There is only one word, okay maybe too words that pop into my head when I think about next year’s Duke Men’s Basketball team: Fun and Possibilities.
The talent that Mike Krzyzewski has amassed and appears to be retaining should make for some fun basketball. The possibilities will seem endless but there will be a lot of pressure and this team won’t be without its limitations.
Next year’s team will feature a solid cast of talent, perhaps the most individual talent to be compiled in Durham in quite some time. That isn’t to say they will be the best or will even accomplish anything with that talent, but it will be hard to argue a team in the last 10 years has had more.
Who is Back?
Duke will have back a relatively strong nucleus led by rising junior point guard Quinn Cook. Cook was the straw that stirred the Blue Devils collectively this past season and when he was good so was the team as a whole. When he was less than that, however, Duke struggled.
As a junior look for Cook to be more mature and with a full season as a starter under his belt he will be itching to prove himself even more than he did this past season. He led the team in assists at just over 5 per game and good enough for a 2.3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Not great but better than what they had the previous season.
Cook at times was a solid shooter and penetrator where he showed the ability to finish or dish. If he can build on the good things and eliminate some of the bad things (see NCAA Tournament) then Duke will be in good shape at the point guard position.
Rasheed Sulaimon will likely be back as the starting shooting guard and will likely be poised for a big sophomore season. Sulaimon started the year strong and hit a few peaks and valleys but was one of the better freshmen Duke has had over the last few years. He was selfless, sometimes to a fault but showed the aggressiveness and tenacity that will make him a great player down the road.
Sulaimon showed his skill set on both ends of the floor as a solid shooter and offensive weapon and one of, if not the best, on ball defender Duke had; and he was a freshman. Expect more growth and more good things from him in 2014.
Beyond those two the starting lineup will be completely new. After sitting out his required season due to NCAA regulations regarding transfers Rodney Hood will finally get his chance to show everyone what he can do and most Duke fans will likely enjoy that a lot. Hood was arguably according to several insiders, the best player on the team this year for Duke.
He is tall, and athletic and a year in waiting has allowed him to get bigger and stronger. He brings a type player Duke hasn’t seen in a while, a long perimeter player who has the ability to beat guys off the dribble and finish near the rim. He is said to be a good shooter as well which never gets old in the Duke system.
Hood will likely move into the starting lineup and be an immediate impact player.
The Blue Devils also return a number of complementary and talented young players who will vie for playing time and roles on next years’s team.
Senior guard Tyler Thornton and senior forward Josh Hairston will not be the most talented players on the roster but have likely earned a role on next year’s team. They will have to work to earn their time but both offer qualities that next year’s team can benefit from.
They both are strong leaders. Thornton in particular is a gritty, in your face, player who can play some solid defense and be an opportunistic shooter. Hairston is a big body that the Blue Devils will rely on due to lack of an experienced post presence.
Duke potentially will welcome back Andre Dawkins from his one year hiatus from basketball. While there has been no confirmation and some still remain doubtful of his return to the program, I remain optimistic that he will come back. All evidence at this point seems to show that Dawkins will return including this video showing Dawkins working out a Durham Hillside High School.
His return would bring a potential weapon back into the fold depending on how quickly he can reintegrate himself into the fold. There are no guarantees as other players who have been forced to step away from the program have not found that an easy task. Still if he comes back as the best version we know Dawkins to be that will only make Duke better.
Three sophomores will round out the returning players and will all be vying for playing time. Amile Jefferson saw the bulk of the time among those three. At about 6-foot-8 and maybe 210 pounds, Jefferson showed glimpses of the player he could be but definitely needs to add strength and weight.
Unlike a lot of fans who seem to think that Jefferson will play the role of a traditional center, his frame tends to lean more toward a Lance Thomas like body. He will continue to be lean, but add strength will make him a stronger finisher as well as a better rebounder. He will likely improve his ability to defend and will be able to guard a variety of teams. But don’t expect him to be a low post banger.
The only option Duke has available according to the roster as it projects is Marshall Plumlee, but in the little time he saw, he wasn’t nearly the player many Blue Devil fans were perhaps led to believe. There had been stories of him being the best of the three Plumlees and even Mike Krzyzewski said that, prior to an early injury, was looking like the sixth or seventh best player.
But upon his return, he hardly looked anything close to that part. He is a guy who will hustle and could give you minutes but it is highly unlikely he will be a regular rotation player next season unless he gets a lot better.
That leaves senior walk on Todd Zafirovski and sophomore Alex Murphy. Zafirovski will return but is not likely or should be expected to serve more than his standard role as practice player. As for Murphy is potential is future is a bit more cloudy.
Krzyzewski had proclaimed Murphy a potential four year starter after he was redshirted his true freshman season. It looked like he was set to be a starer after the first two exhibition games but then Murphy disappeared on the end of the Blue Devils bench. There was a lot of speculation as to why he sat but only cryptic answers came.
Murphy showed the athleticism and had the reputation as a good shooter to be a solid forward, but his defensive weaknesses and what was called a lack of confidence kept him firmly on the bench. There is a lot of talk about a possible transfer and many fans when speculating next season’s lineup fail to even recognize Murphy.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he did transfer but I’m willing to think he sticks it out improves and earns more playing time next year.He may not be a starter but I think there is a spot for a player like Murphy on the roster if he steps up and works for it.
Who’s coming in?
Duke will also be adding a three person class to next year’s team and several if not all three could become immediate impact players.
The most highly profiled freshman is Jabari Parker, arguably one of the best players in the class of 2013. Parker announced his decision to play at Duke back in the fall and since recovering from a foot injury he has been working on getting back into shape.
He scored 10 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and had two blocks and two steals in the McDonald’s All-American game. Hardly a dominant performance but he showed the silky smooth skills that have so many in the Duke camp excited. He has been compared to many great players but is it too much to expect of a freshman?
Parker will not be a savior, but he is the quality of player Duke hasn’t had in a long time and could be a real difference maker from the very beginning.
Guard, Matt Jones was Duke’s other McDonald’s All-American and he has been called the best pure shooter in the class of 2013 which would make him a welcome addition to a team that lost one of the best shooters in the country in Seth Curry.
Jones didn’t light up the scoreboard in the McDonald’s game only scoring 4 points but he is said to be a good defender and that in and of itself could make him an impact player in his own right. And in the even Dawkins doesn’t return, having another skilled, versatile guard will be important for Duke’s overall development.
The real wild card in the class is forward Semi Ojeleye who opened up some eyes with his play this season leading his high school to the Kansas state High School Championship.
Ojeleye is big and athletic and could carve out a role for himself but considering the level of competition he was playing in Kansas, he was clearly a man among boys, how will he do against the competition that Duke is expected to face next season. His ready to compete as a defensive player?
If he can do that then he could get a spot in the rotation. If not he could be sitting behind several other players who will be competing with him for time.
What does rotation look like?
Perhaps one of the more commonly asked questions of me is who I believe will be the starting lineup for this team; and it is hard to say considering all the possibilities and combinations.
For a minutes lest assume that everyone is coming back that was on the team this year (no transfers and Dawkins returns). The lineup potential is vast. Depending on how far removed Dawkins’ skills are from being ready to contribute, he could be a key reserve or he’ll never see the court. I would imagine he knows what Krzyzewski is going to expect of him and I’m sure the two have talked about what potential role he could have.
The starters will likely be Cook at point guard, Sulaimon at shooting guard, Hood and Parker at two of the forward positions. If Parker is truly as good as advertised it would be hard for Krzyzewski not to have him start, but it also wouldn’t be shocking if he didn’t, but I expect him to.
The fifth starters spot will be one to watch. Duke does not, I repeat, does not have a very good option to play center. The most talked about player to fill that role in a traditional sense would be Marshall Plumlee, but again he looks no where near good enough based on what I saw this year to have him go from little used reserve to full-time starter.
Josh Hairston, is a more viable option, but is not idea as he is not even close to a center, but there in lies the rub with next year’s team: They have not real center, thus the fifth starter will either be another forward or Krzyzewski will employ a three guard lineup.
If the option is to go three guards then you can expect a veteran like Thornton to get first dibs with Matt Jones and potentially Dawkins vying for the spot.
If the preference is to go a little bigger then Krzyzewski could choose from any of the players including Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy, Hairston with Ojeleye and Plumlee being the longer shots to scratch the starting five.
All could see playing time but given Krzyzewski’s propensity for playing, at most, 8 deep late in a season, it is likely that if everyone stays, the practice will be both competitive and fierce.
It is hard to forsee the future and know what the offseason will bring in the way of departures and improvement among the players who stay. If I had my druthers I would go with a starting five of Cook, Sulaimon, Hood, Parker and Jefferson, but expect to see a starting lineup of Cook, Sulaimon, Hood, Parker, and Hairston.
I expect Matt Jones, Jefferson and or Hairston, Thornton and if he returns Dawkins to get the bulk of the bench minutes. Now if Plumlee improves a lot more than I think he will and Murphy develops a confidence and an edge, then both could get playing time as well as Ojeleye.
Only a few things appear to be set in stone while other will have to wait out the offseason. Guess we will all just have to wait and see what happens come October. Whatever the case it should be a potentially fun season in 2014.
Projected Starters/Key Sub(s)
Quinn Cook/Tyler Thornton
Rasheed Sulaimon/Matt Jones/Andre Dawkins
Rodney Hood/Andre Dawkins
Jabari Parker/Alex Murphy/Semi Ojeleye
Josh Hairston/Amile Jefferson/Marshall Plumlee
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