Big Thoughts From China

Examining the early returns of Duke's International tour through the first three games.

The first leg of Duke's international summer tour went off without a hitch as the Blue Devils picked up three double-digit wins in as many games.

The tour gave fans a rare early-morning, late-summer peek at the Duke basketball team, including a first-look at four promising freshmen.

But what conclusions can we draw from what we saw while we watched hoops with our morning coffee over the past week? Nobody's claiming to be Confucius, but here are some deep thoughts on Duke after three exhibition games.

1. They don't get rattled.

Duke was playing against a team with a significant home-country advantage, and nowhere was that more obvious than at the free throw line. Duke was whistled for a foul every 28 and a half seconds.

By comparison, last season, the Blue Devils were hit with a foul call every two minutes 18 seconds. Their opponents, who often complained about the disparity in foul calls, were charged with a foul every two minutes and two seconds.

In three games, Duke was tagged for 84 fouls. The most fouls they picked up in a four-game stretch last season was 86. That gave China a healthy 63 shot advantage in free throws, and left several Duke players flirting with foul trouble.

One need only look at highlights of Georgetown's first game in China to see what could have happened had the Blue Devils not kept their cool. No one even picked up a technical let alone launch an international incident. Instead, Duke just went about their business and picked up their wins.

With jet lag, hostile refs and fewer than a dozen practices, Duke never trailed, and, in the third game, when China briefly cut a 20 point lead to five early in the second half, Ryan Kelly calmly knocked down a three to ignite a run.

And speaking of Kelly:

2. Ryan Kelly will be the most-hated player in the ACC this year.

Ryan Kelly's game and body were supposed to have undergone a makeover this offseason, and he was as good as advertised in China. He led the team in scoring with 18.0 ppg, and was second in rebounding with 8.3.

Kelly's real strength is in throwing daggers, however. He does the little things that other teams hate. In the third quarter of the final game, Kelly responded to China's run with a three pointer. On the next possession, he battled for an offensive rebound and drew a foul.

Later he was in position to stuff in an Austin Rivers miss. On the next possession, he got an old-fashioned three-point play, then capped his run by stealing an outlet pass and drawing another foul.

Over the three games, he had 10 offensive rebounds, second only to Miles Plumlee, five steals and a team-leading four blocks. He shot .740 from the field, .571 from three, and was the only Blue Devil who could consistently draw fouls.

If three games in China are any indication, Kelly will do the things to win games for Duke, and opposing crowds will hate him for it.

3. Austin Rivers has some maturing to do, but not as much as his classmates.

Freshman Austin Rivers earned the wrath of the ESPNU commentators as well as a spot on Coach Krzyzewski's bench for his uninspired play. Rivers tended to get frustrated for stretches and let it affect his game, which is something Coach K will cure him of, either in practice or in extended periods sitting next to him during games.

In addition to the mental outlook, Rivers had some shaky decision making at times. One in every four Blue Devil turnovers were charged to him. He also struggled with his shot, going .386 from the field and three of 16 from three.

On the plus side, he led the team in assists, with 3.0 per game and was third in both offensive and total rebounds, which was a pleasant surprise for Duke fans.

Rivers also appears to be the only incoming freshman ready to be on the court long enough to draw criticism. Michael Gbinije, Alex Murphy, and Marshall Plumlee had extremely limited minutes in the three games.

The "other" freshmen shot four of 17 from the field, one of six from the line, averaged 1.0 points and 1.0 rebounds per game, and a 2 to 8 assist to turnover ratio and had more fouls and misses than points and boards.

Murphy, who had all of the "other" freshmen baskets, will probably be the first of the three to contribute, but all three will be works in progress this year.

4. Ball handling could be a concern.

Last year, Seth Curry had two assists for every turnover. Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton both had more assists than turnovers. Of course, that was with senior guard Nolan Smith and, at least part of the season, NBA top draft pick Kyrie Irving running the show. This year's returning Blue Devils struggled with the keys to the offense in China.

Curry's assist to turnover rate was cut in half, and the only Duke players with more assists than turnovers were Kelly (who had two assists and one turnover) and Mason Plumlee. Mason had more assists than Curry, Thornton, and Andre Dawkins .

Overall, the team had 11 assists and 17 turnovers a game against a team that played zone for stretches of each game.

Overall, a young team working in four new players recorded three big wins in adverse conditions. Sure, there's work to be done, but they also literally have months to do it.


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