Duke Basketball: Adjustments Devils Will Have to Make in 2014-2015 Season
The college basketball season runs from early November to April, but for the players and coaches the sport is a year-round endeavor. For the players, the offseason is a chance to improve their bodies as well as refine their games on the court. For the coaching staffs the time off is a chance to devise new schemes to cover up last seasons weaknesses, as well as how to best use their new personnel and make up for the loss of any key players.
This is especially important in college basketball’s one-and-done era in which many teams lose star players and bring in big-time recruits every year.
The Duke Blue Devils are a prime example of a team having to completely make themselves over. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke’s top two scorers are off to the NBA. The Devils also lose three-point gunner Andre Dawkins, defensive ace Tyler Thornton, and back-up forward Josh Hairston.
Despite those losses, Duke could be a better team next season due to incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen. Duke also returns a trio of talented upperclassmen in Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson.
Duke also lost Associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski, who took the head-coaching job at Marquette. Jeff Capel and Jon Scheyer have been promoted, but Duke is still short one assistant coach.
All this makes for an extremely busy summer for Coach Krzyzewski. He will have to hire a new assistant, figure out what exactly went wrong last year and how to blend his new talent with the veterans, and coach Team USA all in the span of a couple months.
Here are some of the top adjustments Coach K and his players should make in order to have a successful campaign next year.
Slow the Pace
Duke’s high-octane offense produced plenty of highlights during the 2013-2014 season, but the team’s run and gun style served as both a gift and a curse. The Devils scored in bunches last season but were also prone to crushing offensive droughts.
A major cause for the Devils being prone to such big slumps was how much the team relied on one-on-one scoring. Duke had plenty of athletes capable of getting to the basket, but when the game slowed down the team had no plays that it could rely on for quality shots. This led to forced drives as well as ill-advised three-pointers that often led directly to fast breaks for the other team.
Duke’s isolation-heavy offense was designed to best utilize the talents of Parker and Hood. With those two gone to the NBA Duke should move to a slower, half-court offense that will highlight the strengths of Jones and Okafor.
According to Scouthoops.com, Okafor is a player with a "great set of hands and tremendous touch" while Jones has a "top-notch ability to create for teammates." These skills would translate very well into a half-court system where Jones brings the ball up and passes to a wing player, who then gets the ball into Okafor in a spot where he can make a move of his own or draws a double team and kick the ball out. Okafor projects to command plenty of double teams, awarding the perimeter players more open shots and better driving lanes than they saw last season.
With a slower-paced offense, Duke may not score as many points as it did last year but could score just as efficiently.
Clearly Define Roles
Duke’s player rotation was in constant flux last season. Hairston, sophomore Marshall Plumlee and freshman Matt Jones all saw games of major playing time and games where they rarely or never saw the court. Sulaimon, Cook and Thornton were juggled in and out of the starting lineup throughout the season. These individual slumps led to inconsistent team performances and Duke was never able to win more than five games in a row.
With their minutes always in question, many Duke players were unsure of what they meant to the team and were unable to produce a consistent season. This trend was most evident in the seasons of Sulaimon and Cook. As Sulaimon got over his early-season slump in ACC play he seemed to pass the bug to Cook who struggled down the stretch.
More clearly defined roles next season will help Duke win more games, and there is an easy blueprint for some of the optimal roles for Duke’s players.
Jahlil Okafor will be the offensive alpha dog, the team will run through him and he should receive the most touches. Tyus Jones will run the team on offense and defense. Amile Jefferson will provide hustle, offensive rebounding and leadership while Sulaimon and Cook should be the team's second and third scoring options.
The other players will have to find consistent ways to help the team, with Plumlee, Matt Jones and Justise Winslow the most likely players to find solid roles on the court
Last season Krzyzewski benched players the second they got cold. Next year he should let the players play through their slumps until they gain some confidence back. Duke’s championship team in 2010 was the pinnacle for a team having specific and consistent duties assigned to each player on the court. If next year’s team can duplicate that, they may just duplicate the 2010 team’s results.
Establish New Coaching Staff
With Wojo gone, Capel and Scheyer will be accepting new jobs and the responsibilities that come with them. As Capel and Scheyer adjust to their new jobs, the players can smooth the transition by accepting their increased authority.
The coaches and players will also have to adjust to having a new special assistant coach to replace Scheyer’s role. Jay Williams was previously rumored to be in the running and he would be great on the bench as well as in recruiting. But the pipe dream for all Duke fans should be to have everyone’s daddy on the bench, Shane Battier.
Battier is 35 years old and currently playing in a diminished role for the Miami Heat. After his team’s playoff run, Battier will likely consider what to do with his future. If he decides to retire, his famous smarts and savvy would afford him a number of professional opportunities, including working as a basketball analyst. If he were to consider joining the Duke staff, it would be a major win for the team.
Battier has the credibility of being an NCAA champion, three-time NCAA defensive player of the year, and (at least) two-time NBA champion. He would also bring his unique cerebral take on defense to the team, and he would likely impress recruits from having played with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
It may be too good to be true, but getting Battier on the staff would pay huge dividends for Duke.
Find on-Court Leadership
Last year’s captains Hood, Thornton and Hairston are all gone and the team will need to replace their leadership. The most experienced players next year will be Cook, Jefferson and Sulaimon. Those three will need to keep themselves and the younger players mentally balanced in order for Duke to succeed.
This trio has the potential to be effective leaders. They are all talented and all of them compete hard, but they also each face questions. Cook and Sulaimon both regressed statistically last season and their consistency will be key for the team. Jefferson was more consistent as a role player and a smart guy, but he just finished up his first season as a rotation player.
Tyus Jones will just be a freshman and he is capable of stepping up as a leader.
It is rare for first-year players to be vocal leaders, but Jones is capable of leading the team by example. If Jones is able to control the pace of games and put the ball in the right spot, Duke can become a more disciplined team. Last year the top-two players were volume scorers, and at times the other players followed their lead by trying to make too much happen. If Jones plays as smart and unselfishly as he is capable, his play could become contagious and Duke would look great on the floor as a result.