Kyle Singler’s problem is positional

Let’s not go off the deep end here. Duke junior Kyle Singler is still having a good year. He’s averaging 17-7-2 and is shooting 38% from long range. Those numbers are virtually identical to his sophomore season. The difference is in his overall FG%, which dropped from 44.1% last season to 40.7% this year.

Having watched at least half of Duke’s games this season — including last night’s 79-72 loss to Maryland — I think Singler is struggling with his accuracy because he is now playing a ton of minutes at small forward. Over his first two seasons, he played mostly power forward and even some center, and while he was at a disadvantage on Duke’s defensive glass, he had a big advantage on the offensive end.

Singler is a classic face-up forward. He has a very nice perimeter game in that he is accurate from long range and can take it to the basket when he gets his defender out of position. And over his first two seasons, he faced a lot of opposing 4s and 5s that weren’t comfortable covering someone on the perimeter. This season, in addition to Lance Thomas, Duke is giving big minutes to Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee, which means that Singler is playing more small forward than ever. This allows the defense to cover him with their own small forward, who is generally quicker and far more comfortable defending on the perimeter.

As a result, Singler is getting far fewer good looks on penetration than he has in years past. During his first two seasons, it was relatively easy to get a bigger defender out of position on the wing and drive past him for a layup or short jumper. Now, his defenders are sticking with him on those drives and forcing tougher shots. Hence, the reduction in field goal percentage.

Duke certainly has more size this season, and that’s helping on the glass, but it’s hurting Singler’s efficiency on the other end of the court. It’s a trade-off that Coach K is apparently willing to live with, but I’m guessing that if Singler shoots 41% or less in the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils won’t be making a Final Four appearance this season.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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