Curry & Rivers Find The Right Mix

Much of Duke's recent success can be traced to the backcourt figuring out their roles relative to one another.

Selected Duke basketball players were meeting with the media Monday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

One at a time, Ryan Kelly, Tyler Thornton, and Andre Dawkins sat before cameras and recorders to talk about the upcoming game against Florida State.

The group of reporters was a mixture of regular beat guys and some out-of-towners, getting some Duke quotes in preparation for March stories. The gang asked to meet with one more player, preferably a hot shooter. They were told that Seth Curry would be out as soon as he was done with post-practice work.

After several minutes, a player walked into the room and took his place in the seat of honor.

One of the visiting reporters flicked on his recorder and said, "Seth Curry" into it before holding it out in front of the player's face.

Wrong, he was told. This is Austin Rivers, providing an assist for Curry, who had just headed out onto the Cameron floor to begin post-practice shooting.

Rivers is always looking for signs of disrespect to help motivate himself, but if he heard the reporter call him by the wrong name, he didn't betray it with a smirk or eye roll.

Welcome to the new-look Blue Devils. No one's worried about someone else getting more shots, credit, or media attention. Instead, someone sees a need and steps in to help.

It took the team awhile to get to this point, and it might have required a storybook sequence of games to achieve it, but Duke's roster is on the same page.

It could have been the 10-point comeback in the final two minutes at North Carolina, a game few people saw Duke winning, even 38 minutes in. The run began with an improbable three-pointer by Curry—"He was almost in my lap when he shot that," Coach Mike Krzyzewski said—and ended with an even more improbable shot by the freshman Rivers at the buzzer.

The following game saw senior Miles Plumlee set a rebounding mark as well as an example to his teammates on effort. Then, the team rewrote the record books again with a 20-point comeback against NC State. The game saw an injured Curry put up a career high in points and Rivers hit another clutch shot to give Duke the lead for good. It also ended with the two shooting guards screaming and embracing after the hard-fought win.

Both players have come a long way since the start of the season, and they've brought the team along with them. Curry stepped into the point guard role, a tough adjustment for a player used to coming off screens. He watched as Tyler Thornton, then Quinn Cook took turns as the starting point guard before ending up where he started, bringing the ball up the court against ACC foes.

Rivers began the year as Duke's only threat to drive, and it was a threat he lived up to as often as possible, driving the ball into the paint on a regular basis against non-conference foes. However, he's cut back on he single-minded trips to the basket, probably avoiding a lot of charging calls in the process, and on his two biggest shots of the year, Rivers took a jab step to fake the drive, then hit from the outside.

As both players have rounded out their games, they've been more comfortable involving their teammates as well.

"Seth's been on fire lately, and Austin has too, since the UNC game," Tyler Thornton said. "But they aren't just creating for themselves, they've also been creating for others. When you have two guys like that, it makes things a lot easier on the offensive end."

In Curry's first 88 shots this season, through mid-December, a grand total of four were set up on passes from Rivers. By comparison, Miles Plumlee had four assists in those first 10 games, and two of them went to Curry. In the last three games, three of Curry's 20 made shots were on assists from Rivers. After sending one out of every six assists Curry's way at the start of the season, now nearly half of Rivers' dimes go to Curry.

"You don't see it all in assists," Rivers said, while stepping in for Curry, "because it's not an immediate basket. But when one of us drives and kicks it out, that person will pass it around to somebody else who's open and makes the shot."

While the hotshot freshman was telling everyone why the numbers on the stat line aren't important, the upper classmen captain was working on his game alone and in silence. Both of them were doing what needed to be done. Both of them were content.

Is it any surprise that the calendar flips to March next week?


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