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Joey Baker’s Emergence Changes Things For Duke

And it’s not just his outside shooting either.

NCAA Basketball: California at Duke
Nov 21, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Joey Baker (13) shoots the ball over California Golden Bears guard Juhwan Harris-Dyson (2) during the second half at Madison Square Garden.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In three of his last three games - leaving out the goose egg from the floor at Virginia Tech - Joey Baker has scored 16, 11 and 22. He’s hit 17-24 from the floor and 10-13 from three point range. That works out to 70 percent overall and 76 percent from behind the line in those three games.

Joey Buckets indeed.

He came to Duke with a reputation as a great shooter but the rest of his game was unknown, at least to the general fan.

We’ve seen that he can be a potent scorer and that’s the main draw to his game. However it’s not the only thing.

As revelatory as his shot has been, it’s hard to play at Duke with just offense.

Well in the modern era, if you’re as gifted as Jabari Parker or Kyrie Irving you can get away with it, but Baker isn’t that kind of a talent. Not many guys are.

However, Baker brings more than just a great shot which is part of the reason why he’s playing as much as he is.

Coach K confessed recently that before the season got going, he wasn’t sure how much time Baker would get.

He’s gotten it partly because he can shoot better than anyone on the team, at least now. And he’s also gotten it because, despite having a bit of a babyface, the truth is the guy is a hardass and you can never have too much of that.

As you may have noticed, he’s generally ready to dive on the floor and he defends with great intensity. He’s also worth watching on the sideline because he’s as involved as anyone.

The key to his success, in other words, is his intensity and his desire to make an impact, to become a leader. You can’t really quantify this but he’s a tremendous competitor.

And that is beginning to pay dividends for Duke.

Some guys are obviously leaders. Tre Jones is this year; Zion Williamson was last year. So was RJ Barrett.

Some guys kind of sneak up on you. We realized very early that Justin Robinson was a special walk-on whose leadership didn’t show up on the court.

Baker is sort of like that but he’s already more of an on-court presence than Robinson has been.

His shooting is going to open up Duke’s offense a great deal. If Matthew Hurt comes along as expected, Duke’s three point attack is going to be intense - and will open things up a lot for Jones, Cassius Stanley, Wendell Moore and obviously Vernon Carey.

His emerging leadership aside, Baker makes you pick your poison. Shut him down and Carey has more room inside. Let him go and he fillets you from outside.

Hurt could just magnify that.

As great as that aspect of his game is, what we’re really grooving on is the intensity. This is a guy who is determined to carve out a role and he’s doing it. Like Steve Wojciechowski, he’s not the most talented guy in the world, but like Wojo, he doesn’t really care.

We love Joey Buckets. It’s a great nickname, but if it hadn't already been taken, we’d push for Nails. By the time he’s through at Duke, we think people will come to see him as one of the toughest guys we’ve seen pass through Cameron. Coach K has a 12-letter word for guys like that. We think he’s got one in Baker, and if you put it to him in military terms, Baker is a guy you’d trust in a foxhole.