Duke Looking to Run Early and Often With This Year’s RosterPosted by Chris Kehoe on October 26th, 2013
Duke’s roster this season is merely a shell of its former self. Gone is the backbone of the team, gone are the three seniors, gone are the leaders, gone are 47.9 PPG. You get the point. Duke lost its three leading scorers and a huge part of its 30-win Elite Eight team. Yet people are excited about the prospects of this team, even perhaps more excited than last season. Duke returns both its junior floor general, Quinn Cook, and its sophomore shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon. Another two McDonald’s All-Americans return in sophomore forward Amile Jefferson and redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee. Where Duke changes up the offensive schemes and flips the script is with the two future NBA swingmen on the roster, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and blue-chip freshman Jabari Parker.
Don’t be mistaken, though, Duke is still Duke. They will continue to have shooters spotting up around the arc for open looks: postgraduate sniper Andre Dawkins, freshman Matt Jones, Sulaimon, Cook, and even senior perimeter stopper Tyler Thornton all can and will fire away with a green light from deep. But as ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out in a recent excerpt about Duke, Mike Krzyzewski above all adapts to his team’s strengths. And with a team full of athletic and versatile players like Parker, Sulaimon, Hood, and Jefferson, Krzyzewski has this year’s team poised to run early and often. “Last year’s team couldn’t run like this team can now,” senior captain Thornton exclaimed.
A huge reason why Duke will look to push the tempo in their games is its lack of size and a legitimate interior presence. “Marshall is the only guy who is strictly inside,” Thornton says. “Everyone else is interchangeable on the outside on offense and defense. We have four or five guys between 6’6″ and 6’9″, all skill guys who can shoot from outside, dribble and take it inside. They are all athletic and can run the floor.” So pushing the tempo will be as much a way to hide that weakness as it is a way to play to their strengths. While the third Plumlee is a 7’0”, 260-pound mountain of a man, he is often injured and cannot be totally relied upon to have Duke’s entire offense reformatted around him being healthy for six months. He is obviously talented and a very athletic and nimble (for his size) player, so if anyone can run the floor with the wings and guards, it may be him. After all, he was predicted by Duke coaches to be the Blue Devils’ sixth man his freshman season before suffering a tough foot injury which caused him to redshirt.
All of this hubbub about Duke’s new offensive system and team approach to transition opportunities has fans excited. After all, who doesn’t love high-scoring, high tempo affairs? What they largely don’t prefer to watch (outside of those teams’ fans) is the physical, grind it out style that defensive-minded teams tend to play. Another way this may help Duke basketball specifically is with its recruiting. Anyone who pays attention to interviews with recruits knows that a majority of young players want to run and play fast-paced basketball. Elite prospects like the ones Duke targets on an annual basis, want to know they can showcase their abilities for the freer style at the next level.
Needless to say, Duke’s success in revving up its offense this season (higher scores, more possessions, more shots, fatigued opposing teams) will have repercussions far beyond the box score. “Anytime we get a defensive board, run. Teams will tire out,” junior point guard Quinn Cook said. How successful Krzyzewski and the Duke staff are in getting their players to be in tip-top shape for the type of tempo they wish to sustain may play a large part. Let’s see if the ‘high-flying’ Blue Devils can live up to all of this hype.