ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Duke’s veterans adapt to, and excel in, new roles?

All of the pre-season talk, and rightfully so, concerning Duke has been focused on the incoming freshman class Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. Jahlil Okafor, the most dominant incoming true center the Blue Devils have procured in some time, has garnered numerous accolades already in being named pre-season ACC Freshman of the Year by the ACC media and even the Associated Press pre-season Player of the Year. Freshman Tyus Jones, part of a “package deal” recruitment with Okafor, looks to be the starting point guard when the season begins this week. And wing Justise Winslow showed the defensive prowess expected of him, along with the scoring acumen, in the exhibition season to also merit a spot in the starting lineup.

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

While the freshman class is a sterling one, this team still maintains a number of veterans who will be familiarizing themselves with new roles. Senior Quinn Cook, one of the team’s two captains, was the starting point guard for most of last season and surely thought he’d seize the reins this year prior to Jones’ commitment. He’s now likely relegated to a spot coming off the bench and occasionally playing off the ball when he and Jones are on the court together. Cook, to his credit, has said all the right things about occasionally deferring to a freshman, but it’s still going to be a challenge to acclimate to the mindset of providing offense off of the bench, oftentimes from the off-guard position.

Rasheed Sulaimon, like Cook, has had an up-and-down career thus far in Durham. As a freshman he was seen as a superstar in the making, but his sophomore campaign saw him struggle in the shadows of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse in the middle of the year. Sulaimon came on strong at the end of the season and looked to be the best offensive option after Okafor and Jones on this team, but if the exhibition is any indication he’s been replaced in the starting five by Winslow. Sulaimon also seems to have embraced the reality of being a reserve, but time will tell if this reality is one that brings the best out of his game.

Other veteran returnees seem more suited to their roles for the coming season. Amile Jefferson was too thin to try and bang with true opposing centers, so his slide over to the four should help him stay fresher and on the floor longer to take advantage of his defensive and rebounding skills. Likewise up front, Marshall Plumlee has an endless motor but an offensive game devoid of effective post moves. His role as a high-energy rebounder and irritant off the bench is probably where he can be most useful. Sophomore Semi Ojeyele should see his minutes increase in the frontcourt this year, adding even more depth.

The backcourt has clearly been shuffled with the Tyus Jones-for-Cook swap, but seeing Matt Jones starting at the off-guard position in the exhibition season may have caught some by surprise. Jones is a noted defender, and after the year Duke had defensively last season, pairing him with Winslow on the wing is a nod to the team’s goal of being an all-around better unit guarding the basketball. Jones and Winslow seem to have cemented Sulaimon’s role as sixth or seventh man, substituting some offense for cohesive defense in its starting unit. Four-star recruit Grayson Allen will be seeing plenty of floor time on the wing as well to give the Blue Devils a formidable ten-man rotation.

There haven’t been any offseason headlines about Cook or Sulaimon being unhappy with their changing roles, but one has to wonder what would happen if the freshmen do struggle adjusting to the college game while the veterans flourish with another year in Coach K’s system. Krzyzewski is more than capable of making the necessary roster moves to keep his team in contention for the national title, a very realistic goal this season for the Blue Devils. Still, it will be interesting monitoring how a team guided by a trio of freshmen can keep its veterans happy and engaged in their new roles as complementary players.

Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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