ACC Summer Recess: Duke Blue DevilsPosted by mpatton on August 8th, 2012
Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: Duke.
Where They Stand Now
Duke fans are still reeling from an embarrassing upset bid from CJ McCollum and the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh, but the sour ending to the team’s season overshadowed a very strong year. The Blue Devils showcased the most flaws it has had since the 2006-07 Duke team that went 22-11, but they managed to keep winning games. They beat a loaded North Carolina team on the road; they finished second in the conference; and, they won a loaded Maui Invitational. Ryan Kelly‘s late season injury stagnated one of the country’s best offenses, leaving Duke with a decent offense and mediocre defense for its last three games. Long story short, the Blue Devils managed to overachieve and disappoint last season.
Austin Rivers went to the NBA, Miles Plumlee graduated, Michael Gbinije transferred to Syracuse, and Andre Dawkins will redshirt. Despite frequent deserved criticism during his playing career, the eldest Plumlee’s strength and athleticism in workouts earned him a guaranteed contract with the Pacers. Gbinije saw very little playing time his freshman season, and with the additions of Rasheed Sulaimon and redshirt freshman Alex Murphy, he may not have seen much more next year. Gbinije’s lack of playing time puzzled many Duke fans because his length and athleticism were exactly what Duke’s perimeter defense needed. Fans concerns are probably overreactions: Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t have a history of sticking with experienced guys over more talented freshmen.
Rivers’ departure is harder to evaluate. On paper, it’s terrible. Rivers was the only playmaker on last year’s team. Without consistent play at point guard, Coach K relied on the freshman to create his own shot a lot of the time. However, Rivers’ season had its detractors. While the heat he took for being selfish was over the top, comments Seth Curry made earlier this summer to Shawn Krest certainly point to a lack of chemistry on last year’s team.
Curry’s aforementioned comments might fit better here. While nearly everyone thought that they referred to Rivers in a negative way, Curry stressed later that he meant them more positively about next year’s roster. It’s very possible last year’s group was fine on and off the floor, but just never clicked.
Mason Plumlee, Kelly and Seth Curry make up Duke’s senior class. However, sophomore Quinn Cook is the man to watch. Of the returning players, he’s the only creator. Curry is a talented scorer, especially in catch-and-shoot situations; Plumlee is a strong rebounder with a developing hook shot, but ugly footwork in the post and a tendency to turn the ball over; and Kelly is a lanky stretch four. Curry and Kelly are both capable at driving — especially when their defenders close out over-aggressively — but neither has the athleticism to blow by defenders on a consistent basis. Cook’s ability to distribute the ball and lead the Blue Devils in transition will directly correlate to Duke’s offensive efficiency in 2012-13.
It’s also important not to overlook Tyler Thornton. If Cook isn’t ready, Coach K will play Thornton because of his on-ball defense. However, Thornton hasn’t proven he can efficiently run or contribute to Duke’s offense consistently. If he develops a jump shot, he’ll earn even more minutes.
Duke’s class looks relatively slim compared to many years. Rasheed Sulaimon, a consensus top-15 shooting guard, is the headliner attempting to take over some of Rivers’ playmaking. As an athletic slasher, he should be a good contrast to Curry on the wing. In a late push Duke also picked up Amile Jefferson, one of the top power forwards in the class. Jefferson is rail-thin, but has a ton of upside and could see time on the wing if his defense merits it.
The Blue Devils’ class strength comes from two redshirts returning to action. Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee both sat out last season after being highly ranked prospects in high school. Murphy draws comparisons to Kyle Singler (with a worse shot). He started an exhibition in China but a concussion led him to redshirt. Plumlee is very raw and probably would have struggled to see the floor behind Kelly and his older brothers, so he took the year to get stronger. Both of these players should be able to make instant impact. Remember, they’ve both trained with the team for a year.
Duke has a lot of questions after a disappointing finish last year. But the Blue Devils also have a lot of talent — especially on the offensive end — coming back. If Duke improves its perimeter defense, the Devils will be primed to make a lot of noise nationally.