as the team’s second-leading scorer, and Saturday’s loss against Miami marked just the third time this season that the freshman failed to reach double figures in scoring.

Tatum’s second career double-double Wednesday reflects the freshman’s improving ability on the glass, a necessary improvement given Amile Jefferson’s health issues and declining rebound production. During the last eight games, Tatum has averaged just shy of nine rebounds per contest, increasing his season average to 7.3, the team’s second-best mark. Although Saturday’s matchup left much to be desired from Tatum and the Blue Devils as a whole, the freshman was turnover-free for the first time all season—as the team leader with 2.5 giveaways per game, this is a noteworthy albeit relatively inconsequential achievement.

The bad: To be frank, no Blue Devil player deserved to be crowned Player of the Week this week. Despite his commendable performance against the Orange, Tatum’s play on Saturday—including going 0-for-7 from beyond the arc—contributed to a woeful team-wide performance in Coral Gables, Fla. After shooting just 39.1 percent from the field Wednesday, Duke failed to get hot once against the Hurricanes, shooting a season-low 31.8 percent. With the offensive weapons the Blue Devils appear to have, to manage just 50 points against Miami magnifies the stark reality that perhaps the team simply isn’t as good as it was projected to be. 

Declining production from Jefferson coupled with Harry Giles’ inability to play consistent minutes and Marques Bolden’s ineffectiveness on offense has created a vacuum in the post, which forces Tatum, Allen and others to routinely make jump shots to keep games close—a tall task in a league as fierce as the ACC. 

Tatum has shown throughout the season he can be a tremendous one-on-one player, driving to the basket to finish at the rim and draw fouls. But Wednesday’s contest was the first time all season Tatum failed to reach the charity stripe, and that happened again Saturday against Miami. In order for the Blue Devil offense to get back on track, Tatum must regain his attack mentality.

The bottom line: Tatum’s play during Duke's seven-game winning streak against Notre Dame, North Carolina and Virginia and in the loss at Syracuse illuminates why he will likely be a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. At the same time, however, inconsistencies still exist in his game that will need to be corrected heading into what now shapes up to be the most important week of the season with Tuesday’s matchup against Florida State and Saturday’s rematch with North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Honorable Mention: Luke Kennard poured in 23 points against Syracuse to go with seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in one of the sophomore’s most well-rounded games this season. A steady force throughout the season, Kennard was uncharacteristically unproductive Saturday, shooting 6-of-20 from the field for his second-lowest field goal percentage of the year. Nevertheless, the Franklin, Ohio, native managed to be one of the team’s leading scorers against the Hurricanes with 16 points, with most of his teammates just as cold from the field as he was.

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