As has become the norm at Duke, and will be until Mike Krzyzewski’s storied tenure as its coach ends, the Blue Devils must quickly merge their assembled new players into a championship team.
This group has something the last two Duke teams lacked and that could lead to more success.
Point guard Trevon Duval signed with the Blue Devils last month and will begin classes in late June during the school’s second summer session.
The top high school point guard in the 2017 recruiting class, the 6-3 Duval should allow Duke’s backcourt roles to fall into place nicely.
“I think it was pretty clear evidence that having a point guard that can run everything is often times better than not,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player and assistant coach. “That doesn’t mean you can’t win at a high level without a natural point guard. But having one is always better and they’ve got one this year.”
Duke had such a player in the lineup when the Blue Devils won the 2015 NCAA championship. Tyus Jones was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player before he and fellow freshmen Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor left to become NBA first-round draft picks.
The last two years, Duke made due without a true, take-charge point guard. That meant any number of players had the ability to get the team into its offense after bringing the ball up the court.
Let’s be clear here: Duke remained one of the nation’s best offensive teams even under those circumstances. The Blue Devils were fourth in kenpom.com’s offensive efficiency ratings in 2016 when they made the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. Last season, Duke’s ACC championship team was sixth nationally in offensive efficiency despite bowing out in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Krzyzewski made it clear last week that Duval will be the primary ball-handler this season.
“Pretty much I want him having the ball,” Krzyzewski said.
Senior guard Grayson Allen is capable of helping at times when Duval is off the court, but mainly Allen will be able to seek more scoring opportunities rather than looking to help others score.
“I want him to be, and I think he can be, one of the leading scorers in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “The verve that he plays with, I want that showing up even more.”
Allen averaged 21.6 points per game as a sophomore, when he was a third-team all-America choice by the Associated Press.
Last season, his playing time shrunk as he missed one game while suspended for tripping an opposing player. He also was slowed by toe and ankle injuries and he averaged 14.5 points per game while playing in 34 games with 25 starts.
With Duval on board running the show, look for Allen’s scoring to shoot up again.
“He’s really good at a lot of things,” Bilas said. “He can fulfill a lot of different roles in a lot of different games. But he’s a very capable scorer, Everybody’s job is easier when you have a true point guard taking care of things because you’ve got no concerns about initiating, bringing the ball up, distributing, like that.”
Allen and Duval are but two pieces to Duke’s backcourt corps. Freshman Gary Trent, Jr., was rated as the No. 1 shooting guard in the class. He’ll get plenty of scoring chances, too, as Duke could go with the three of them on the court together.
Another freshman, 6-8 small forward Jordan Tucker, factors in as well. Though a four-star recruit not as highly regarded as Trent or Duval, Tucker is a strong perimeter shooter.
One of the things Duval will be able to do is get the ball to his shooters when they are in the best positions to shoot and score. It could also mean being better able to get the ball to post players before the defense gets set.
“It’s going to be interesting to put that together,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s interesting to put that together when you have talent. We have talent. A lot of it is young but physically it’s mature.”
Duke has two other freshmen, point guard Jordan Goldwire and shooting guard Alex O’Connell, who project as backcourt reserves. Krzyzewski said both will spend the summer adding strength.
Sophomore Jack White, a 6-6 guard, played in 10 games as a freshman last season and adds depth as well.
Outside of Allen, it’s a young group. But Duke’s backcourt should once again make it among the nation’s top teams.
“People are going to have to get used to one another and develop that sort of chemistry that great teams need,” Bilas said. “But Duke has all the pieces to beat anybody.”