Behind the scenes work by Tyler Thornton has played a large role in Duke's success this year. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
As the Blue Devils take some time away from the court to write their final papers and study for their semester-ending exams, perhaps we should take some time to reflect on what's been a rather successful start to the Duke hoops season. Traditional awards would be rather anticlimactic (Mason Plumlee for MVP, Quinn Cook for most improved, Rasheed Sulaimon for best newcomer, etc. etc.), so here's one ever-so-slightly out of the box
The unsung hero award goes to...Tyler Thornton.
The main reason was detailed in a story I wrote earlier this week. When Seth Curry can't practice (and that's normally the case), Thornton simulates his role. By nature, Curry and Thornton are completely different players: Curry is a score first shooting guard who has steadily improved his defense over the years, and Thronton is a defense-first point guard who rarely looks to score (to that point, he leads the team with 18 steals). But whatever Thornton is doing in practice clearly is working, because the offense doesn't miss a beat when Curry plays in games. It's a remarkably selfless move on Thornton's part.
Thornton also has handled the point guard situation with grace as well. Believe it or not, entering the season, he had the longest active consecutive games streak on the team, with 13 starts to end last year. But head coach Mike Krzyzewski declared Quinn Cook, a little-used reserve from last year, the starting point guard in the preseason. When Cook was benched in the year's first two games, Thornton filled in, shooting an efficient 4-for-7 for 13 points against Georgia State and logging 20 minutes against Kentucky. Since then, of course, Cook has been on a tear and asserted himself as the clear starter at the point. And if you watch during warmups and timeouts, his biggest supporter has been Thornton.
In an era where many players transfer at the first indication that they won't be focal points, Thornton's attitude has been refreshing. And, for those reasons, he has been Duke's unsung hero.