On Saturday, we got to see a side of Duke we really haven’t seen so far as Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum took the court for the first time.
As you know, both guys, along with Harry Giles and Sean Obi, had sat out so far with injuries.
And naturally, both guys were a little off their feed and not in peak condition and since Duke opted to rest both Grayson Allen (turf toe) and Frank Jackson (minor foot injury), we still didn’t get a glimpse of Duke’s full potential.
Nonetheless, we got to see some things we haven’t seen so far.
Even though he’s a long way from where he will be, we got to see a glimpse of Tatum’s game. He’s quick, he can handle the ball and pretty soon, he’s going to add a serious scoring talent to the team.
We didn't see a lot of that against Maine, but we did see one nice three pointer and one sweet drive.
Just as importantly, we also saw a real desire to play defense and to rebound. It’s pretty early but we can see what the fuss was about.
If you want to compare him to someone else on the team, the closest analogue is Luke Kennard. He’s versatile enough to play three positions, conceivably four.
It adds to Duke’s core of Kennard, Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson. None of them are limited to one position although Jackson will always be a guard (the rest can CLEP out with their size) and all of them are able to shift responsibilities and to mold their games to whatever the situation requires.
That’s all great news, but Bolden’s impact is likely to be bigger, no pun intended.
It’s natural to compare players to find a way to fit someone into our points of reference. When we first saw Bolden in the preseason we thought of Jahlil Okafor, but that’s not quite right.
Okafor was an incredibly polished player on the offensive end but his athleticism was never his biggest selling point.
We saw Bolden, after a long period of inactivity, blocking shots, rushing the lane to follow shots and generally imposing himself on the game in a considerable way.
The next guy you might think of is the Landlord, but Sheldon Williams, while a wonderful shot blocker, was woefully unskilled on offense as a freshman. He played because of his defense but it took him a long time for his offensive skills to approach what he could do on defense.
So that’s not quite right either.
The closet recent big man like him? Probably Miles Plumlee. And that’s not an exact comparison either. And it’s not exactly Elton Brand either.
Tatum is going to have a major impact, but Bolden...Bolden changes things.
Amile Jefferson has been magnificent in the post as he’s covered for both Bolden and Giles. He’s thrown up huge stats and defended anyone who came his way.
That doesn’t change the fact that he’s playing out of position and at a disadvantage.
Jefferson is 6-9 and 224. Against Kansas, Duke faced Landen Lucas who was 6-10 and 250. Carlton Bragg is 6-10 and 240. And freshman Udoka Azubuike is 7-0 and 280.
Obviously he’s had a lot of help from Chase Jeter, who has improved dramatically from his freshman year when he often seemed overwhelmed both physically and by the speed of the college game.
It’s hard to remember now because Jefferson has transformed his body so thoroughly, but he was a really skinny freshman who, like Jeter, was needed early and, like Jeter, wasn’t ready.
Jeter’s made big progress, in other words, but he’s still not as strong as he will be. So Jefferson has been the main guy for Duke inside.
Whatever Bolden does offensively for this team is great, but his biggest role is going to be to clamp down on interior defense - and this guy can do it.
That’ll free Jefferson up to be a shutdown defender wherever he’s needed.
Jeter will probably get less minutes but in the first nine games he’s more than proved he belongs on the court. He’ll continue to be a factor but with the confidence of a starter.
When you look down the road a bit, in fact, we could see a really keen frontcourt built around Jeter, the raw but immensely promising Javin DeLaurier and Antonio Vrankovic,, who has continued to show a real aptitude for the game.
For now, Tatum, and Bolden in particular, change the equation. And Giles isn’t too far behind.
If nothing else, Duke’s rotation just got a lot deeper, but it’s a lot more than that. No matter how. you look at it, this team just got help where it needed it most.
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