This is a Different Looking Duke Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 11th, 2019

After just two games, it’s obvious that this year’s Duke team is not going to look (or play) like any of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent Blue Devils’ squads. His roster this season is devoid of NBA Lottery talent, so success in Durham in 2019-20 will be much more dependent on a group effort.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is Duke’s clear leader at both ends of the court. (AP Photo)

Typically, Duke features two players that dominate the team’s offensive touches — think Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season; Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter the year prior; and Jason Tatum and Luke Kennard the season before that. So far, Duke’s new points by committee approach has resulted in good balance – five Blue Devils are averaging between 10.0 and 16.0 points per game. Also, Coach K appears to be altering his traditional method of minutes distribution, i.e., playing more than seven guys. Through the Blue Devils’ first two outings, nine players are seeing more than 12 minutes of action per contest. It’s been a long time since Krzyzewski has employed this approach, a fact he acknowledged after Duke’s 89-55 win over Colorado State on Friday night. “I need to learn how to sub again.” What remains to be seen is whether the lack of a go-to scorer will cost his team in tight-game situations. There is an advantage to having multiple options that defenses must prepare for, but there are also times when somebody just needs to go get a bucket. Early signs suggest that perhaps Cassius Stanley will develop into that guy. Though less heralded than fellow freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Stanley has been Duke’s most impressive rookie to date — leading the team in scoring (16 PPG), while being extremely efficient (13-of-17 FG).

The other big change this year is related to which side of the court drives the Blue Devils’ bus. In each of the past 11 seasons, Krzyzewski has trotted out offenses that ranked among the top eight in efficiency nationally. From what we’ve seen so far, this year’s edition will not keep that streak alive. Instead, it is a reinvigorated defense that may keep Duke in national contention. That fact was on clear display in last Tuesday’s 68-66 victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic. The Blue Devils forced an incredible 28 turnovers and held the Jayhawks to 0.82 points per possession – Kansas’ worst offensive outing in almost five years. It was more of the same against Colorado State on Friday night. The Rams managed just 0.72 points per possession, committing 18 miscues and shooting an icy 32.7 percent from the floor. Colorado State coach Niko Medved was impressed, saying afterward, “Their pressure bothered us even more than I thought it would. We were not able to get into any of our offense.” It all starts with the ball-hawking ability of point guard Tre Jones, who is picking up where he left off as a freshman. In 20 games versus ACC teams last year, Jones held the opponent’s primary point guard to an average offensive rating of 88.3, well below their cumulative average (105.9).

One thing that hasn’t changed from last year is Duke’s inability to make three-point shots. Last year’s squad was easily the worst three-point shooting team in program history (30.8% 3FG) and the Blue Devils are even more inept from behind the arc so far this season (26.1% 3FG). Despite Jones’ fine all-around play so far (15 PPG, 14 assists, four turnovers), he’s still struggling with his jumper – making none of his seven attempts from distance. Without any superstars on this year’s roster to create easy baskets, Duke must improve its three-point acumen in order to compete with the nation’s elite.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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