It’s no secret that the Blue Devils haven’t been the same team since Ryan Kelly went out with an injured right foot during their game with Clemson on January 8th. Duke has lost two of its three games, including an embarrassing 27-point defeat to Miami on Wednesday night. After it was clear that Kelly would miss significant time, many people speculated that he would be missed most on the defensive side of the ball as Duke’s offense was clicking at a high level and they had multiple other weapons with the ability to score. Replacing the 13 points a game that Kelly was producing has not been as easy as anticipated.
Without Kelly, Duke has scored nine points less per contest, with their lowest output of the season coming against Miami at 63. More remarkably, their field goal percentage has dipped by an astounding 13%, and they’ve only made a little over 1/3rd of their shots in the last three games. The threat of Ryan making shots from outside created spacing that opened up driving lanes for Duke’s guards and his movement in halfcourt sets made defenders unable to help stop his teammates.
The senior forward was on a tear before his injury, shooting 56% from the field in the three games prior and 69% from 3-point land. Duke’s perimeter shooting, always a stalwart of their offense, has suffered as well – their accuracy has dropped by 11%. Because the Blue Devils are not making teams pay from deep, inside threats Mason Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are not getting looks as easily as before.
Points per possession, the measure of a team’s offensive efficiency, has notably dropped by .18 on each trip. This number is weighed down heavily by the season low number of .81 against the Hurricanes. This was the first time all year that Duke had averaged less than one point per possession, and was .22 less than the previous low of 1.03 against Georgia Tech. Their points per shot has also fallen depressingly by .42.
I could go on, but don’t think my psyche can handle it. The Blue Devils’ offense has completely fallen apart without Kelly in the offense. The coaching staff is clearly trying to find answers to this issue, but nothing seems to be working at this point. The team will have to reinvent themselves at this point to regain the freedom of movement and flow the offense was seeing prior to Kelly going down. How they do that is beyond me.
The numbers suggest that the Miami game was an aberration, one of those perfect storm nights where everything that could go wrong did. I’d say it was an example of Murphy’s Law, but he was the only guy to play with a purpose and effectiveness on Wednesday. Do we see more of him going forward? It’s hard to bench Rasheed Sulaimon in favor of Murphy as the freshman shooting guard seems to have found his groove after going through a slump midseason. Does Duke go small with a lineup of Cook-Curry-Sulaimon-Murphy-Plumlee? This could regain some offensive potency, but a large reason Murphy didn’t see much playing time earlier in the year was due to his defense. At 6’8″, he is versatile enough to guard multiple positions, but does he have enough lateral quickness to stay in front of perimeter players? Does he have enough bulk to battle power forwards down low? Giving up a little on defense may be necessary to find their rhythm again on the offensive side of the ball.
There are more questions than answers for this Duke team right now. I’m assuming we’ll see multiple substitutions tomorrow early like we did against Clemson as the coaching staff tries to right the ship.
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