Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

Again, though – everyone’s thirst to see Giles return isn’t to say that the current iteration of the Blue Devils isn’t capable of an extraordinary season on its own. Somewhat amazingly, a Duke team rated at #1 in the country by Ken Pomeroy may actually also have two of the most underrated players in college basketball. Luke Kennard scored 29 points against the Gators last night (and 64 total in his last two games), and is shooting 41 percent from three-point range, 61 percent from two-point range, and 88 percent at the free throw stripe on the season. His efficiency notwithstanding, Kennard may have been only the third best Blue Devil on the floor against Florida. Amile Jefferson upstaged both Kennard and Tatum by scoring 24 points (missing only three shots), grabbing 15 rebounds, and blocking four shots. The senior has long been considered little more than a role player, but in this pre-Giles world he could be the most important Blue Devil on the roster. Pomeroy’s early National Player of the Year rankings list both Jefferson and Kennard in the top four, a merited notation after early season performances that have carried an ailing Duke roster.

Krzyzewski deserves immense credit for once again playing the hand he has been dealt without going off the rails. There was no whining when three key contributors went down just before the start of the season, and his work in defining the roles for Kennard, Jefferson, and another talented freshman, Frank Jackson, has been smooth. The same can be said for early returns on Tatum and Bolden, but the final, most important return from injury still looms over the program and the rest of college basketball. Back on November 26, Giles wasn’t close to returning to game action and Tatum and the Blue Devils had yet to deliver last night’s sterling performance, but Krzyzewski’s discussion of roster uncertainty still feels like the perfect summary for this early Duke season: “I got good guys, but [the available roster] is totally the opposite of what we thought we would have and hopefully it’s going to be totally the opposite of eventually what we do have. But for right now, this is what we got. It’s a good team, it’s a very good team, and thank goodness we have these veterans.”

BHayes (244 Posts)

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