Marshall Plumlee played an average of 6.9 minutes per game in his first three years at Duke. This year, that number has shot up to 26.5. And in Duke’s three ACC games, Plumlee is averaging 33.3 minutes.
“It is a night and day difference from the rest of my Duke career,” Plumlee said. “There is a big difference between playing 2-3 minutes a game to going to playing 30.”
The Blue Devils are relying on a six-man rotation, so all six have to play substantial minutes. In ACC play, Brandon Ingram leads the team with an average of 38.7 minutes. Grayson Allen averages 34.3, Matt Jones averages 32.7 minutes, and Luke Kennard and Derryck Thornton play 28.3 and 24.7 minutes, respectively.
Everything is working well so far in January. But none of the Blue Devils have managed that large of workload for a full season.
“Obviously, we are worried about them wearing out,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Once Amile Jefferson broke his foot in practice during Duke’s holiday break, Krzyzewski and the rest of the staff took a proactive role in managing the Blue Devils’ recovery. It was too important to just leave up to the players, some of whom may not accurately gauge how much recovery they need.
“It’s a long, grueling season,” Plumlee said. “Sometimes freshmen can’t anticipate how long it is on the front end. You don’t want to get burnt out.
“So, Coach K is the one who manages that. And whether you feel like you need the treatment time or the recovery time or not, he will force you in there, like, I know better.”
Recovery includes things like post-practice smoothies, time in the ice bath and work in the training room. And it also includes not wearing players out with excessively hard or numerous practices. Krzyzewski went through Duke’s routine in between Wednesday night’s 7 p.m. win at Wake Forest and Saturday’s noon win against Virginia Tech.
“You get back from Wake, and it’s after midnight,” he said. They’re not going to get to sleep right away. So, Thursday is just watching tape. The guys who didn’t play, we did individual work. The other guys, we give them feedback, give them a preview of Virginia Tech. They lift – we still lift. And then they go to the training room.
“And Friday, we had a little bit of contact, just a little bit. Short practice, but we came back last night (Friday night) and dressed out and walked through. And then this morning (Saturday), we met at 9 a.m., not dressed out. We’re trying to give them information in doses and do the recovery in doses, too.”
For Duke to achieve its goals in March, the recovery work starts now. It’s impossible to predict how the Blue Devils will hold up over the next two months. But they’re doing everything they can to be as fresh as possible.