If all goes as expected, Harry Giles will make his Duke debut tonight in Cameron against Tennessee State.
But speaking of expectations, what should be the expectations for Giles, once the consensus No. 1 prospect in a strong, deep recruiting class?
Short term, the answer is easy – not much. Giles has not played competitive basketball in more than a year. He was sidelined for months with the second ACL tear of his career and just as he seemed ready to return from that injury, he was sidelined again for six additional weeks after an arthroscopic procedure to clean up the knee.
Giles has been working out full speed in practice for a little more than a week. It would be amazing if he was able to dazzle us in his first game back.
But long term is a different question with an entirely different answer.
Within a few weeks, Giles should be able to show off the talent that once made him the best player in his class – better than Jayson Tatum, better than Malik Monk, better than Markelle Fultz, better than Josh Jackson, better than Miles Bridges.
As a freshman at Wesleyan Christian Academy, Giles was proclaimed the top prospect in his class, before he suffered a horrific knee injury – tearing both the ACL and MCL. He was forced to sit out his sophomore year of high school, but that summer, he returned to action and quickly re-established himself as the top player in the class, helping the US U-17 team to the FIBA world championship. That school year – his junior season – Giles averaged 23.9 points and 12.5 rebounds for a 30-win Wesleyan team.
In the off-season, teamed with future teammate Tatum to lead the U.S. U-19 team to the FIBA world championship.
He decided to transfer to Oak Hill Academy for his senior year of high school. Unfortunately, in his first game scrimmage at Oak Hill, Giles tore up his “healthy” knee. It was not as bad as his first injury – no MCL damage this time – but it has kept him out of action for 13 months.
I think it says something of Giles’ stature than even after sitting out his senior year, the 6-10, 240-pound forward is still ranked as the No. 1 player in the class by ESPN. He was dropped to No. 2 by Rivals, Scout and 247 Sports and wound up No. 2 in the RSCI rankings (which average recruiting rankings).
Contrast that with Dennis Smith Jr.
The Fayetteville guard suffered a similar injury in the fall of 2015 and also missed his senior season of high school. Smith was a consensus top 10 prospect in the early going, but in his case, out of sight was out of mind – he still ended up No. 10 in the Scout rankings, but he was unranked by ESPN or Rivals and ended up No 49 in the RSCI rankings.
Even with the injuries, Giles is still coveted by the pros. Every mock draft I can find – even now, before he has played a single minute of college basketball – projects Giles as a lottery pick, ranging from No. 5 (ESPN’s Chad Ford) to No. 7 (NBAdraft.net) to No. 9 (Bleacher Report) to No. 13 (Draft Express).
Why is Giles still so highly rated after his long absence?
That’s why we’ll get to see in the coming weeks – barring further injury.
Somehow the comparison with former Michigan star Chris Webber has come into vogue. That’s not the comparison I’d make. From what little I’ve seen of Giles, he reminds me more of former Kansas All-American (and current Wake Forest coach) Danny Manning.
But we’ll see.
Again, the question is how much should we expect from Giles down the road. Certainly he deserves time to get back in shape, find his rhythm on the court and find his role in the Blue Devil rotation. But is it expecting too much to expect him play up to his prep rankings? To be the best freshman on a Duke team with three other dynamic freshmen? To be the best (or second-best, based on the RSCI) freshman in the nation?
I guess that depends on how accurate you think the prep rankings are.
Myself, I believe that prep recruiting has gotten pretty good in recent years – with one major caveat. Players are ranked within their class, but all classes are not equal. Some are better – much better! – than others. Some are worse. There is a No. 1 player every year, but No. 1 in a great class such as 2014 and No. 1 in a weak class such as 2015 should create very different expectations.
And it’s not even that simple. There are classes that are very good at the top, but thin out very quickly, while there are classes that lack the superstars at the top, but have good talent well down the list.
And, no matter how good the scouting has become, there are always players who fall through the cracks – sometimes kid who mature late or sometimes just kids in bad high school situations.
Still. I believe the rankings provide a good guide for our expectations. To that end, let’s look at the players recruited by Duke in this century (I understand that’s an arbitrary starting point, but since it coincides with the foundation of the RSCI, excuse me if I use it).
Let’s look at Duke’s nine 21st Century recruits who were ranked in the top five of the RSCI:
- Luol Deng (No. 2 – to LeBron James – in 2003
- Josh McRoberts (No. 1 in 2005)
- Kyrie Irving (No. 2 in 2010)
- Jabari Parker (No. 3 in 2013)
- Jahlil Okafor (No. 1 in 2014)
- Brandon Ingram (No. 4 in 2015)
- Harry Giles (No. 2 in 2016)
- Jayson Tatum (No. 3 in 2016)
- Wendell Carter (No. 4 in 2017)
That’s nine top five recruits this century – it might be ten if Coach K can land No. 3 Mo Bomba this spring. But let’s look at the first seven (assuming it’s too early to reach a firm conclusion about Giles, Tatum and especially Carter).
On that list, is there a single disappointment?
Well, it’s disappointing that Irving got hurt after eight games, but there is absolutely no doubt that his talent was at the level we expected – even beyond. Indeed, he was clearly a superior player to the No. 1 player in his class – UNC’s Harrison Barnes.
There are some Duke fans who think Josh McRoberts was a disappointment.
Okay, it might be fair to expect more from the No. 1 player in even a weak class (as 2005 was). He was not as good as the No. 3 player in the class, UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough.
Still, McRoberts was no flop – he started and was the No. 3 scorer on a 32-win team that won the ACC and finished No. 1 in the final AP poll as a freshman in 2006. As a sophomore, he was the best player (13.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 blocked shots) on a less successful team. He was second-team All-ACC, something that Duke stars such as Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell failed to achieve as sophs – and the same progression as Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, J.J. Redick, Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins (all second-team as sophomores).
No, the only disappointment in McRoberts’ career was that he left after his sophomore season.
Beyond Irving and McRoberts is there any debate?
As a freshman, Deng started a little slow, but ended up as the best all-around player on a Final Four team (the MVP of the Atlanta Regionals). Parker is just the fourth freshman in ACC history (and the first at Duke) to be named first-team All-ACC. Okafor went beyond that – becoming the first freshman ACC player of the year and a consensus first-team All-American. Ingram was “only” second-team All-ACC has freshman, but played well enough to be the second player drafted by the NBA.
Push the study back farther (difficult because without the RSCI, rankings are harder to find) and you get similar results. Jason Williams, No. 2 in some 1999 rankings, certainly played well as the starting point guard on a 29-5 Duke team that went 15-1 in the league, won the conference championship and finished No. 1 in the final AP poll. By his sophomore year, he was a consensus first-team All-American and in his next season, he was consensus national player of the year.
Various rankings had 1997 recruits Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Chris Burgess in the top 5. Of that group, Brand and Battier became superstars (both national players of the year), while Burgess flopped – big time.
Back even farther – Grant Hill may have been a top 5 prospect and Danny Ferry was rated the top prospect in his class. Hill, of course, helped Duke to its first national title as a freshman and ended his career as national player of the year. As a freshman, Ferry played a key role on a Duke team with 37 wins, a No. 1 national ranking and an NCAA runnerup spot (he started 21 games and was a sixth man for the rest). He also ended his Duke career as national player of the year.
So let’s summarize: Of 12 previous top five recruits, the Blue Devils have seen just one clearcut failure – Chris Burgess in 1997. That makes the odds pretty good that Giles and Tatum will have successful freshman seasons.
I decided to focus on top five recruits because an earlier study I did suggested that there is a significant difference between the performance of top five recruits and those ranked lower – even in the 6-10 range.
I was looking at the percentage of top recruits that were one-and-done players. I measured between 2006 (the first year prospects couldn’t jump straight from high school to the NBA) through 2016. I found that 82 percent of the top five prospects were one-and-done … while just 46 percent of the players ranked six to ten went pro after their freshman season.
That’s a big difference. Obviously, there are exceptions, but on the whole, players ranked in the six-to-ten range take a little longer to make a huge impact. Looking at Duke this century:
Chris Duhon (No. 6 in 2000): Didn’t start early, but played a key role early for Duke’s 2001 team. He moved into the starting lineup after Boozer was hurt late and started the final 10 games in Duke’s national title run. He remained a solid player for four seasons, earning first-team All-ACC honors for the first time as a senior in 2004.
Shelden Williams (No. 8 in 2002). A fairly modest freshman season (8.2 points; 5.9 rebounds a game), but soon blossomed into the best rebounder and shot blocker in modern Duke history. He ended his career as a consensus first-team All-American.
Gerald Henderson (No. 10 in 2006). A very disappointing freshman season, marred by his physical inability to sustain maximum effort. He emerged as a solid player as a sophomore (starting and averaging almost 13 points and 6 rebounds), then blossomed as a first-team All-ACC performer as a junior.
Kyle Singler (No. 6 in 2007). A stud from day one (he won MVP honors in Maui in his first days in a Duke uniform). Averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds as a freshman and got better from there – anchoring Duke’s 2010 national title as a junior.
Tyus Jones (No. 7 in 2014). A one-and-done talent – perhaps the most effective freshman point guard in NCAA history. Certainly his Final Four MVP award doesn’t hurt that case.
Interesting that of Coach K’s six top five prospects in the 21st Century, five were one-and-done … and the sixth went after two years. Of his four players in the 6-to-10 range, he has one one-and-done (Jones), one three-year player (Henderson) and two four-year guys (Williams and Singler).
Obviously, there is a lot of talent that falls outside the top 10 range. Krzyzewski has been extremely successful in finding slightly lower ranked gems over the years. That includes:
-- J.J. Redick (No. 11 in 2001) – A two-time consensus first-team All-America; consensus national player of the year.
-- Greg Paulus (No. 13 in 2005) – Started at point guard as a freshman and led the ACC in assists for a 32-win, ACC championship team. Struggled with injuries in his last three years, when he was better as a 3-point shooter than as a playmaker.
-- DeMarcus Nelson (No. 18 in 2004) -- Hampered by injuries in his first two years, he emerged as standout guard in his last two years, earning first-team All-ACC honors as a senior.
-- Nolan Smith (No. 18 in 2007) – After two so-so years, he finished as a star on the 2010 national champs as a junior and as 2011 ACC player of the year as a senior.
-- Lance Thomas (No. 21 in 2006) – Never a star, but a solid four-year player and a key performer on Duke’s 2010 national champs. Surprisingly, he’s had one of the best NBA careers of anybody on that title team.
-- Brian Zoubek (No. 25 in 2006) – Hampered by injuries for his first three years, Zoubs emerged late in his senior season as the best offensive rebounder in college basketball – a skill that played a huge role in Duke’s 2010 title run.
-- Ryan Kelly (No. 14 in 2009) – A three-year starter and a key player on Duke’s 2013 Elite Eight team. His career was limited a bit by injuries in 2012 and 2013.
-- Mason Plumlee (No. 18 in 2009) – A three-year starter and an All-American in 2013.
-- Amile Jefferson (No. 21 in 2012) – A major contributor who is now a team leader and a double-double machine in his final year.
-- Justise Winslow (No. 13 in 2014) – A one-and-done talent who helped Duke to the national title in 2015. Note: Winslow’s low ranking is a function of the strength of the 2014 class. He was well regarded and almost any other year would have been a top 10 guy.
-- Grayson Allen (No. 24 in 2014) – Exploded late in his freshman year and was a second-team All-American as a sophomore.
-- Luke Kennard (No. 21 in 2015) – Very good as a freshman and now has emerged as one of the best offensive players in college basketball as a sophomore.
I could mention two guards – Elliot Williams (No. 15 in 2008) and Rasheed Sulaimon (No. 12 in 2012) – who certainly performed well on the court (even as freshmen), but did have off-court problems.
And there have been a few top 25 disappointments.
Some would argue that Paulus was disappointing, even though he was a productive player when healthy. Injuries and illness also limited Shavlik Randolph (No. 14 in 2001), although he also was productive when he played and was good enough to play years in the NBA.
I guess the jury is still out on Chase Jeter (No. 14 in 2015), although he’s shown signs of developing as a sophomore – let’s see where he is after his career. I’m guessing he becomes a very solid player before he’s through.
Certainly, it looks like Marques Bolden (No. 11 in 2016) and Frank Jackson (No. 14 in 2016) are going to live up to the hype.
The point is that even the lower top 25 prospects (ranked between 11-25) almost always fulfilled expectations. Sometimes it takes a little longer than with the top 5 or top 10 guys, but the production is almost always there – at least with the players Krzyzewski and his staff have brought in. It’s hard to find a single clearcut bust in this century (among top 25 players).
Go beyond the top 25 and you see a lot of hits and misses.
Certainly there have been important Duke players who were not in the top 25 – from Lee Melchionni (not in the top 100 in 2002) to Daniel Ewing (No. 29 in 2003) to Jon Scheyer (No. 28 in 2006) to Miles Plumlee (No. 81 in 2008) to Quinn Cook (No. 31 in 2012) to Marshall Plumlee (No. 61 in 2011) to Matt Jones (No. 32 in 2013). That doesn’t count transfer Seth Curry, who was not ranked in the top 100 when he came out of high school.
But in that same range there have also been flops such as Eric Boateng, Taylor King, Alex Murphy … plus a handful of very good players who simply couldn’t find playing time at Duke – Jamal Boykins, Michael Gbinige, Olek Czyz and most recently Semi Ojeleye.
I guess this has been a long-winded defense of my argument that – at least in Duke’s case – the prep rankings have been a very good gauge of talent. Not perfect, of course, but still a very reliable guideline for expectations.
Injuries have certainly impacted the careers of quite a few players – Randolph, Nelson and Paulus being three prime examples. That could turn out to be the case with Giles, But if he overcomes his physical issues – as he appears to have done at the moment – then Duke fans should expect greatness from a player who spent most of his prep career ranked as the best player in his class.