The Cupboard Was Never Bare
Conventional wisdom says that Duke would be in trouble with losing a top 5 draft pick, a 5th year senior starter and the only true point guard on the roster. With the exits of Brandon Ingram, Marshall Plumlee and Derryck Thornton, Duke lost 32.7 points and 17.2 rebounds per game. Having to replace this amount of production is never an easy task but Duke was not left with an empty nest. Duke still retained 72% of its offensive output, 71% of its rebounding and 67% of its assist average. Grayson Allen choosing to return to Duke was the first significant event of the off-season. Allen’s 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists a game and wealth of big game experience was huge for Duke that and a healthy Matt Jones means that Duke will have a solid back-court. Jones struggled with injuries toward the end of the season and will be important, especially on the defensive end, for Duke in the upcoming season. Duke will also look for improvements from rising sophomore Luke Kennard who had an up-and-down season in his first year at Duke. Kennard showed an ability to hit shots from anywhere on the court and in some games was completely unstoppable from beyond the arc in other games the freshman would disappear. A level of consistency is what Duke will need from Kennard in his sophomore season and with a year under his belt there is no reason to assume that won’t happen. Jones and Allen are Dukes 2 best 3 point shooters by percentage returning next year with Jones shooting 41.5% and Allen shooting just above at 41.7%. Duke will expect Luke Kennard to improve on his 32% shooting from beyond the arc.
The front-court for Duke will get bolstered by the incoming recruiting class but there were good pieces in place already for the Devils. The return of Amile Jefferson who was averaging a double-double before his injury will be the senior leader in Duke’s front court. He will be the player that shepherds a plethora of young talent into the Duke way of doing things. Amile can play either the power forward or center spot and his offensive game has developed each year he’s been at Duke. He has a knack for rebounding and a beast on the defensive end. Chase Jeter is the other significant member of the front-court holding over from this past season. Jeter did not have a season for the ages but did show improvements as the year progressed. A summer of increased strength and technique should aid in Jeter’s development and he should make considerable contributions if he can work on getting stronger.
What Was Left:
Tale of the Tape
This Duke team, much like last years team will be tall, with no player under 6-3 and a group of players likely in the rotation who measure 6-7 or taller. It will be interesting not only to see how deep into the bench Coach K chooses to go later in the season as opposed to early on but also how he manages both the guard and forward/center rotation to account for the amount of talent at those spots. One would assume the point guard duties will most likely belong to incoming freshman Frank Jackson. There should be minutes available for Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones behind Jackson at the point in addition to their minutes at the 2 guard spot. Neither of the elder combo guards have an adequate handle to run the point full time but in the case of Jones and Allen, their assist numbers are relatively high considering neither are known as distributors.
Duke should be able to play fast and loose on defense. They have the horses and talent to play K’s man-to-man defense. I expect to see less zone this year but I’m sure it will creep into some games this season at to keep it fresh in case it’s needed but not as often as this past season I would suspect. Duke could even press with the level of length and athleticism on this team. The depth on this squad will allow the coaching staff to be as fluid as they see fit – they can play big or small depending on situations and should be very versatile and solid (at least on paper).
The Duke “New” Devils
Frank Jackson is a pure scoring guard that will have to transition into a facilitator. We already know the athletic ability of the Utah product. Jackson plays above the rim and has a nose for scoring the basketball. An adept 3-point shooter who has the ability to create his own shot. Jackson’s ability to adjust to playing with a team with offensive weaponry will be the key to keeping this team going. Much like Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer (who are both on staff) Jackson will have to find the correct balance between scoring and distributing.
Jayson Tatum, the first piece of this tremendous class for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, has been called a lot for things as he’s risen up the recruiting ranks. Words like heady, efficient, skilled and smart have been used to describe the 6’8 small forward. I would agree that yes Tatum is a very heady player with a high basketball IQ but his athleticism, which may not be of the charts, is supremely underrated. Tatum does not solely depend on his athleticism but uses it to his advantage when the need arises. He has an above average feel for the game and a smooth old school skillset -making use of a mid-range jump shot and floater on offense. In Coach K’s system where versatility is paramount the size and length possessed by Tatum fits perfectly. Being able to defend multiple positions once he increases his strength will make Tatum invaluable.
Harry Giles is the motor of this recruiting class. Giles is a monster on the court and a powerful player. Just like Tatum, Giles is a versatile player who should be able to cover multiple positions on defense and offensively is skilled enough to have been the number 1 players the class. Around 6-10 ½ in shoes, with a 7-3 wingspan, a 9-1 standing reach Giles is fierceness and power going to the rim and is developing a mid-range game to augment his physical skills. Giles is a proficient offensive rebounder and will give Duke extra possessions. Unlike some Duke bigs of years past Giles can either kick out for shooters or take the ball himself to the rim. Giles is also an above average defender who is quick and has great hands and instincts.
Javin DeLaurier could be the x-factor for this class, a high rising recruit who understand that even playing behind Harry Giles he will get his minutes and opportunities. Javin, like Giles, is a proficient rebounder and a high motor athlete who may not have the offensive repertoire that Giles does but has a more pronounced jump shot will make him excellent in pick and pop situations. The common theme among the recruits this year is versatility and DeLaurier is also a player who can guard multiple positions, is quick laterally and a good shot blocker. DeLaurier possesses above average agility for a big man which will allow him to guard from the perimeter into the paint.
Marques Bolden was the last player to commit to Coach K in the 2016 class but he is most definitely not the least. Despite a lot of Kentucky fans saying that Bolden does not run the floor the opposite is the case. Marques is not a player that will slow this athletic team down. Marques is active around the rim and a very mobile center. He has excellent touch around the rim, can score with either hand and has a stable of low post moves. Defensively Bolden is a rim protector who can block shots with either hand. He will give Duke what Marshall Plumlee did in the way of defensive presence but adds an element of offensive prowess that Plumlee was never able to achieve. Plumlee did manage to score off of put-backs, dunks and the occasional defensive collapse on Duke guard drives to the basket – Bolden can actually score the basketball efficiently without the benefit of a setup.
Jack White is Duke’s lone foreign commit and the player most of us fans and even most scouts know the least about. Coach K mentioned in a release that the physicality, toughness and ability to shoot the ball are what Jack White brings to the table. What we don’t know is how much white will contribute to this years campaign. He has played against high level competition in international play just as all the other Duke commits have but again the jury is still out on whether White will be in the immediate rotation, work himself in or be more of a project player.
What’s Cooking in the 2016-2017 Season
What we do know about this year’s team is that there is talent, depth and experience. With three players who logged significant minutes in Duke’s last National Championship still on the roster there is lot to like about the ability of this team to be able to meld and mesh the young talent coming in with the solid program guys who remained. It’s not to say that Duke will have an easy road to another final four but this group may be the most talented and well equipped under Coach K to deal with:
- playing on the big stage.
- the rigors of a tough ACC Season.
- recovering and not letting losses linger and keeping a mental edge.
There isn’t an area of the game that this team should find themselves without or lacking in production. They have capable 3 point shooters (Allen, Jones, Jackson, slashers (Allen, Tatum and Jackson); low post threats in Giles and Marques Bolden, who also should provide, along with Amile Jefferson and Chase Jeter a formidable presence on the boards. With scheduled games against Michigan State, Kansas, Florida and UNLV on the non-conference schedule Duke will be tested.
We all know that putting together a collection of talent is just the first piece of the puzzle, now comes the real work – getting guys to buy in, to accept roles and to work together to as a team.