Seth Curry led Duke with 2.4 assists per game last season. That’s a pretty modest average to lead any college team. For a team often called Point Guard U, that almost defies comprehension. That’s the lowest average to lead Duke in, well, forever, or at least since assists became an official stat.
That’s not a knock on Curry, a natural shooting guard better suited to be the recipient of passes than the generator. Duke thought their best starting lineup included Curry, Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins and Curry got the point-guard nod by process of elimination.
Duke paid a price. The Blue Devils didn’t have anyone who could create a good shot for teammates, at least not with any regularity. Live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot.
There just weren’t any better options than Curry or defense-first guard Tyler Thornton. Natural point guard Quinn Cook spent his freshman season rehabbing a high-school knee injury, struggling with conditioning and confidence.
That was then, this is now. Cook is healthy, confident and loaded for bear.
It’s no big surprise that Duke captured last week’s Battle for Atlantis, down in the Bahamas. Duke pretty much owns Thanksgiving week. They’ve won in-season tournaments around Turkey Day six years in a row, with a victim pool that includes such notables as Marquette, Michigan, Connecticut and Kansas.
Duke takes these things seriously. The program manifesto is that the best way to prepare for winning championships in March and April is to win championships in November.
Still, the Battle for Atlantis was a pretty loaded field, second-ranked Louisville, ranked Missouri and Memphis, almost-ranked Minnesota, defending NIT champions Stanford and a very dangerous VCU team.
So coming out on top was a pretty big deal. Not surprisingly, Duke got great performances from Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry, seniors who made All-ACC last season. Fellow senior Ryan Kelly was solid, while freshman Rasheed Sulaimon solidified his status as one of the nation’s top newcomers.
But Cook trumped them all, being named the tournament MVP.
But not without additional bumps in the road. Cook spent last summer showing he was over his physical woes and Mike Krzyzewski anointed him as the starting point guard before practice even began.
Cook went out and promptly played himself out of the starting job in Duke’s two preseason games. Too few assists, two many turnovers and way too many too-fancy-for-no-reason passes.
Cook says he learned his lesson. “Coach wants his point guards to play good defense, make good decisions and run the team,” he said after the Florida Gulf Coast game.
Then he went out and proved it. He played 30 effective minutes off the bench against Kentucky and started all three games in the Bahamas. Cook totaled 41 points and 19 assists in the Battle for Atlantis, playing against Minnesota, VCU and Louisville, a trio of potent defensive clubs.
Last night in a win against No. 4 Ohio State and defensive pest Aaron Craft, Cook tallied 12 points and eight assists, committing just three turnovers while playing the full 40 minutes.
But it has been more than the stats. Cook is beating pressure defenses, setting up his teammates—especially Plumlee– for easy shots, knocking down open jumpers and making clutch foul shots.
In other words, playing like a Duke point guard.
Which makes Duke very dangerous.
It’s still November and the sample size is small.
But Krzyzewski thinks Cook is ready. “Quinn Cook has established himself as our point guard and a good one. He’s played terrific basketball. He’s earned the respect of his teammates.”