The Duke Blue Devils will enter the 2019-20 college basketball season down three NBA-level players. Despite that, per unwritten rules of shooty hoops lore, Coach K and company are expected to not only be competitive in the AAC, but manage to fight for one of the best NCAA Tournament seeding spots come March.
Listen, those are simply the rules.
Losing Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett to the professional ranks is nothing to sneeze at. Between the three talented young dudes, they accounted for the majority of Duke’s offense last season.
The Blue Devils will enter the 2019-20 college basketball season with a few veterans, as well as some nifty freshmen, but not a single person on this version of Duke is as consistently capable as Barrett or Zion on the offense. Of course, guys will have bubble-up games and still do marvelous things with the ball, but expect Duke to return to its roots a bit.
We’re talking floor slapping, multiple look defenses and the like. Maybe Coach K will even yell at an Oregon player for celebrating a victory. Who knows? The possibilities are endless!
Tre Jones (more on him in a second) is an above-bar defender. Possibly one of the best on-guard guys in the entire sport. With capable talent behind him, as well as Coach K’s scheming, it’s reasonable to expect the Blue Devils to be more concerned with defense this season than offense.
It’ll likely be more out of necessity than want, though.
Obviously, that’s not to say the offense will be ignored. However, at least until someone emerges as a reliable threat (or multiple guys for that matter), it’s far more likely for the team to rely on strategy over raw talent.
Furthermore, without clear one-and-done players on the roster — as there appears to be a more balanced approach taken on the recruiting trail — development should be an area focused on by Coach K, which is something he’s not fully done since embracing the one-and-done way of recruiting in the past.
Tre Jones… Can He Shoot Yet?
It’s the stuff of legend at this point. Last season, the UCF Knights decided to let 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall “guard” Tre Jones in an attempt to stop the Blue Devils from getting to the rim.
In sounds absurd in theory, but all the Knights did was sag off Jones, a complete non-shooter, so Fall could sit in the paint to help deter at the rim attempts.
While Jones ran point guard for Duke last season, it was really RJ Barrett who initiated most of the earnest offense. The team had no other choice, as few defenses respected Jones’ wayward shooting from beyond the arc.
By the time last season was over, Jones shot an iffy 26 percent from beyond the arc on 2.6 attempts per game. For a point guard, it’s objectively awful. It created historically awful spacing for the Blue Devils, making it easier for the opposition to plan against.
Luckily for Duke, they were so insanely talented last season, it often didn’t matter. The 2019-20 college basketball season will be a different story, though.
Usually, a low efficiency player doesn’t magically get better when his usage rate rises. Jones also shot a meager 41 percent from the floor, but did narrowly lead Duke in assist rate last season, assisting on 24 percent of teammate baskets when he was on the floor.
Common sense suggests the assist rate will go up, but if a low efficiency player is asked to do more shooting in volume, can he become better at it?
More bluntly put: Assuming the Blue Devils ask Jones to shoot more, regardless of spot on the floor, he needs to be better. If not, his teammates will need to be other-worldly shooters or Coach K will once again have awful floor spacing.
The good news is that Jones is more than solid in nearly every other aspect of his game. It’s just that, well, a point guard incapable of shooting is a massive net-negative.
No Pressure, Vernon Carey
A 6-foot-11 freshmen, weighing somewhere around the 270-pound mark, Carey enters the season as a bit of an enigma. He was a five-star, top 10 player in his class and all that fancy recruiting guru talk, but there’s questions surrounding his game.
All of them, mind you, revolve around him being a giant humanoid who is not yet a fully refined center — which is completely normal and to be expected for a teenager. The following isn’t a knock on him as much as it is an observation about the large ask Duke will have out of a kid who is still early in his developmental stage.
Carey is a good athlete who will put up good counting-stats. Nevertheless, concerns over his footwork (which, to be fair, seem overblown), ability to stay on the floor for long stretches, and general defensive awareness are looming around the corner like the last trick-or-treater as you’re attempting to close up shop.
Claiming his fundamentals are off is too much of a trope, and a bit lazy; though, even if we admit he needs more work in certain areas nearly every big man in the history of the sport also needs work in, he should be fine bully-balling his way through the majority of people who attempt to defend him.
The Duke Blue Devils are likely to ask a lot of this young man mostly due to need. While Jones should be considered the backbone of the program, Coach K and company will likely only go as far as Carey is capable of taking them.
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