Markis McDuffie is averaging 19.6 points through Wichita State’s first seven basketball games this season, one of the best scoring starts for a Shocker during the last four decades.
The 6-foot-8 senior is taking on more volume and responded with the most efficient offense of his career playing exclusively this season at power forward, where his athleticism and shot-making presents matchup problems. McDuffie is scoring at 1.19 points per possession, the 47th-best rate in the country for players taking on a similar offensive load.
The most noticeable difference this season is McDuffie, who was a career 34-percent three-point shooter, is draining a career-high 41.5 percent of three-pointers this season. But do a little digging and you’ll discover McDuffie is also making a career-high 79 percent of shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math, and has cut his turnover percentage to 8.9, which ranks in the 92nd percentile nationally for players like him, per Synergy Sports.
But this isn’t a story about McDuffie’s scoring prowess, rather how he has embraced all of the little things to become an all-around player for the Shockers (4-3) entering Saturday’s showdown against Oklahoma (7-1) in Oklahoma City.
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“Everybody is looking at the points that he’s scoring and that’s great too, but when you watch the film you see that he’s doing everything,” WSU junior Ricky Torres said. “He’s busting his butt to make all of the hustle plays for us.”
Here are three ways McDuffie is making winning plays for WSU:
1. Using his length to disrupt on defense
Nothing excites a defense quite like forcing a five-second violation on an inbounds pass. It’s a badge of honor and one that WSU collected against Rice with McDuffie at the head of its press.
WSU played man-to-man defense with McDuffie, whose man was inbounding the ball, roaming free to deny the entry pass. It’s not unusual for that defender to take away the first pass, which McDuffie does with his flailing arms and 6-8 frame, but McDuffie made the second effort to take away the second option.
McDuffie essentially single-handedly forced the Rice turnover, but you won’t find any recognition of that in the box score.
“He’s been dynamite,” coach Gregg Marshall said after recalling the play.
McDuffie’s length also applies to half-court defense, where he has been WSU’s best defender, per Synergy. Opposing players are shooting 33 percent when McDuffie is the primary defender and that shooting percentage plummets to 14 percent on jump shots.
In a game earlier this season, Providence tried to free its best player, Alpha Diallo, with a back screen on McDuffie. But the WSU senior spun out of the screen, met Diallo at the three-point line and used his length to contest the shot, which missed.
“Coach (Marshall) really helps us when you’re watching film and you see everything that you’re supposed to be doing and what you could have done,” McDuffie said. “I think that helps a lot because Coach Marshall preaches on that every day in practice.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew said McDuffie reminded him of former Baylor star Taurean Prince, who currently plays for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
“Why he’s on the draft boards and why he’s so sought out with the NBA is because he’s the traditional three-and-(defense) guy,” Drew said. “He’s someone who can defend multiple positions, someone who can really shoot it, someone who can drive closeouts, and someone experienced.”
2. Using his scoring ability to set up his passing
It was after the Charleston Classic when WSU had a week off between games that McDuffie noticed that he had zero assists through the first five games.
Of course, facilitating is not McDuffie’s role. The Shockers need him to be a reliable scorer. But that wasn’t good enough for McDuffie.
In his first game after Charleston, McDuffie registered his first assist within the first six minutes. McDuffie caught a pass that led him straight to the rim, a shot he would have taken in the first five games. But this time, McDuffie wrapped a no-look pass around the defender into the waiting hands of Morris Udeze for an easy slam dunk.
McDuffie finished with five assists and showed maturation by taking the next step as WSU’s go-to player. He now understands he doesn’t have to always force the shot; his gravitational pull on the defense leaves openings he can now expose.
“His eyes are open now,” Marshall said. “He’s going to have to do that because that’s part of being a great offensive player, understanding that you’re not always going to score. You can affect winning as an offensive player by drawing a second defender and kicking it out or kicking it under like on that wraparound. Mo scored the basket, but that was all Markis McDuffie.”
3. Using his hustle to affect the game
Steals, rebounds, assists, all of those plays can be recorded in a box score. Perhaps McDuffie’s biggest value this year to WSU has been the plays that cannot be recorded in a box score.
These plays require pure hustle and an absolute dedication to doing things that won’t win them any praise, but are plays that coaches like Marshall crave.
A good example happened in the Rice game when an Owls player threw over the top of McDuffie on the press and his man caught the ball with a step lead on him. It would have been easy for McDuffie, unsuccessful trying for the steal, to jog back on defense and attempt to communicate a switch.
Instead, McDuffie sprinted back to cut off the ball handler and then walled off a drive to jar the ball loose and ultimately force a shot-clock violation. Again, McDuffie doesn’t receive any credit in the box score.
After a made basket last weekend against Baylor, McDuffie sprinted back on defense to track his man and lunged at a pass to deflect it out of bounds. It went largely unnoticed, but to coaches, a deflection to stop a possession in transition is a valuable commodity.
One of Marshall’s favorite plays this entire season involved McDuffie and came in the Providence game when Erik Stevenson was out in front of the defense and looked to have a lay-in. Instead of cutting off his run, McDuffie followed Stevenson to the rim and when the freshman botched the shot, McDuffie was there to tip the rebound to Ricky Torres to ensure the two points for WSU.
Without that hustle, Providence would have rebounded the miss and WSU would have lost a momentum swing. It was just another example of how McDuffie’s dedication has helped the Shockers just as much as his scoring has this season.
“A lot of people don’t realize how valuable the little things are,” McDuffie said. “I know they’re called the little things, but they’re very valuable. When you do those things that not a lot of people want to do, that’s when good things happen for your team, things that wouldn’t happen without the little things.”