Questions tire out Blue Devils

Stars' high minutes again scrutinized

Staff WriterMarch 9, 2010 

  • The list of the top players in the ACC in terms of minutes per game includes three Duke players among the top four.

    Player

    MPG

    Ish Smith, Wake Forest

    36.8

    Jon Scheyer, Duke

    36.5

    Kyle Singler, Duke

    35.7

    Nolan Smith, Duke

    35.3

    Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech

    35.3

    Busy careers

    Former Duke players hold down the top five spots in ACC history in career minutes played:

    Player

    Years

    Career minutes

    Chris Duhon

    2000-04

    4,813

    Bobby Hurley

    1989-93

    4,802

    Johnny Dawkins

    1983-86

    4,749

    J.J. Redick

    2003-06

    4,732

    Tommy Amaker

    1984-87

    4,666

From the questions Mike Krzyzewski gets asked repeatedly by the media, you would think the Duke coach was running a hospital ward rather than a basketball team.

Everybody wants to know if Duke's players are getting enough rest. Krzyzewski has been asked about it on the ACC coaches' teleconference, after games and at the news conference previewing Saturday's game against North Carolina.

"All these guys will tell you," Krzyzewski said Friday of his players. "They're 22 years old. ...They can all do that [play lots of minutes]. That is not even close to being relevant to our performance. It's just not."

Krzyzewski's use of his bench has been a fascination of fans and the media at least since guard J.J. Redick played more than 37 minutes per game in 2005 and 2006 and saw his shooting accuracy fade in the NCAA tournament both seasons.

Consistently, Krzyzewski has said he prefers to have his best players on the floor as much as possible. This season, guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith and forward Kyle Singler have logged especially long minutes, and that has intensified the questioning of Krzyzewski.

Scheyer (36.5 minutes a game), Smith (35.3) and Singler (35.7) are three of the top four players in the ACC in terms of minutes played. (Wake Forest guard Ish Smith averages an ACC-high 36.8 minutes.)

But Scheyer said answering questions about the minutes he has played tires him more than anything he has been asked to do on the court.

"I feel as though this is what I've prepared my whole life to do," Scheyer said. "There's never a time in a game when I feel I'm winded. I feel good."

Krzyzewski said that looking back as far as Duke's NCAA runner-up team in 1986, he has kept his best players in the game for long stretches. The numbers support his claim.

Five former Duke guards - Chris Duhon, Bobby Hurley, Johnny Dawkins, Redick and Tommy Amaker - occupy the top five spots in ACC history in terms of career minutes played.

On the 1991 NCAA championship team, Hurley averaged 34.7 minutes per game. Shane Battier played 34.9 minutes per game in 2001 when Duke won its third NCAA title under Krzyzewski. Those numbers are just a smidge less than the minutes Krzyzewski's top players are averaging this season.

Krzyzewski isn't necessarily inclined to reduce minutes in tournaments, either. In this week's ACC tournament, it should be no surprise if Scheyer, Smith and Singler play virtually every minute, even if Duke plays three games in three days.

Last season, Singler played all 120 minutes as the Blue Devils captured the ACC tournament. He said the playing time didn't bother him, and he proved a point, demonstrating that he was in better condition than the previous season when he acknowledged fading down the stretch because of exhaustion.

Singler's 41.9 percent shooting in the tournament was virtually identical to the 42.2 he posted against ACC teams during the regular season. Scheyer played 114 minutes in the tournament and shot 48.4 percent - significantly better than his 34.5 percent against ACC foes last season.

The difference in Singler from the end of his freshman season to the end of his sophomore season illustrates one of Krzyzewski's points. He says that as players become more experienced, they understand how to take care of their bodies and condition themselves better.

Krzyzewski also shortens practices late in the season to rest his players. The "team" portion of practices at this time of the season usually is finished within an hour, he said.

Then players work on their individual skills as needed. The guys who play a lot of minutes practice less than the younger players who need extra skill development.

"That's how you take care of your guys," Krzyzewski said. "They want to play. Our guys aren't tired. That's what I've learned over the years, to do it that way."

Nonetheless, fans and media members aren't the only ones who notice the large number of minutes Scheyer, Smith and Singler are playing.

Earlier in the season, Clemson's Oliver Purnell and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt said they tried to use their depth and play a fast pace in hopes of tiring Scheyer, Smith and Singler.

Purnell and Hewitt, though, said Duke's players held up remarkably well.

"Give those three kids credit," Hewitt said. "They're getting everybody's best hit every night, and they play. They do their job."

As long as that continues, Krzyzewski is not going to change. It even might be easier to play his three best players more in the NCAA tournament, because longer breaks in the action will give them more time to catch their breath during games.

Media timeouts and halftime last longer in the tournament, as the NCAA gives CBS extra time for ads to help pay for the 11-year, $6 billion TV contract that provides most of the NCAA's revenue.

Nonetheless, if Duke loses in the NCAA tournament while shooting 20 percent from 3-point range, some fans will immediately blame it on tired legs.

Krzyzewski is willing to live with that, though, because he believes he is doing what's best.

"You know what? I rest my guys in practice," he said. "Playing time in the games is really irrelevant. It's what you do in between games."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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