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Jim Looks At Next Season For Duke Basketball

Part 1 of 3

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Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts to a call in the first half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on February 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The dust has finally settled. We know who’s staying in the draft and who isn’t. Mike Krzyzewski says that Duke is not recruiting anyone else from the class of 2019, not even a traditional transfer, the kind who would have to sit out a season.

Now that dust-settled roster includes neither Marques Bolden nor Boogie Ellis. It’s easy to play the addition-by-subtraction card and it would have been difficult to allocate 200 player-minutes with a roster that included Bolden and Ellis without keeping some talent on the bench.

But Bolden would have given Duke another senior on a roster that again projects to run on the young side. He would have entered the season as the team leader in career games and blocks. And Ellis has a reputation as an elite 3-point shooter and Duke wasn’t exactly awash in that skill set last season.

That leaves Duke with 10 recruited players, 11 if we include Justin Robinson, a preferred walk-on, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Evaluating a team requires looking at who’s leaving, who’s staying and who’s showing up for the first time.

The who’s-leaving-list is pretty daunting. Zion WIlliamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish were always going to be one-and-done. The three were the highest-scoring single-season trio in Duke history. Add Bolden and little-used senior Antonio Vrankovic to the list and Duke is losing 73 percent of its points, 57 percent of its rebounds and 62 percent of its blocks from last season.

Mike Krzyzewski has dealt with worse. In fact, this time last year Duke was looking at five new starters instead of three-and-a-half. Returning players have 62 career starts as opposed to nine career starts coming into last season.

Tre Jones has 36 of those career starts. Jones told the media last week that he never considered joining the 2019 draft and that he had unfinished business, including a national championship.

I wrote about Jones last week but some recap seems appropriate. Krzyzewski has a pretty big check list for Jones. He thinks Jones can average a double-double, that is 10 or more points and assists per game.

Krzyzewski generally is precise with his words but I’m sure he realizes 10 assists per game is pretty ambitious. UNC’s Kendall Marshall has the ACC record, 9.8 back in 2012. Chris Corchiani (NC State), Muggsy Bogues (Wake Forest) and Craig Neal (Georgia Tech) also have surpassed nine per game for ACC schools.

Krzyzewski wants Jones to more aggressively hunt his own shot and make a higher percentage of those he takes. He wants more vocal leadership from Jones, all the while building on his superb on-the-ball defense.

In other words, he wants Jones to be Bobby Hurley.

With apologies to Reggie Jackson, there’s no question Jones will be the straw that stirs Duke’s drink.

Theoretically Jones could start alongside four upperclassmen. That’s highly unlikely but Duke does have some experienced options, all with potential, none without liabilities.

Seniors Javin DeLaurier and Jack White were co-captains last season as juniors. It be will interesting to see if Duke elevates Jones into a tri-captaincy this season.

DeLaurier flirted with the NBA, maybe even more than flirted with it. He wanted until the very end to withdraw, a decision Krzyzewski called “huge” for the program.

It’s easy to focus on the things DeLaurier can’t do. His effective shooting range is about two feet, his ball handling is shaky and he fouls too often. But when he stays out of foul trouble he’s a plus defender and rebounder and an opportunistic scorer at the rim.

He was playing the best ball of his career at the end of the season, posting a double-double against Michigan State.

Is that his ceiling? Or is there another level?

DeLaurier was actually a decent shooter in high school and Duke talked about turning him into a wing earlier in his Duke tenure. Given the current roster composition he’s likely to stay inside. But if he can refine his shooting stroke into a reliable, face-up 10-footer, then Duke becomes much more dangerous.

Speaking of shooting, what are we to make of Jack White, who finished last season shooting six-for-56 from three-point range after starting the season 21-for-51? Was the first half the outlier? Or the second half? Can White regain his mojo?

At 6-7, 220 White has the body of a wing. But he has the game of a post player, solid interior defense and a rebounding skill set that verges on elite.

Junior Alex O’Connell might be the upperclassman with the best chance of starting. He’s still a little on the skinny side but he has excellent hops at 6-6, a decent handle and the purest shooting stroke on the team. This is a guy who scored 36 points in two regular-season games against Syracuse.

He has game.

But his defense can be an adventure and he struggles with confidence and decision making.

This could be his best chance. Can he grab it?

Junior guard Jordan Goldwire is a defensive specialist who helped turn around the Louisville game last season. With Ellis out of the picture Goldwire figures to get the point-guard minutes when Jones is sitting. But Krzyzewski experimented late last season with having Jones and Goldwire on the court at the same time, a lineup we should see again this season.

Justin Robinson figures to make his contributions on the practice floor.

That leaves us with perhaps the most intriguing player on the team, sophomore forward Joey Baker. He’s the one returnee other than Jones that I could see developing into an All-ACC player down the road.

Or he could be Joey Beard.

We just don’t know. The ultimate tabula rasa. His reclassification deprived us of the chance to see him in the high-profile all-star games. He showed promise in the exhibition games, scoring 11 points against Toronto last August, hitting three-of-six from beyond the arc. He followed that with a 10-point game against McGill.

Then he red-shirted.

Until he didn’t. I’ve never heard anything definitive about that late-season change of heart but what I have heard suggests that the impetus came from the Baker side of the equation rather than the Krzyzewski side of the equation.

Baker was listed at 6-7, 205 last season but seems to have found the weight room. If Duke needs 3-point shooting this year as much as it did last year, then Baker figures to get a long look.

Next we’ll take a look at the newcomers.

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