Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones to Duke: Predicting Blue Devils' 2014-15 Rotation
The jubilation of Kansas' victory over Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night lasted less than 72 hours, as the Blue Devils scored a much bigger win on Friday with the signing of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
Even with the expected departure of Jabari Parker to the NBA, adding these two 5-star recruits puts Duke in the driver's seat to open the 2014-15 season ranked No. 1 in the polls.
In addition to Parker, Duke will be losing four seniors after this season—most notably among them Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston.
So what exactly is the team going to look like after all this turnover?
Now that we know the Blue Devils will have Okafor and Jones in the mix, here is Duke's projected starting five and four primary contributors off the bench for the 2014-15 season.
Point Guard: Quinn Cook
There isn't much of a precedent for top-rated point guards joining a team with a returning senior at the helm, but there is one case—and it doesn't bode well for Tyus Jones' chances of starting immediately.
Kemba Walker was a freshman for the 2008-09 Connecticut Huskies and started just two games while backing up senior point guard A.J. Price. Aside from Brandon Jennings—who chose to spend a year in Italy rather than playing for Arizona—Walker was the highest rated point guard of the 2008 recruiting class. Walker did average better than 25 minutes per game, but it was the incumbent leader who started at point and led the team in scoring.
It may be the minority opinion in the aftermath of the Jones signing, but there's a better than reasonable chance that Quinn Cook will be Duke's primary ball-handler for the 2014-15 season.
Cook averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists as the starting point guard in his sophomore season, and is averaging 15.5 points and 6.0 assists thus far in his junior campaign. Unless he really blows up this season and ends up leaving for the NBA, it's hard to imagine a freshman starting ahead of him next season—regardless of how highly touted that freshman may be.
Jones will get plenty of playing time and could very well become the starter by the end of the season, but Cook will be at point guard when Duke tips things off next November.
Shooting Guard: Rasheed Sulaimon
If Rasheed Sulaimon isn't back for his junior season, it would be somewhat of a shock.
When he does return, he'll average 20 points per game.
Sulaimon was overshadowed by Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee last season and will be playing third fiddle to Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood throughout the bulk of this year.
But the 2014-15 Blue Devils are his team to lead.
As a freshman, Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points per game and shot 37.1 percent from three-point land. If the first two games of this season are any indication of what we can expect for the next 35 games, those numbers are going to be considerably better this year—even though he's coming off the bench behind professional headache to opposing teams, Tyler Thornton.
Given the chance to start and serve as the primary scoring threat, it's not difficult to envision Sulaimon having the type of season Erick Green had for Virginia Tech last year—when he led the nation in scoring.
Small Forward: Rodney Hood
Definitely the toughest call in projecting Duke's starting five for the 2014-15 season, as Rodney Hood is right on the fringe of being a first-round draft pick.
ESPN's Chad Ford has Hood rated as the 26th-best prospect (insider required) in this year's draft class. He would probably find a job in the NBA, but if he comes back for another season he would more than likely be a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
It's still anyone's guess what he'll decide.
Hood's decision could potentially be inferred from whether or not Justise Winslow commits to Duke.
If Mike Krzyzewski assumes (or knows) that Hood will leave for the NBA after this season, signing Winslow has to become his primary recruiting concern. If Duke has neither Hood nor Winslow on the 2014-15 roster, that leaves Semi Ojeleye and Alex Murphy as the only options to start at small forward—and neither of those players is likely to average more than a couple minutes per game this year.
Alternatively, Duke could go with a smaller lineup by forgoing the traditional small forward position altogether and starting either Matt Jones or incoming freshman Grayson Allen as a second shooting guard.
Forced to guess, however, let's assume that Hood stays for another year, increases his draft stock and puts Duke in good shape to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls next fall.
Power Forward: Amile Jefferson
Amile Jefferson is exactly the type of forward that Duke has been churning out for the past decade.
Be it Shavlik Randolph, David McClure, Lance Thomas, Miles Plumlee or Josh Hairston, it seems that Mike Krzyzewski has been in constant possession of a 6'9" forward whose sole purpose in life is to scrap for rebounds for roughly 15 minutes per game.
Jefferson is arguably more athletically gifted than his predecessors at the position, proving in a 17-point effort against Kansas that he could develop into much more of a presence on offense than those aforementioned forwards.
Either way, it's safe to say that he has a starting job locked down. Unless Duke inexplicably also lands Myles Turner to start alongside Jahlil Okafor in the frontcourt, Jefferson is essentially Duke's only option at power forward.
Center: Jahlil Okafor
You weren't expecting Marshall Plumlee here, were you?
Jahlil Okafor is the cream of the 2014 recruiting crop. Even though he won't be drafted for (at least) another 19 months, NBAdraft.net has compared Okafor's game to that of Al Jefferson—a big man who has averaged roughly 19 points and 10 rebounds per game for the past seven years in the NBA.
If the strengths in his various scouting profiles translate to the college level, Okafor should be the kind of center around whom Duke can build both its offense and defense. He might not block as many shots as Anthony Davis or Jeff Withey have in recent years, but he will be a force in the paint on both ends of the floor.
According to Scout.com, Okafor has "a great set of hands, tremendous touch and a handful of scoring moves on the block." ESPN's scouting report on Okafor (insider required) says, "He owns the two most essential traits to becoming a distinguished big man: great hands and efficient feet." Rivals.com raves "Okafor is one of the most skilled and poised back-to-the-basket centers to come along in some time."
Surely, all of those experts can't be wrong. Not only will Okafor start for Duke, but he'll be counted on to be one of the team leaders in both points and rebounds.
Key Players off the Bench
Tyus Jones (PG)
As we covered in Quinn Cook's slide, Jones will get a ton of minutes off the bench but is unlikely to start ahead of Cook. Most scouting reports paint Jones as a brilliant point guard who won't blow us away with explosiveness or raw athleticism, but by his poise and control of the game and ability to make the right play at the right time.
Not a bad commodity for a sixth man.
Grayson Allen (SG)
Allen sounds like a traditional Duke shooting guard: a high-percentage and high-confidence three-point shooter who can get to the rim but prefers to shoot the ball while coming off of screens along the perimeter. He'll have some big shoes to fill in order to follow in the lineage of J.J. Redick, Jon Scheyer and Seth Curry, but he could be up for the challenge.
Alex Murphy (SF/PF)
Here's the boldest prediction of all: Murphy is the player who makes or breaks the 2014-15 season for Duke.
As a freshman, Murphy averaged 6.3 minutes and 2.1 points per game while shooting just 21 percent from three-point range—not much unlike the 6.5 minutes, 1.2 points and 26 percent three-point efficiency that Ryan Kelly posted in his freshman season.
Aside from Semi Ojeleye (6'7") and Marshall Plumlee (7'0"), Murphy (6'9") is Duke's only option off the bench who is taller than 6'4". Unless both Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor intend to play 40 minutes per game, we're going to see a good amount of Murphy next season.
If he can develop into the type of player that Kelly became in his four years at Duke, that's obviously a good thing. On the other hand, if he's the second coming of Nick Horvath or Martynas Pocius, giving him more than two minutes per game could prove disastrous.
Marshall Plumlee (C)
Much like Murphy, Plumlee will inevitably receive an increase in playing minutes next season. Duke fans are simply crossing their fingers that he'll be more productive than the two points, five fouls and five turnovers he has accumulated in his 58 minutes of collegiate basketball to this point in time.