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Duval’s In. So Now What?

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Duke has a talented team again. So what to do with all that talent?

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greenville Practice
Watching Coach K put the puzzle together is one of the best parts of being a Duke fan.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Trevon Duval has committed to Duke, the roster appears to be set. There might be a surprise recruit though we doubt it, and a a walk-on might impress a la Bruce Bell or Reggie Love.

Otherwise though this is about it:

  • Grayson Allen
  • Javin DeLaurier
  • Marques Bolden
  • Antonio Vrankovic
  • Jack White
  • Justin Robinson
  • Wendell Carter
  • Gary Trent, Jr.
  • Trevon Duval
  • Jordan Tucker
  • Alex O’ Connell
  • Jordan Goldwire

The question that everyone asked Monday is simple: who starts?

It’s a bit of a trick question. Coach K is famous for trying different lineups and there’s an excellent chance that the lineup will change several times. Here’s what we’d expect early, or rather, one of the following two:

  • Allen
  • Duval
  • Trent
  • Carter
  • Bolden

-Or-

  • Allen
  • Duval
  • Trent
  • Carter or Bolden
  • and...

We’ve seen people speculate online about next year’s lineup and some are saying that K would never go with two bigs.

But at times he has.

He started Alaa Abdelnaby along with Danny Ferry despite neither being a particularly good defender (Ferry was better though).

Later he started Cherokee Parks and Eric Meek together and of course Ryan Kelly started alongside Mason Plumlee.

The way to analyze this as best we can in May is to look instead at roles and responsibilities.

We remember one year, we think somewhere between the JJ Redick years and those featuring Nolan Smith, when we heard a story. We can’t swear that it’s true but it makes perfect sense.

Coach K stopped practice and told his team, look, there’s a role on this team for someone who is willing to just play defense and rebound. That’s what this team needs. Anyone who is willing to do that will get minutes.

It could’ve just as easily have been 1998. Remember that team?

That team was still rebuilding after the ‘95 collapse. The roster then was Ricky Price, Roshown McCleod, William Avery, Steve Wojciechowski, Taymon Domzalski, Nate James, Trajan Langdon, Jay Heaps, Chris Carrawell, Shane Battier, Chris Burgess and Elton Brand.

Remember how it ended? Kentucky’s Wayne Turner ruthlessly exploited Wojo’s inability to guard him in the halfcourt.

Coach K was forced to put freshman William Avery on him and he was eaten alive too.

Thing is, there was a talented guy on that team who rarely played.

Ricky Price had been suspended for the first semester. When he came back, he wasn’t in game shape to be sure, but that team had a role for a stopper because it was one thing that Wojo simply couldn’t do.

It would’ve gotten him off the bench and given him an important role.

How important?

Kentucky had a great comeback and won that game.

By two points.

Surely a 6-6 guy with his talent could have slowed Turner down.

Didn’t happen though.

So when you look at Duke’s lineup, it’s reasonable to assume that Allen and Duval will start. Certainly either Carter or Bolden will start, if not both. Bolden is a real inside player though while Carter looks to be more versatile.

Presumably Trent or Tucker will start at the wing, if not both.

Coach K’s best teams have always featured a really gifted point guard. Think Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley, Jon Scheyer, Kyrie Irving when healthy and Tyus Jones. Duval's role could be tweaked but basically he’s point. And when he plays, Bolden is center.

We don’t know yet how Carter would do as a power forward, or more precisely, how the two would work together. Just as we will see them together though, we’ll see alternatives too.

One would surely be a small ball lineup with Duval, Allen, Trent, Tucker and one of the big guys.

And Tucker will play. Trent could go up front in a three-guard lineup, but Tucker is a natural forward. Yet he’s thin and skinny guys often struggle inside. Remember Amile Jefferson’s first start?

NC State ate him alive.

However there is a guy who hasn’t played a lot who would be very intriguing as a power forward. Unlike Bolden, he isn’t destined for the post. Unlike Tucker, he’s fully able to withstand the rough and tumble inside. And he has a motor too.

We’re talking of course about Duke’s best wildcard, Javin DeLaurier.

He was limited as a freshman, first by so many other big guys and later by injury.

But we loved him.

He can get out and run, he can block shots, he can rebound and he’s strong.

If Coach K needs a rebounder he can do that. If Coach K needs an inside defender, he can do that. If Duval needs someone to get out and run on the break, well, he can do that too.

DeLaurier was underrated as a high school senior and as a freshman too. However, the guy is truly talented. He has weaknesses to be sure and his game was largely unrefined last season.

But he doesn’t need a lot of refinement to do basic things.

And that’s a key at Duke, as Coach K has often said.

Find one thing your team needs, bring that to the court, and build on that.

Tucker and Trent are going to be solid contributors, but no one has the unique package DeLaurier has.

That doesn’t mean he’ll step up - some guys never do - but that’s the guy we’d keep an eye on.

And by the way, we’re not overlooking Jack White, who is tough and likely to carve out a bigger role, or Antonio Vrankovic, who we’ve been impressed with from the beginning.

It’s just that DeLaurier is in a unique position with unique talents. When Coach K looks around to fix something, he’s going to take a long, hard look at DeLaurier.

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