More Important to Duke: Mason Plumlee or Austin Rivers?
6'10", 230 pound athletic forward is loaded with NBA potential, but has yet to live up to his mountain-high potential. Top recruit Austin Rivers is being hailed as the next great freshman and has the situation of replacing not only No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving's creativity in the backcourt, but also the playmaking of ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith. But which one is more crucial to Duke's success?
With point guard Kyrie Irving in the lineup, Mason Plumlee averaged 10.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game; despite the lack of "eye-popping" numbers, the middle - Plumlee showed glimpses of NBA-lottery caliber size and athleticism and a remarkable motor. But without Irving, Plumlee's production dipped - averaging 6 points and 8 boards a game with his percentages taking a hit as well. He earned quite a bit of slack for his underachieving ways.
Alongside his two brothers, Miles and Mason Plumlee and perimeter-based 4-man Ryan Kelly, Duke desperately needs Mason to give Duke a more consistent effort to take on the hated-Tar Heels and their potent All-American caliber frontcourt.
What needs to be realized is: Coach Kryzyzewski's offense was clearly perimeter-based with the likes of Irving and Smith, but also sharp-shooters Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and former ACC Player of the Year, Kyle Singler. His 8.5 rebounds and 2 blocks per game are nothing to sneer at, but he could have and should have been better.
However, the backcourt has been the backbone of Duke's teams in recent seasons with Irving, Smith, Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson, etc. and that's something that with all of Austin Rivers' potential, will not change this year. The team lacks a true-creator and playmaker that Irving and Smith brought to the floor. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, nor will rising sophomore Tyler Thornton or incoming-freshman Quinn Cook handle most of the ball-handling responsibilities. The ball will fall in the hands of Rivers, not a natural distributor, but with his dynamic scoring instincts and court vision, Rivers will run the team.
Mason Plumlee's development and consistency is significant in Duke's success this season as an elite team, but Austin Rivers is a crucial and irreplaceable piece to this year's Blue Devils' squad. If they want to challenge North Carolina atop of the ACC and amongst the nation's best, Rivers will carry the load.