The Duke men’s basketball team will have some question marks next season.
But point guard won’t be one of them.
Tre Jones’ decision to come back for his sophomore season wasn’t a huge surprise. The mock-NBA-draft-trend-lines have been moving from lottery land to second round for some time.
But it doesn’t mean it’s not welcome. Only once in the last decade has Duke had the same starting point guard for consecutive seasons. That would be Quinn Cook in 2013 and 2014. Cook came back for his senior season in 2015 but moved over to shooting guard to accommodate incoming freshman Tyus Jones. Tre’s older brother went to the NBA after winning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award in his only college season.
Jones went 24th in the 2015 NBA draft, joining Kyrie Irving (2011) and Austin Rivers (2012) as Duke first-round one-and-done play-makers from the decade.
Since then, Duke got one year from Derryck Thornton (transfer), Frank Jackson (second round draft pick) and Trevon Duval (undrafted), with non-point guards like Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones trying to fill in the gaps.
Jones may have come back hoping to enhance his NBA stature but anything along those lines will also help Duke.
Point guards are often considered coaches-in-waiting and that’s certainly the case at Duke. Duke’s 1996 team, for example, included Chris Collins, Jeff Capel and Steve Wojciechowski.
Mike Krzyzewski has never had a problem giving freshmen the keys to the car, Johnny Dawkins (1983), Tommy Amaker (1984), Bobby Hurley (1990), Capel (1994), Jason Williams (2000), Greg Paulus (2006), Kyrie Irving (2011) Tyus Jones, Duval and Jones, v. 2 among them.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a learning curve, even for the most gifted freshmen.
Hurley is rightly considered one of the best pass-first guards in college history. But as a freshman his passes were as likely to end up in the third row as anywhere else. Hurley had a mind-boggling 166 turnovers as a freshman. That’s a Duke record and I’m pretty sure it’s an ACC record; the ACC doesn’t seem to keep that stat.
But he got better, a lot better. Hurley never fully eliminated the high-degree of difficulty play but he improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from 1.73 as a freshman to 2.45 as a senior.
Tre Jones didn’t have any problem with turnovers last season, far from it in fact. His 3.62 a/to ratio is the best in Duke history.
But his woeful 3-point shooting became a flash point as opponents basically dared him to shoot from outside. Jones hit only 26.2 percent on 3s.
Jones actually demonstrated an ability to hit mid-range jumpers, shooting 105-for-216 on two-pointers.
Imagine how dangerous he could be with an improved long-range game.
Let’s look at Hurley again. He hit only 35.1 from the field as a freshman, actually shooting marginally better--35.7--on 3s. But he hit over 40 percent on 3s each of his last three years at Duke, ending with 42.1 percent 3-point-shooting as a senior, when he averaged 17 points per game, almost double his freshman scoring average of 8.8.
So, it can be done.
Of course, shooting isn’t the only thing Jones brings to the table. He averaged 5.3 assists per game, which is the fifth-best freshman mark in school annals.
And there’s no reason to expect his lock-down defense to do anything but get better.
Jones will be a sophomore next year, not exactly a grizzled vet. But Duke has started four freshmen each of the last two seasons. With the final disposition of the 2020 roster still to be determined, we don’t know how many freshmen will start next season but I can’t imagine it will be less than two, meaning Tre Jones may have to be a grizzled vet, one with the ball in his hands and lots of decisions to make.
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