Sulaimon, Devils look for solution to struggles
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that he’s even turned to modern technology to help cure freshman Rasheed Sulaimon’s shooting woes.
“I’m looking for those apps,” Krzyzewski said. “I went online and tried to find that app to change a 9-for-40 shooter and freshman to playing how he was, but I couldn’t find it.”
Perhaps more traditional approaches will help Sulaimon, Duke’s 6-4 guard, regain his shooting touch when the No. 3 Blue Devils play Georgia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight (9 p.m., ESPN).
After averaging 12.7 points through the first 11 games of the season, Sulaimon has fallen into a deep shooting slump over Duke’s past five games. He has made only 9 of his last 40 shots after an 0-for-10 performance in Duke’s 84-76 loss at N.C. State on Saturday.
His 3-point shooting stroke, so effective early, has hit a bump. He’s made 2 of his last 12.
“I feel like I’m getting the same shots I got earlier in the season,” Sulaimon said. “It’s just one of those things. Sometimes the ball goes in; sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”
Sulaimon has credentials as a shooter — he won the 3-point shooting contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game this past spring.
So while he works to iron out the kinks, the task now is to avoid letting his shooting slump affect other parts of his game.
“I just can’t get down on myself,” Sulaimon said. “I have to stay motivated and trust in myself. I know my teammates trust me. I just have to keep trusting myself and shoot my shots. Hopefully they’ll start falling in again.”
Krzyzewski, though, said he’s seen some regression in Sulaimon’s overall game. For instance, Sulaimon only has three assists in the past five games. He has just one over Duke’s last four games.
“He has played really well at times this year,” Krzyzewski said. “Really, since coming back from Christmas, he really hasn’t played that well in all aspects of the game. He’s been OK, but he hasn’t come close to playing the way he was and sometimes, especially a younger player, if the ball is not going in, it can have an adverse effect on other aspects of your game, and that might be what’s happening with him.”
Sulaimon said he is adamant that his shooting slump won’t impact his defensive play, another area of his game where he’s shown strength this season.
“One thing I’ve made a commitment to the coaching staff this summer is that no matter how bad I do offensively, I will always bring energy and effort on the defensive end,” Sulaimon said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about Duke and it’s all about winning.
“So no matter how I’m well doing or how poorly I’m doing on the offensive side, I’m always going to give that energy to help us try to win.”
Duke (15-1, 2-1 ACC) played its best basketball when Sulaimon was at his best early. He contributed 10 points, six rebounds and five assists in the Blue Devils’ 75-68 win over Kentucky on Nov. 13.
He reached double figures in scoring in all three of Duke’s wins at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, when the Blue Devils knocked off Minnesota, Virginia Commonwealth and Louisville. All three of those teams are ranked the Associated Press Top 25 this week.
On Nov. 28 at Cameron, he scored 17 points as Duke knocked off yet another ranked team, Ohio State, 73-68.
With 6-10 senior forward Ryan Kelly, a top-notch defender who has also made 52 percent of his 3-pointers, sidelined indefinitely with a right foot injury, Duke needs Sulaimon to find his groove again quickly.
Short of a miracle app suddenly coming out of Silicon Valley, all Krzyzewski and the coaching staff can do is keep working with Sulaimon.
“A lot of the shots he’s missing are right by the basket,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not finishing. And when you finish or you get fouled, he has to be stronger so you can go to the line. Then you see the ball go in, and that helps when you’re shooting a jump shot.”