Duke Basketball: What Each Projected Starter Brings to the Table
Last year, Duke had a talented but redundant roster. The team had more scorers than it needed but far less defense and interior depth. For much of the season the good outweighed the bad, but the year ended in disaster with the loss to Mercer.
This year’s team has similar raw talent, and its players may end up fitting together better than last season’s.
Duke’s players this year bring a mix of size, defense and offense that complement each other very well. The Devils have a much more flexible team and will be able to match up with different types of teams due to the players’ versatility.
Each potential starter’s particular skill sets will allow the team to do specific things it would not be able to pull off without that player. Here are the impacts to look for from each potential starter.
Tyus Jones: Organized Half-Court Possesions
Last year’s roster featured a plethora of talented wing scorers, a fact that served as both a gift and a curse for the Devils.
In some games, players like Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon would be on fire and lead the team to an easy victory. Other times, Duke would rely on their one-on-one play too much and fumble away games down the stretch.
Many fans were left with a sour taste for all the isolation plays when Hood and Parker both struggled in Duke’s season-ending loss to Mercer. Those fans will be happy to see a more organized team next year.
There are many reasons for Duke to run a different system in 2014-15. The Devils will not have the abundance of elite small forwards they had last year, but they will add freshman Tyus Jones at point guard.
The highly touted Jones is known for his on-court instincts, and with his passing ability, Duke will be running more set plays and fewer isolation plays.
Tyus will set the tone for the offense, calling the plays and making sure all players are where they need to be for the offense to get going. With him leading the way, other guards such as Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Matt Jones will hopefully follow suit and look for the team’s best shot first rather than their own.
Cook and Sulaimon both struggled to understand their roles at times last year, and both would benefit from a free-flowing offensive system featuring quick passes and sneaky cuts off the ball. With Tyus running a pass-first offense, everyone on the team will remain attentive, knowing they could get the pass and score on any possession.
Rasheed Sulaimon: Lineup Flexibility
Standing 6’4” with a smooth jump shot, defensive awareness and solid ball-handling abilities, Rasheed Sulaimon is the type of shooting guard teams covet. Despite this, Sulaimon has spent much of his first two seasons at Duke playing other positions.
In his freshman season, Sulaimon started along with Cook and Seth Curry, making him the de facto small forward in a three-guard line-up. Last year, Sulaimon showed he is a capable point guard when Cook suffered through his midseason slump. Sulaimon’s flexibility on both ends of the court allows him to play all three perimeter positions and will give Duke the ability to match up with all types of lineups.
Against bigger teams, Duke could go with Sulaimon, Matt Jones (6’4”), Justise Winslow (6’6”), Amile Jefferson (6’8”) and Jahlil Okafor (6’10”). Duke could utilize a combination like this against rival UNC, which will once again have a huge team next year.
If Duke wants to go small and try to run on opponents, it could go with Jefferson, Winslow, Sulaimon, Cook, and Tyus Jones (the latter two both 6’ tall). Duke would likely have a quickness advantage at every position with that lineup. This five-man squad would be great for late-game comebacks and quick spurts of pressure against fatigued teams.
Sulaimon is the only player on the team who brings this type of flexibility. He will be a key figure of Duke’s plans regardless of the situation.
Justise Winslow: Shut-Down Defense
Winslow is not a sure-fire starter, and I’ve mentioned Cook as a potential starter in other articles. But Winslow still has a shot to earn the nod due to his defensive abilities, something Duke lacked at his position last season.
Winslow has all the makings of a lockdown defender immediately in college. He will be strong enough to guard bigger players and quick enough to defend guards, meaning he will be able to successfully switch on most ball-screens.
Last year, Duke’s defense struggles were mostly due to the lack of a rim protector, but Hood and Parker both played major minutes and neither was a consistent defender. Winslow will give Duke the stopper they need at an important position.
Duke will have other solid defensive pieces next year. Sulaimon and Matt Jones are pesky defenders, and Amile Jefferson is very effective at stopping pick-and-rolls.
Out of all of them, Winslow has the potential to be the best lockdown one-on-one defender. At the end of close games, teams often look for their best player to take over. Winslow will help Duke win games by being able to prevent that.
Amile Jefferson: Keeping the Defense Honest
Jefferson’s stats don’t look like that of an important offensive player, but he will have a key role in Duke’s ability to score next year.
With players like Sulaimon and Jahlil Okafor on the court, Jefferson will not be the go-to guy next year for Duke. Despite this, he can be effective by getting himself into smart positions when open, offensive rebounding and finishing efficiently, a role he blossomed into this past season.
Jefferson is very sneaky along the baselines and knows how to get himself in the right spots when teams double-team off him. This will result in some easy buckets for himself and an easier time for the other players to score because teams will grow weary of helping off of him. This will be especially important for Okafor who is a monster one-on-one scorer in the post.
Even if Jefferson does not put up huge statistics next year, his impact will be felt on the offense whenever he is on the floor.
Jahlil Okafor: High-Percentage Shots
Last season Duke’s offense relied on players getting great shots for themselves or knocking down tough looks. Many players went through slumps during the season as defenses rarely lagged off Duke’s scorers. With Okafor around this year, the team will be getting much easier looks.
Without a post presence last year, Duke lacked a player who could draw double-teams and get an opposing defense off balance. This year look for Duke to pound the ball to Okafor, who will get good inside looks for himself, draw fouls and kick out to wide open shooters when he’s double-teamed.
Duke teams always love to shoot three-pointers, and next year’s team will have better looks than those of years past due to Okafor and his post-moves. Once teams double-team him, Duke will swing the ball around the perimeter until they find the best shot or chance to drive.
The scoring might not be as pretty as the drives and pull-up jumpers we saw last year, but they should do just as much of it.