For the next five days, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.
Mike Krzyzewski already gotten his 903rd win. He’s got another Maui Invitational trophy sitting on his mantle. And while his Blue Devils got waxed by Ohio State, they are sitting pretty at 10-1 with a stable of quality wins this season.
So what do you get the coach that’s already gotten his gifts?:
Must have: The continued growth of Austin Rivers
There has not been a more polarizing player in the country in this young season than Austin Rivers. Coming into Duke, his cockiness might have been the only thing that outweighed his hype, and through 11 games he’s been good. Really good, in fact. But he hasn’t been great, even by freshman standards, which has drawn out the critics. And, frankly, many of those critiques are 100% accurate. Rivers doesn’t have the greatest shot selection. He does force the action too much. He does commit some silly turnovers and miss an open man. In other words, he makes freshman mistakes.
But he is, in fact, a freshman, and freshman are supposed to make freshman mistakes. What’s more important is that, in just 11 games, Rivers has already shown improvement in a number of those areas. He’s gotten better as the season as progressed, and that continued growth is going to be a determining factor in Duke’s season. Rivers is the only player on the Duke roster that is capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating off the dribble. He’s going to be the guy that, when defenses get better late in the season, is turned to as Duke’s go-to player. If he is making good decisions without losing his aggressiveness in March, the Blue Devils will be a better team for it.
Stocking stuffer: A session with Dave Hopla for Mason Plumlee
Dave Hopla is a legendary shooting instructor, a guy that has made a name for himself with his ability to hit an absurdly high-percentage of free throws. Mason Plumlee, right now, is known as the guy that cannot make a free throw. We are now 11 games into the season, and Plumlee — who has taken the most free throws on the Duke team — is shooting a paltry 38% from the free throw stripe. From the three-point line, 38% is a solid number. From the free throw line, however, 38% is somewhere between atrocious and pitiful.
What those missed free throws have done is hide just how good of a year he is having. The middle Plumlee is averaging a double-double — 12.9 ppg and 10.0 rpg — despite missing 44 free throws and having countless post-up opportunities taken away by defenses forcing him to head to the line. That number has to improve, but it doesn’t take away from the effort Mason has put in to becoming a presence in the paint on the defensive end. He’s blocking shots, he’s grabbing boards and he’s making himself a factor, something that you haven’t always been able to say about him. He’s needs to start making his free throws, but don’t let that poor percentage take away from how good he’s been in other areas.
Planning to re-gift: Jump shooters that can’t defend
The defensive end of the floor is where the biggest concerns for the Blue Devils lie. Look at their best offensive lineup — Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is the only one that can really be considered an above-average defender. The other four? They create some matchup problems and plenty of space offensively, but what happens when they have to play North Carolina? Or, for that matter, what happens when they try to defend a back court like, say, Miami?
What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.