At the beginning of the year when I was prognosticating about many things regarding Duke Basketball’s pending season, there were quite a few things I said would happen that were just plain wrong.
However, there was one idea that may end up coming to pass, even if it didn’t quite happen like I thought it might. Following his performance in the last two games it looks like Amile Jefferson might end up getting a spot in the starting lineup soon.
His numbers aren’t overly impressive. He is only averaging only 10.2 minutes, 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game and he hasn’t been on anyone’s list for freshmen All-American. Still Jefferson’s energy and play in the last two games has been a bit of a head turner and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Blue Devils who are still adjusting to life without Ryan Kelly.
Jefferson is averaging 20 minutes, 8 points on 8 of 14 shooting and has grabbed 14 rebounds in the two games since Kelly went down with a foot injury. His numers aren’t necessarily eye popping, and they aren’t going to replace Kelly’s average of 13 points and 5 rebounds per game, but they are certainly helping.
In Duke’s loss to NC State they got a solid performance out of Jefferson but foul trouble limited him to only 12 minutes, but you still saw flashes of what he could do. What they didn’t get was contributions out of Rasheed Sulaimon who, in Kelly’s absence, has to score and he just didn’t do it.
Tyle Thornton and Josh Hairston have been the most commonly used bench players Mike Krzyzewski has used this season and they got the start againt Gerogia Tech. However, neither can or will fill the void left by Kelly.
Against Georgia Tech and despite not starting, Sulaimon was once again firing on all cylinders and the contributions of Jefferson were magnified. The Blue Devils came out at the start of the game sluggish, obviously still missing Kelly, but Jefferson’s energy off the bench helped earn him the second half start along with Sulaimon who looked more like his old self.
The results were clear and while Duke still isn’t as good without Kelly, the fact that Jefferson contributed like he did on the boards and was able to score some points only helps ease the pain of losing one of the team’s best players. The second half against the Yellow Jackets saw a more Duke-like performance and after taking the lead quickly to start, they never trailed again.
Will Jefferson’s performance be enough to put him in the starting lineup against Miami? It is certainly a possibility that I would imagine Krzyzewski has to be thinking about. My hypothesis earlier this season was that Jefferson might compete for more time or a starting job, similar to how Elliot Williams was thrust into the lineup back in 2009, albeit for very different reasons.
Still Jefferson has put himself in position to get the nod. He has shown to be adept with the basketball down near the basket. He is quick with and has shown a nice ability to slash or rebound and put shots up down low. Jefferson has to use that quickness as he isn’t strong or big enough to bang with bigger post defenders or post up in a traditional way.
His biggest asset though has been the energy he has brought to the team. It was evident in the Georgia Tech game that Jefferson provided a real spark and got the team and the Cameron Crazies animated.
There may have been some worries for a stretch that Jefferson may not be able to get significant minutes and had Kelly not gotten hurt he may not have, still he has shown the kind of player he can be and while he isn’t close to the player he will be after he puts on some muscle, he is helping to fill a void and I wouldn’t be shocked if he moves into the starting lineup against the Hurricanes.
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