With Zion on the bench after being poked in the eye, Duke's Cam Reddish shows he could be a player to watch
No Zion? No problem. Duke had been waiting for Reddish to unlock his star power. That finally happened Saturday
For Cam Reddish, isolation probably never felt so nice.
Players almost never get that free for a shot in a half-court situation. And on a potential game-clinching set? Forget it.
Yet there was Reddish, isolated and alone and ready. He shifted free from Terance Mann, avoided drawing the attention from Trent Forrest and was on an island. Before FSU knew what hit it, the ball was in Reddish's hands. Perhaps unexpectedly, the freshman's moment -- 15 games into the season -- arrived. All net.
He might go another decade before finding himself this unoccupied in a game.
Reddish finished with 23 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting and atoned for two would-be guilt-inducing mistakes (a turnover and a foul on a 3-point attempt) in the moments before his glory shot.
Duke gets this win, dodging some busy conversation about its standing in the overall landscape of college basketball, but Saturday was all about Reddish. You can make the case he was the best guy to take that shot because he was the guy who needed that bucket more than anyone else.
Reddish entered Saturday's game as a player whose standing had slipped not just amongst his ultra-talented teammates but also in the bigger picture. A lot of the "Duke has the top three picks in the 2019 Draft" chatter had stalled due entirely to Reddish's skittish play. In the previous eight games he was averaging less than 23 minutes and 10.3 points on sub-40-percent shooting.
Saturday was his opportunity -- and that was even before Duke lost Zion Williamson late in the first half to an eye-poke injury.
Speaking of, it's an exceptionally positive sign for Duke that it won on the road against a top-15 team (against a coach in Leonard Hamilton who has twice beaten Duke at home when the Blue Devils were No. 1) without Williamson in the first half and with Tre Jones having an off night. Plus, Duke was bad on the offensive glass after Willaimson was sidelined.
And still, a win. RJ Barrett's game-high 32 points must be brought up here, as he's reminding everyone that for all the hype and highlights that Zion is inducing, it's Barrett who leads the team in scoring and is the most dynamic offensive talent on this roster.
But Barrett and Williamson, and probably even Jones, will still have more star-making moments to come. Reddish was lost in the mix of it all to this point. Duke was for the most part winning without much from him.
Look at the elation in Mike Krzyzewski's face after Reddish's triple falls. There's jubilation in a dramatic win, of course, but given all that's undoubtedly been put into helping Reddish break out of his funk behind the scenes? This opportunity could be one that we look back on and realize it was when Reddish's season and his push toward top-five draft status changed for the better.
Expect more opportunities to come for Reddish in the the next few games. First and foremost: he's Duke's most commonly used 3-point weapon. Reddish is the only Duke player with more than 100 3-point attempts this season. With games vs. Syracuse and Virginia awaiting, those teams will tempt Duke into trying the long-ball game. Reddish should have his chances.
If he plays well in both of those, then it's time to look out. None of other Duke freshmen are regressing. Bumps are inevitable, but as a unit this is a team that's figuring out well -- it's certainly much further ahead right now than last season's talented freshman class was. And that team was really good!
Reddish was always better than what his numbers suggested in December and the early part of January. Basketball is a sport that can often present opportunities and unexpected moments -- and change seasons because of it. A change for a player, or a team, or both. There's no guarantee Duke's going to get this version of Reddish from here on out, but we do know he's capable of being that guy in a big spot.
Until Saturday, no one knew for sure if that was the case. The No. 1 team just became more threatening.
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