Duke sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon is an afterthought when the average NCAA college basketball fan thinks of the 2013-14 Blue Devils, but his contributions could make him a name to watch in the ACC.
For good reason, fans think of freshman star Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood as Duke’s primary threats, but Sulaimon is also a solid scorer and he is as important to Duke’s success as any other player is to his team in the conference. Sulaimon is second to Parker (24.5 PPG) in scoring at 16.5 PPG. He is shooting 58 percent from the field and is adding four rebounds per game.
But, how he handles his role as a third or fourth option as the season progresses will determine if Duke plays into April.
Sulaimon is coming off a freshman year of 11.6 PPG on a team that had several other options. Before Parker signed with Duke, Sulaimon may have thought he would have a bigger a role as a starter than he has right now. While it is possible that he becomes a starter with Tyler Thornton off to a slow start, coach Mike Krzyzewski may like the idea of having Sulaimon’s scoring coming in off the bench because no other Duke bench player is even close to being as talented.
Furthermore, Sulaimon will have to help keep defenses off of Parker, Hood and Amile Jefferson when the four are all on the court together. Right now, he is hitting 57 percent of his 3-point field goals. That number will regress, but he better keep it near 40 percent so defenses respect his shot and pull away from Parker. No matter how talented Parker is, if defenses feel they can double- and triple-team him and not get beat outside, they will.
Parker is as talented as any player in college and is probably more talented than most players in the NBA. However, when defenses like Michigan State and Kansas can focus in on him, it can hamper Duke’s ability to score late. Sulaimon showed he can hit a key shot after he tied the game at 77-77 with 3:50 remaining against Kansas.
This is where Sulaimon can stick out. If he can take and make a majority of open shots, Duke will be able to spread out defenses, allowing Parker to create off the dribble. He is a talented all-around star and given even the smallest amount of room to operate, he will make Duke that much better.
Duke does not get a break after its tough loss to Kansas Tuesday. The Blue Devils face Michigan and UCLA before 2014. Michigan can play some seriously aggressive defense and with center Mitch McGary likely to be back for that game, it will only get better.
Sulaimon will need to continue at his pace throughout the season. If he does, the loss to Kansas will only be a blemish on what could be another national championship season in Durham.