It's official. Rasheed Sulaimon is coming to Maryland, and he's bringing quality athleticism, shooting and perimeter defending skills with him. Sulaimon, a former Duke wing, might give the Terrapins the most talented five-man lineup in the country. He's a different player than Dez Wells, the man he's effectively replacing. But Sulaimon also figures to help Maryland in some of the same ways Wells once did.
(This is a good spot for a disclaimer: Last winter, Sulaimon became the first player Mike Krzyzewski has ever dismissed in 35 years as Duke's coach. Afterward, Duke's student newspaper reported that two women accused Sulaimon of sexually assaulting them. Sulaimon recently denied those allegations and said his dismissal from the Blue Devils had nothing to do with them. Whether they did or they didn't, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is surely going to have to answer serious questions about how deeply his staff investigated them and about how certain he is of Sulaimon's good character. He's already started to do that, in a fine Diamondback piece by colleague Aaron Kasinitz.)
Clearly, the off-court element of Sulaimon's recruitment can't be whitewashed. But for the sake of analysis, let's separate Sulaimon the player and Sulaimon the everything else. On the basketball court, for Maryland, he's just about perfect.
The Terps were already a legitimate national championship contender for next season. Melo Trimble is one of the three best point guards in the country, Jake Layman is an experienced, all-around forward and Diamond Stone and Robert Carter have NBA-caliber size and athleticism. Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky are great front-court depth, Jared Nickens can shoot the lights out, and Jaylen Brantley should be a fine backup point man.
All was already well and good, except the Terps were missing one thing: Wells. He was the only player on Maryland's roster with the ability to slash through defenses at will and play consistently stingy defense against good shooting guards and small forwards. Now, guess what? Sulaimon can do both of those things just as solidly as Wells. He's supremely athletic, with some of the best speed and agility in the college game.
Here are Sulaimon's career per-40 minute stats:
And here are Wells's career college stats, per 40 minutes:
And a back-to-back comparison on a couple of key analytic points, for their careers:
Sulaimon is a better three-point shooter than Wells but not as effective around the basket, at least over their whole careers. However, as a freshman, Sulaimon shot 46.1 percent on his two-pointers – better than the 45.5 percent clip Wells shot at as a senior last year. Sulaimon regressed badly on shots inside the arc over his last two seasons, which is hard to explain. As you can see above, he took them at pretty similar rates over his three years. He can slash like Wells can, but there's no indication he's as good as Wells is at scoring near the rim. He won't post up like Wells sometimes would.
In 2012-13, Sulaimon was a five-star talent who produced like one might expect a freshman five-star prospect to produce. Then he just did the same thing without getting much better two more times. If Sulaimon starts hitting two-pointers like he did when he was a freshman and keeps being the 40-plus percent three-point bomber he's become, he'll be offensive dynamite.
Wells and Sulaimon are both sturdy free-throw shooters and altogether efficient scorers, though not quite as efficient as their coaches would probably prefer. Wells was more of a ball-dominator at Maryland than Sulaimon ever could have hoped to be at Duke, where he shared the floor at any given moment with Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Mason Plumlee, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and on and on. Sulaimon will have to share opportunities in College Park, too.
Wells and Sulaimon are both listed at 6'5, but Wells is listed as a full 20 pounds heavier than Sulaimon's 195. Sulaimon is cut, but he doesn't muscle his way into the paint for rebounds as much as Wells did in college. Still, a two-guard who grabs 10 percent of the opponent's misses is useful, and it's impressive given that Duke clogged the lane with dominant, rebound-usurping big men every year Sulaimon played there. Stone and Carter aren't all that dissimilar from Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson, but it's fair to figure, given his athleticism, that Sulaimon has the potential to help Maryland a bit on the glass. He's better there than Nickens, anyway, who only pulled down 6 percent of opponents' missed shots as a freshman. But he's not the same glass-eating freak Wells could sometimes look like. He's more perimeter-oriented.
If Sulaimon's career took the same trajectory Wells's career did, he'd probably be in the NBA this year. His dismissal last year notwithstanding, Sulaimon never saw the jump in possession usage rate that Wells did (from about 19 to 30 percent over four seasons) that brought a big jump in raw points totals. Sulaimon always had just as much raw ability as Wells did, and probably more, but he's never taken the lead on more than about one in five of his team's possessions. At Maryland, he still won't, but he'll probably score enough and defend enough to be a valuable asset.
We don't yet know what Sulaimon's arrival will mean for Nickens or Dion Wiley. Sulaimon's minutes – surely at least 25 or 30 per game – have to come from somewhere, and it's hard to imagine anyone other than the team's two sophomore shooting guards losing out. It doesn't seem likely that Maryland, with Layman pushed by Carter to small forward, will have enough minutes between the two and three lineup spots to give both Nickens and Wiley optimal minutes loads for their developments. Invariably, there is less court time available now for the two of them.
But in the immediate term, Sulaimon's addition completes Maryland. The Terps have a star at every slot in their presumable starting lineup – one sophomore, two seniors, a freshman and a redshirt junior who should combine to make them better than every team they play.
From a purely basketball standpoint, it's been a remarkable convergence. Trimble and Layman are great, but just raw enough not to have skipped town for the NBA after last season. Carter is a force who's had a redshirt year to make himself even scarier than he once was at Georgia Tech, and Stone is the kind of recruit Maryland virtually never gets.
Sulaimon was Turgeon's finishing touch. The Terps have nothing left to do but win.