The Duke Blue Devils beat the Chinese Olympic Under-23 team Thursday morning (our time) for the second straight night, 78-66. The Devils looked a a bit weary and mistake prone, but picked up the energy in the second half, pulling away late in the third quarter. Obviously the travel played its part. You would think these kids would be use to back-to-back games after a 20-hour flight. Kidding.
Overall, I saw some things I liked, I saw some thing I didn’t like. However, since this is a meaningless game in a far off land, take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Ryan Kelly came up huge Thursday and not just because his sexy new Zoub-like beard. Fact is, he’s ten pounds lighter and he’s moving around a lot better. He’s playing a lot of confidence and he’s a player that thrives on confidence.
Listen, I’m not shocked by the scoring. He’s arguable the streakiest guy in college basketball. When he’s hot, he’s flaming. Thursday night, he was flaming. He led all scorers with 20 (totaling 34 in two games).
The thing I want to know about Kelly is his defense. Last year, especially in the NCAA Tournament, he (like the Plumlee’s) were abused by stronger, athletic big men. Unfortunately we won’t learn too much during this trip. The Duke front line will face some size against China, but they aren’t loaded with athletes.
It’s a good thing Kelly is scoring, but I can certainly see this team falling into that same trap they run into a lot. I’m talking about all the scoring coming from just three players. The Blue Devils basically have three shooting guards on the floor, Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. All three love to shoot the long ball, but only Rivers is capable of really getting into the lane and doing damage. Any of the three can 20+ on any given night.
I can easily see these three each averaging 14-15 points per night (which Rivers scoring about 17-18 per game).
I’d kill to have this team be a five-man offensive team. Of course this requires an inside game.
POINTS IN THE PAINT
In the first half of Thursday night’s game, Duke made little effort to work the ball inside. I can’t recall a single time when a Duke big man had the ball in his hands with his back to the basket. Obviously though the coaching staff made a big stink about it during halftime, because for a good 8-minute stretch in the third quarter, that’s all Duke did.
Overall, I saw some good things. Miles did a great job of spacing and taking the ball up strong. He worked the best with the penetrating guards, often standing in the right spot for easy baskets.
As for Mason, I wasn’t even sure he was in China until that put-back dunk in the third quarter. I’m sorry, but the kid is too talented to be invisible during long stretches of any game. Inside, he did manage to put in a running hook, something he was working on at the end of last year. Still, other times he seemed hesitant, allowing the Chinese defenders to come over and help.
Ryan Kelly did most of his damage from outside, but he did have one sweet turnaround jumper with his back to the basket. Give us more, Ryan. More!
Both Josh Hairston and Alex Murphy got some minutes, but not enough to really judge them. Hairston looks a little stronger and a bit more in control of his body. I know he pulled down seven boards the other night, but I’m not sure what his stat line was for this game.
No one expects the Blue Devils to dominate on the defensive end. Let’s face it, the game is meaningless. A couple things stood out though. Obviously the guards did a poor job getting back a few times. Rivers got sent to the bench for not running back after a turnover. Sorry Sub Zero, that’s not acceptable.
In Durham, every fast break needs to be stopped. You run down there like you’re trying to prevent someone from slapping your mamma. Great move by the coach to sit him down.
Last year, Andre Dawkins saw some of his minutes disappear because of his defensive inability. At this point, I’m not prepared to make a decision on whether he has improved. He certainly looked more aggressive, looking to disrupt passing lanes. He’s a junior now and he has to know if he wants minutes in a crowded back court, he needs to be a stud on defense.
So Curry basically ran the show, while Ty Thornton brought the ball up court. I didn’t see anything Thursday that changes my opinion that freshman Quinn Cook is the best option at the point.
Here’s the deal, Curry’s got smarts and good vision, but he’s just not a facilitator. He’s not making anyone around him better with his passing. He’s never shown the ability to penetrate and create havoc. He’s basically a shorter, a bit more athletic version on Jon Scheyer.
When he ran the offense, he spent most of his time waiting for Dawkins or Rivers to come off screens. I could do that (not really).
Thornton is a true point guard, but I still think he’s a step behind the game. He struggled a bit against the trap, picking up his dribble too often (fatigue maybe) and on the one or two occasions he drove it into the paint, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it once he got down there.
On Thursday, the offense seemed to work best when Austin Rivers was in control. I’m not saying it was perfect, but I just felt like when he had the ball, he’s such a threat, the other Duke players were playing more loose.
Overall, Rivers hit some nice shoots from deep and penetrated at will against the Chinese. However, he did struggle to finish at the basket.
Overall, very happy. Yes, there are a lot of kinks to work out, a lot of roles need to be figured out, but you certainly can see the talent on the floor. I can certainly see a night when this team knocks down 20+ threes. Again, I’m extremely happy to be watching Duke basketball in August. At least the team didn’t get into a fist fight.