Duke’s Post Players: Has Reality Caught Up with Perception?Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2011
For the last ten years, fairly or unfairly, Duke has had the perception of being all backcourt all the time. Long gone are the days where Christian Laettner, Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer graced the court in Durham. In describing his recruitment decision to attend Michigan last week, Mitch McGary let it all out: “all [Duke’s] big men do is set screens and rebound and that they don’t get a lot of touches.”
Duke Hoop Blog looked at this perception, which moves closer to reality as the memory of its last dominant big man, Shelden Williams, fades out of casual fan memory. The author comes to the conclusion that the Williams/Redick era is the answer, and I see his argument. But I don’t think it’s that simple, or even the biggest factor in Duke’s relative decrease in a post presence over the last ten years. I think the real argument is much more complex and is a combination of four main factors:
- JJ Redick’s relentless exposure: There’s no arguing that JJ Redick is the most important player not to win a National Championship at Duke. Ask most casual fans to name a Duke (or most-hated) player, and Redick is almost always on the short list. He also overshadowed an incredible career from Shelden Williams, who won National Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus first-team All-American his senior year.
- Busts (a.k.a. Josh McRoberts): Duke was ready to reload after Williams left when the staff signed the highly-touted Josh McRoberts, the top power forward prospect in the country in 2005. Unfortunately, McRoberts never panned out. He was a constant attitude problem who never seemed ready to step up and be the go-to guy for the Blue Devils. But McRoberts wasn’t the only one. Mason Plumlee was also a projected NBA Draft lottery pick out of high school. But upon arriving at Duke, it became clear he had a long way to go before competing at the top level of the college game. Bomani Jones and Jim Young buy into the Plumlee effect, especially with respect to negative recruiting against Duke.
- Brian Zoubek: A
McDonald’s All-American[UPDATE: despite conflicting reports, Zoubek wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American but was a fourth team Parade High School All-American and Jordan All-American in 2006] out of high school, Zoubek’s lack of athleticism dominated his first three seasons at Duke. He was irrelevant on offense, contributing what felt like nearly as many turnovers as made field goals (seriously, his freshman year he actually did commit more turnovers than he made field goals). Finally Mike Krzyzewski found Zoubek’s role in the second half of the season: set screens, hold defensive ground and crash the offensive glass. He was extremely effective, but it wasn’t the type of style on the interior that attracts top-tier big man recruits.
- Duke’s coaching staff: While Duke rotated very good and truly dominant college big men from the early 1990s until Shelden Williams left in 2006 there wasn’t much talk about the lack of interior players on Duke’s roster. To be fair blogs and message boards (where much internal and external criticisms is currently published) didn’t gain steam until the early to mid-2000s. But look at Duke’s coaching staff and you’ll see two forwards: Nate James (an elite defender), and Chris Carrawell. But this complaint should be taken with a grain of salt, as it wasn’t a problem so long as Duke had a dominant post player alongside these wings. Not having a great post player leaves the guard-heavy staff open to criticism.