One of the interesting questions that I took out of Duke’s 84-76 loss to NC State, their first of the season, was whether or not it might be time for Mike Krzyzewski to tweak his starting lineup.
Now something as major as a lineup change isn’t usually made after just one loss, but given how certain things have transpired lately in the Blue Devils season, I have to wonder if Krzyzewski is at least considering tweaking who he has starting.
It isn’t unheard of for the Duke coach to make shifts, sometimes slight, sometimes major to his starting lineup as the season goes on. He did it back in 2001 when he moved Chris Duhon into the starting lineup over Nate James. He did it back in 2009 when he moved Elliot Williams, who had played sparingly earlier that season, into the lineup. And in 2010 he moved Brian Zoubek into the lineup despite the 7-footer not being a big offensive threat.
Each of those moves were made at critical times in the season for a particular purpose and each one of those moves had positive impacts for those teams. Now those aren’t all the lineup changes he has made over the years but they illustrate how willing Krzyzewski is to upturn the applecart at important moments.
Duke may have reached that moment in this season. Sure we are barely half of the way through it and sure they are 15-1 (2-1 ACC) and hardly in a position where they are sinking, but there have been some major developments that could warrant some changes.
For starters the injury to Ryan Kelly has left a pretty significant hole in the lineup that requires the team to play without one of its best players. Their peformance against NC State wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t great either and part of that is that the team has to learn to adjust to play without him. Not having Kelly wasn’t the reason they lost but it didn’t help that he wasn’t in the lineup.
Krzyzewski as expected moved his most experienced non-starting post player, Josh Hairston, into the starting lineup and for what Hairston can do he didn’t play too bad. He scored 8 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes; those are good numbers for Hairston, but is he the guy you want in their long term. That move was made out of pure necessity after losing Kelly but will it be the long term move until Kelly returns?
This is one of the area’s that Krzyzewski has to consider. Amile Jefferson played one of his best games in his young Duke career scoring 10 point and grabbing 4 rebounds in 12 minutes, however, Jefferson not being an experienced defender got in foul trouble and fouled out. Some may argue that a couple of the fouls were questionable, but regardless he looked good when he was on the floor but was it enough to take a starting spot over Hairston?
Kelly’s injury isn’t the only one that Krzyzewski has had to deal with. Seth Curry has been dealing with a naggingly leg injury all season long that has limited him in practice. Against the Wolf Pack on Saturday he slipped on a wet spot on the floor and hurt his other foot. At this time Krzyzewski said they don’t think it is that serious but given all the injury issues Curry has had you have to wonder if he might consider a change in the lineup there.
His options though are more limited than with Kelly, though Kelly’s loss is perhaps more impactful. Curry should be able to play but is it necessarily wise for him to play as many minutes? If he does opt for a change where does he go? Tyler Thornton is the only other true guard on the team and if he he starts you start a player that is a hard worker and a decent defensive player but greatly limited on offense.
Duke saw last season what happens to their offense when Kelly isn’t out on the floor. He stretches the floor so well because he can shoot. Thornton is not a shooter and any offense from him is simply gravy. Thornton didn’t score at all in the loss to NC State and a lineup with him in it just doesn’t score a whole heck of a lot of points.
And then there is the fact that Duke’s other guard Rasheed Sulaimon who started the year off on fire has cooled off significantly. Against NC State he only scored 4 points and was 0-10 from the floor. In the last 7 games he is averaging only about 9.9 points per game. In the previous 9 games he averaged 12 points per game. It is the last two games where Sulaimon’s struggles have really showed offensively. He has scored only 6 total points and is an abysmal 1-15 from the floor in Duke’s last two games.
If Duke was going to not skip a beat, at least offensively, it needed Sulaimon to show his early season form and right now he doesn’t look to be the same confident player. So does Krzyzewski make a change based on that? Sulaimon still is one of Duke’s best defenders and does he risk more lapses on the defensive end?
Over the years Krzyzewski has made some interesting moves that left some scratching their head. The Williams move back in 2009, the move to put Zoubek in in 2010 were all met with some serious questions. So, could he do something similar with say Jefferson or even Alex Murphy?
Murphy was pegged as a starter before the season and started both preseason games but then he didn’t play in the first game. His playing time has been the stuff of much speculation and has recorded two DNPs and has only played double digit minutes twice. His skill set would seem to be similar to Kelly’s though he obviously isn’t that talented yet and not as tall. His lack of playing time has been chalked up to a lack of confidence.
Prior to the NC State game I has theorized that maybe Murphy would step up and take some of Kelly’s minutes and make a push to get more but he only played three minutes. Even with all that I wouldn’t be shocked if Krzyzewski makes some moves to tweak things and that could mean more time for Murphy or even Marshall Plumlee who is just now coming back from his own foot injury.
I’m not saying that Duke will make a change, or even really needs to at this point, but that is one thing that went through my mind watching them lose to NC State on Saturday and one thing I’ll be watching in the next few games. Krzyzewski makes changes in response to loses and injuryes so one could conceivably be coming.
Would it help? Maybe. But is it necessary? I don’t know yet. I do know that I expect Duke to respond positively after this first setback of the year whether a change is made or not and at least Duke fans can take some solace in knowing that Krzyzewski certainly knows how to push the right buttons to get his team to respond and we should see that when Duke takes on Georgia Tech Thursday.
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