ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Grayson Allen become the senior leader a young Duke team needs?

With a starting lineup full of potential NBA first-rounders, Duke is receiving a lot of love in national preseason rankings — #1 in the AP and USA Today polls, #2 in the RTC16. But four of those projected stars are freshmen, and Mike Krzyzewski only returns one player of significance from last year’s ACC Tournament championship team. Of course, that player just happens to be the most polarizing figure in college basketball — senior guard Grayson Allen. Just three short years ago, Duke entered the 2014-15 season with a very similar roster makeup and eventually rode freshman stars Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones all the way to an NCAA title. The unheralded but equally important component of that team’s success was the leadership of its lone senior, Quinn Cook. For the Blue Devils to meet their lofty goals this season, Allen will need to channel Cook’s leadership to guide his young teammates in a similar fashion — essentially by having a productive season on the floor and avoiding any further dirty-play incidents.

As the lone senior for Duke, Grayson Allen must provide positive leadership to the talented youngsters on the team, which means he must avoid any more episodes of dirty-play.
(Getty Images)

Allen has been in the college basketball spotlight since his surprising 16-point outburst as a freshman in the 2015 National Championship game. His career at Duke since that night in Indianapolis has experienced many ups and downs. His highs have been very high: an outstanding Final Four performance; consensus Second Team All-American as a sophomore. And his lows have been very low: three separate high-profile tripping incidents; a disappointing injury-riddled junior season. Given such an inconsistent history combined with his naturally reserved demeanor, it’s fair to question whether Allen is effectively capable of providing such leadership. For his part, Krzyzewski wants the senior to lead the team in behavior while off the floor and during stoppages in play. But during live game action, Duke’s coach prefers that Allen worry about his own play in an effort to “hunt his shot.” To free him to do so, Duke is counting on five-star freshman Trevon Duval to run the point guard position. The newcomer needs to improve his outside shot and will have to demonstrate that he can make good decisions at this level, but he’s very explosive off the bounce and thrives in transition — finishing at the rim with strength. Duval’s length and athleticism could also make him a potential demon on the defensive end of the floor. The other rookie starter on the perimeter, Gary Trent, Jr., will be counted on to help Allen provide the kind of space-creating three-point shooting that Duke teams always seem to have.

The frontcourt of this year’s team may represent the deepest group of big man talent that Krzyzewski has had in many years, and it will be led by two of the five best incoming freshmen in the country — Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. In stunningly quick fashion over the summer, Bagley’s status went from the nation’s top rising senior to that of a high school graduate and the nation’s best incoming freshman. The 6’11” power forward in the mold of a modern big man is regarded as a potential #1 pick in the next NBA Draft due to his size, versatility and motor. His partner in crime down low also projects as a one-and-done player — Carter already has an advanced post game for a young big and has improved his conditioning and shooting range over the last year. Sophomore forwards Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier will be the first two Blue Devils off the bench, and each has the potential to give Duke the kind of rim protection that was so starkly lacking on last year’s squad.

Duke was also the consensus preseason #1 team one year ago today, but injuries to players and the coach, defensive shortcomings and perhaps even some team chemistry issues resulted in a disappointing regular season and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. For a better outcome to occur this time around, the freshmen phenoms will need to live up to the hype — for what it’s worth, Krzyzewski calls them an unusually mature group. But maybe more importantly than how that group turns out, Duke needs Allen to return to his sophomore form on the court — without the tripping incidents in tow — and provide enough leadership to guide Duke’s rookies through the long grind of a season.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *