It’s been a long time coming—the Duke offense, for the first time in quite a while, runs through the post this year.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s change in emphasis on the offensive end stems from the team’s advantage at the center position virtually every night with senior big man Mason Plumlee.
“He’s had a really great year,” Krzyzewski said.
As the focal point of the Blue Devil offense this season, Plumlee—who notched a career-high 28 points on an efficient 9-of-11 shooting against Florida Gulf Coast Sunday night—has made it known that he is one of the premier players in the land while helping No. 9 Duke get off to a 3-0 start.
Getting more touches than he has ever received in his Duke career, the Warsaw, Ind. product is averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game so far this season.
“I really wanted that,” Plumlee said in regards to having a bigger role offensively. “Coach knew I wanted that. He gave me the opportunity, and now it’s all on me.”
Plumlee’s dominance in the paint has allowed the guards to thrive on offense as well. Opposing teams have been forced to sag off the perimeter players to help defend or double-team Plumlee, which allows the Blue Devils to spread the floor more adequately to create driving lanes and get wide-open looks from 3-point range.
“It’s big because having that threat forces teams to double and sink in,” senior guard Seth Curry said.
And as a seasoned veteran, Plumlee’s awareness and basketball IQ seem to be at an all-time high. Now, he recognizes when to pass the ball out of the post, and he has developed a knack for finding open teammates on the perimeter. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, in particular, was a beneficiary of that against Florida Gulf Coast, notching a career-best 19 points, several of which came on more open paths to the rim and uncontested 3-pointers.
“I feel like I’m going to make the right play,” Plumlee said. “It’s not necessarily just always shooting it. I’m going to find guys if they are open, get guys open shots. If I’m able to demand attention down low, it’ll open up shots for our shooters and we have shooters.”
Plumlee matched his best scoring output in a Blue Devil uniform with a much smarter outing on the defensive end. Committing two ill-advised fouls last Friday against Kentucky, Plumlee was forced to sit on the bench for much of that contest due to foul trouble, which could have cost Duke the game. He fouled out of the game in the closing minutes. Against the Eagles though, Plumlee was much improved—committing zero fouls on the night.
“He committed a couple of foolish fouls against Kentucky,” Krzyzewski said. “But he didn’t do that tonight. I thought he played a great game tonight.”
Over the span of his career, one of the biggest flaws in Plumlee’s game has been his woes from the charity stripe. Heading into the year, the 6-foot-10 co-captain was shooting a pedestrian 50.2 percent at the line. Those struggles were nonexistent against the Eagles though, as he went an impressive 10-for-11. He currently has a conversion rate of 63.6 percent on the year.
“I have done it in practice, so it’s not really new to me,” Plumlee said. “I guess that’s probably the first time I’ve hit 10 in a game.”
Duke has not had a true power-forward or center garner first-team All-ACC or first-Team All-American honors since Shelden Williams in 2006. That streak could very well come to an end at the conclusion of this season though if Plumlee’s play in the first three games continues the rest of the year.
“He is our anchor,” fellow senior co-captain Ryan Kelly said. “He controls the paint. Obviously it’s not easy to put up 28 points, but those kind of numbers are things that we expect from him. I think he’s just continuing to show the world how good he is.”