Okay Duke fans I get it, Ryan Kelly is hurt, he is out indefinitely and the Blue Devils are not quite as good without him as they are with him.
But lets just slow down a bit on the end of the world scenarios shall we. Duke is going to be just fine. The Blue Devils announced that the 6-foot-11 forward will be sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury he apparently aggravated in Wednesday night’s game against Clemson. It is the same foot that Kelly supposedly tweaked over Christmas break and the same foot he broke at the end of last year.
Reports are that Kelly has no breaks but based on whatever was seen in an MRI conducted today he has been shut down for the time being.
We all know how last season turned out for Duke when Kelly went down. They lost in the second round of the ACC Tournament and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Duke couldn’t spread opposing defenses and were just out of sync without the versatile forward. But this year and last year are not really even comparable.
I know Duke will lose Kelly’s 13.4 points per game, his 5.4 rebounds per game as well as him improved defense and his much documented ability to stretch opposing defenses. I’m not trying to say his loss won’t hurt, it absolutely will hurt, but it doesn’t mean the Blue Devils can’t or won’t win a lot of basketball games and still be in a position to cut nets down in March.
Last year Duke lacked anything close to a traditional point guard. They had no one essentially to set up the half court offense and open things up for their best players. Instead they relied on Austin Rivers to beat defenders off the dribble and that required stretching the floor and Kelly played a huge roll in that.
He has continued to play that roll but this season Duke has a true point guard in Quinn Cook who can get into the lane and find opportunities for his teammates. He can also finish and score, something his backup Tyler Thornton isn’t necessarily equipped to do and couldn’t do last year as a starter.
And while Rivers is gone Rasheed Sulaimon, while not as purely talented is a much better defender and can shoot and create his own shot as well.
Mason Plumlee is still a National Player of the Year candidate. Seth Curry is still shooting lights out and has his old-man YMCA skills to create his own shot as well.
Duke is still a pretty damn good team even with Kelly sidelined. The only question is who takes his minutes. It comes down to three players primarily. Marshall Plumlee would play some in the event Duke needs a bigger lineup but his minutes will still be limited as he hasn’t shown he is quite ready for extended minutes after coming back from his own foot injury.
Amile Jefferson is an athletic forward who is slight in frame but a high energy guy who can score on put backs and play strong defense. He will likely get more time the longer Kelly is out and the more comfortable he gets in his new role and you can believe his role will change.
Alex Murphy is a guy everyone has been waiting to break out and during the off season Mike Krzyzewski stopped short of calling him potentially one of the best players on the team. Murphy hasn’t played a lot much to the surprise of everyone who bought into Krzyzewski’s praise, but when he has played lately he has played better.
They have said his lack of playing time is due to confidence or lack there of, and now is his chance to get some action and if you are to believe Krzyzewski wasn’t completely blowing smoke about his ability, you have to figure he can be a servicable filler of some of Kelly’s minutes.
Josh Hairston will also get minutes but in terms of a scoring threat he isn’t one. If Duke is going to not miss too much of a beat they will need Murphy and Jefferson more than anyone else to raise their level of play.
Yes Kelly’s injury hurts and yes it may mean Duke will slip a bit but if you are thinking that the Blue Devils are just one player you are greatly underestimating this team and its coach. This isn’t the first time Krzyzewski has been without a key player in a season. He knows how to get his team and players to respond.
Just wait; Duke will be just fine.
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