Student Writer = Good Coach?


This past Wednesday, the Duke student newspaper suggested that Coach K should actually bench Kyle Singler. It’s easy to quickly jump out and condemn the student writer, Joe Drews, but we here at Big Duke Balls are a cool bunch. We don’t like to jump the gun. Let’s take a look at some of the points Mr. Drew makes.

Here’s Joe:

"Pegged as a preseason All-American, the junior forward has seen his numbers drop across the board, including field goal percentage (41.0 percent), 3-point percentage (34.7 percent), points (15.4 per game) and rebounds (6.9 per game). It may be due to his move to the perimeter, the increased expectations coming into the season or the pressure of a possible NBA career next year. Or none of those. Honestly, I have no idea. But I think it’s time to consider the once-unthinkable. It’s time to bench Kyle Singler."

First, the numbers don’t lie. Singler is struggling. He was expected to compete for ACC player of the year, but instead, is only the third best player on this year’s squad (behind Scheyer and Smith). He missed two HUGE three’s with under 90 seconds left in Duke’s loss to Georgia Tech. Quite simply, Singler has not looked comfortable and he’s missed some easy/open shots this season.

But benching? First reaction, it’s a joke. You can’t bench Singler. Who are you going to put in? It can’t be Dawkins. The only person colder than Singler is Dawkins. Besides, Andre is the only guard coming off then bench. It wouldn’t be wise going three-guard.

What about Mason Plumlee? He certainly has the skill set to play small forward, but two things. Duke’s big men have struggled to stay out of foul trouble, so Mason’s minutes are needed down low. Second, Plumlee is still struggling on the defensive end. Could you imagine what a quicker small forward would do to him? It would be brutal and it would be a terrible fit.

Of course, Drew wasn’t really suggesting benching Singler for the season or even for a long period time.

"Now, I’m not suggesting he sit out the next several contests, nor am I saying he should come off the bench for the remainder of the season. And this isn’t punishment for a poor performance against Georgia Tech—if that were the case, Singler would be joined on the bench by everyone but Scheyer and Mason Plumlee."

He goes on to say:

"He (Singler) needs to see that his teammates are fine without him. (Obviously, this plan is contingent on his teammates actually being OK without him, but they should be)."

Okay, fair point if you believe the problem is that Singler is forcing things because he sees himself as the No 1 option and is simply pressing to live up to the preseason labels. Also, while Coach K can be a dick about this if he so choices, let’s not forget, Coach K has often benched starters for one game either as punishment or to make a point, including some of the greats. In fact, I believe he had Singler (and the entire starting lineup) come off the bench against UNC-Asheville last year.

Having said that, he’s certainly never benched a player this late in the season, especially during ACC play. He’ll usually make “his point” against weaker opponents before the New Year.

So do I think Joe Drew has a point? Yes, I do…but in the end I think he’s wrong. Shall I explain? You’ve read this much, haven’t you.
First, I don’t believe Singler’s struggles have anything to do with him trying too hard or him pressing to impress the decision makers in the NBA. That’s not the problem. The simple fact is, he is playing in a new position for the first time in his life. It is an adjustment and it will take time. He’s playing against smaller quicker hybrid players, unafraid to get in Kyle’s face, simply because they’re not afraid of a 6’8 guy driving past them too often. However, the adjustment is not just abut him. His teammates are just as guilty.

Let me give you an example and I really want you to watch for this in Duke’s next game.

On offense, you will usually find Singler over to the side, near the sideline, but not quite trapped into the corner. If Smith and/or Scheyer have the ball at the top, Singler will do one of two things…run along the baseline, looking for a double screen, or a big man will come out of the paint and set a back screen. In both cases, Singler does not have a consistent corner shot to throw up a three. Instead he likes to circle around towards the ball. Here’s where you need to watch, because this is where the teammates have struggled to understand what needs to happen.

More often than not, Singler has come around, hands out, almost begging for a pass, but too often, the ball does not come inside. When the ball does finally get thrown inside, it too often comes in too early, allowing the defense to rotate into position or too late, where Kyle finds himself trapped inside. It’s almost like these group of guards have played their whole college career never having to pass the ball inside (wait, they haven’t).

If the ball is delivered at the exact moment (remember, Singler is circling around a defender and the screen, so he’s basically doing a “U”), the perfect moment would be a split-second after he hits the top of the “U.” Are you confused? I apologize. I’m not a basketball coach, just a guy who watches it on TV.

Anyhow, if the ball is delivered at the right spot, Singler can then dribble once and he’ll have four options.

A) If this opposing center stays on his man, Kyle can take a perfect mid-range jumper just inside the free throw line. It’s the shot that propelled Gerald Henderson into the NBA.

B) If the opposing center leaves his man and comes out and tries to “block” him, then Singler would continue to the basket for a lay up.

C) If the opposing center leaves his man and goes for the block, Singler should be able to pass the ball to an open  big man for an easy layup.

D) If an opposing guard doubles down, then Kyle passes the ball to the open guard, while he now sits in perfect rebounding position.

I’m telling you, watch for it. Duke ran this exact play on their first possession against Boston College. The ball was delivered on time and Singler hit an open mid-range jumper. It was obvious this was a set play decided long before the game started and it is obvious Duke has been practicing it.

Now, playing out of position is only part of the problem. The reality is, Singler is in a slump, but how bad of a slump is it? Joe Drew provided the percentages, but let’s dive in a little deeper.

Singler and Scheyer have taken the most shots this season (Technically Smith leads the team in shots per game, but has less total shots because of the two games missed). Anyhow, Singler and Scheyer have both taken 202 shots this season (this is post-BC), but in reality, Scheyer has only made seven more shots than Singler.

Seven total shots…that’s what we’re talking about here and no one is accusing Jon Scheyer of being in a slump. So where’s the beef?

The problem is, the three ball hasn’t been landing. While Singler is a decent 46% from two-point range, he’s only made 25-74 from behind the three-point line.

Can we blame those numbers on a position switch? Probably not. He’s playing against smaller defenders and that’s worked out well for Scheyer (facing smaller point guards). In fact, while he’s playing a different position and smaller defenders, Singler is actually on pace to shoot less three pointers than he did last year (he took 180 last year and he’s on pace to shoot under 160 this year, assuming Duke plays three in the ACC tournament and makes it to the Sweet 16).

So let’s face it, he’s in a slump. Every great shooter has been in a slump, even long ones. Hell, Scheyer had a half-season slump last year before finally finding his shot midway through the ACC calender.

Now having said all that about his position and his shooting, there is even another reason why benching Singler is not a viable option. Drew is making a common mistake thinking only about offense. While Kyle has certainly struggled on the offensive end, he has played great on the defensive end and the last time I checked, defense wins champions.

If you’ve watching any Duke game, you’ve seen what Singler has done. Not only is he key to Duke’s switching man-to-man defense, just watch how he defends. He should remind a lot of people of Shane Battier, particularly in the way he gets his hand into the shooters face, instead of pointlessly putting his hand up in a feeble attempt to block the ball.

Now don’t get me wrong, for Duke to succeed, Singler needs to hit his shots, especially three pointers, with 1:28 0n the clock, down two. He needs to work out these kinks, but he’s not going to work them all out in practice and he’s certainly not going to work them out sitting on the pine.

It’s simple. Dawkins and Mason will get their playing time. The last thing they need is to get abused playing out of position. As for Kyle, this is a slump, a long slump, but Singler is too great of a player to have it last all season long. Be patient, folks.