DURHAM — When Seth Curry took the floor early in the first half of Duke’s exhibition game against Winston-Salem State Thursday, it was the first time he had played in almost two months. The answer to why an injury to his right leg had sidelined him so long has been hard to pinpoint.
“I don’t know, I can’t explain it, you’re asking the wrong person,” the senior guard said when asked how to describe his injury.
When asked again, he was slightly more specific. “It’s just like a pain in my leg in my shin area.”
Before the exhibition, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had said Curry was limited in practice due to a leg injury. Curry played with a leg compression sleeve that stopped just below his right knee. He took a few hard falls during the game, and winced in apparent pain as teammates helped him off the floor.
The injury doesn’t have a name. Curry has pain and a bit of swelling. When he will feel better is unclear.
“He will not be completely well,” Krzyzewski said of Curry’s prognosis for the season. “The thing is how much can he play without getting the injury worse.”
Curry’s uncertain status is a significant blow to the Blue Devils. He is their top perimeter scorer, averaging 13.2 points per game last season. It wasn’t surprising that Curry struggled to find a rhythm Thursday, going 1-of-9 from the floor and 0-of-4 from 3-point range (“I didn’t expect him to blister the nets,” Krzyzewski said). The rest of the team, though, struggled as well, making just one of 17 attempts from behind the arc in the 69-45 win over the Rams. After the game, Krzyzewski wondered aloud if that set a Duke record for worst 3-point shooting percentage in a game.
“I don’t think we’re ready to shoot the 3,” he said. “When we get the ball to Mason (Plumlee), and he kicks it out, and Mason’s a good passer, it should be automatic. Those are shots we’ve shot here for 25 years. Actually almost 30 years.”
Even before Curry’s injury, Duke had planned to use Plumlee as its primary scorer, consistently feeding him inside. Against Winston-Salem State, Plumlee was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor and went 5-for-9 from the free throw line. His offensive production becomes even more important for Duke if Curry can’t play.
“He’s a guy who demands attention because he is such a great shooter,” Plumlee said of Curry. “You love playing with people like that.”
How much Curry, who attended Charlotte Christian, is able to play hinges on a few factors. If his shin gets worse, he could be sidelined completely. If that doesn’t happen, then it is a matter of how well he can cope with the pain.
Curry was optimistic after playing 17 minutes Thursday.
“I didn’t have too much pain at all,” he said. “Just seeing how I was able to play, I should be able to get more practices in before the first game.”
Even without Curry, Duke isn’t concerned about potential scoring issues and fully expects more shots to fall as the season starts. Rasheed Sulaimon and Alex Murphy haven’t even played a regular season game but should only improve with experience. Ryan Kelly, who Krzyzewski considers the Blue Devils’ second-best perimeter scorer behind Curry, was 0-for-7 from the floor and 0-of-2 from 3-point range.
“Ryan isn’t going to go 0-for-7, Ryan is a really good player,” he said last week. “We started the second half, and we went to Ryan three straight times, and I thought it should have given us about seven points. It gave us two. When we go to that guy, and he’s in a good spot, we’ve got to put the ball in the basket. But, again, it’s November 1, that’s why you play. You’ve got to get accustomed to game-like situations.”
Duke took the weekend off after the win over Winston-Salem State. Now, preparation is underway for Friday’s season opener against Georgia State. Whether or not that includes Curry depends on how his shin responded to last week’s action. It’s the beginning of a frustrating holding pattern that will, in all likelihood, continue all year.
“In basketball, you lose one key guy, and it has an impact on your team. It’s a rippling effect,” Krzyzewski said last month. “It shows how fragile any team is.”
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley