Mike Krzyzewski is about to begin his 40th season as head coach at Duke. Krzyzewski isn’t sure what he’ll find, but he’s looking forward to finding out.
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person you think that Krzyzewski has lots of options.
If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person you think that he has lots of questions.
What does Krzyzewski think?
“We didn’t look at any transfers or grad transfers, “ he told the media recently at the K Academy. “We thought we just wanted to stick with the guys we have. We felt ‘let’s go with group we have,’ be committed to them. A lot will be expected of [the freshmen], especially the two big guys because we don’t have a lot of depth at big. Again we’ll play a style that will be suited to what we have. I think a lot more balance. I think we’ll have a deep team; a healthy team will be very good. We have 11 players and they all need to play. How they fit in, I don’t know yet but I expect all of them to be able to contribute.”
Now, about those 11 players who need to play. Krzyzewski will play mad alchemist early in the season, tinkering with lineups and rotations and roles. But unless he channels his inner-Leonard Hamilton, he’s going to compress that lineup to eight or so by February.
Krzyzewski says he and his assistants want to learn more about their players during the summer evaluation period.
But he also wants his veterans and his newcomers to learn about each other.
“We’ll have an older upper-class, which is something we need. They’ve learned a lot. Hopefully they [the freshmen] interact with the underclassmen. Jack and Javin and Justin . . . they’ve learned a lot, how to interact.”
Krzyzewski talked a lot about team culture and the way it is transmitted.
“Dreams become goals. It’s better to have a goal. It’s neat to have dreams. But if a dream doesn’t become a goal then it’s a dream unfulfilled. That’s the maturity process we want all the kids to go through.”
That process will involve six recruited returnees, two walk-on returnees, four recruited freshmen and two freshmen walk-ons.
Duke has a little of everything. Seniors Javin DeLaurier and Justin Robinson and freshman Vernon Carey are post players. Senior Jack White, sophomore Joey Baker and freshman Matthew Hurt are big forwards who may be able to slide bigger or smaller. Junior Alex O’Connell and freshmen Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley are mid-sized wings. Sophomore Tre Jones and junior Jordan Goldwire are point guards.
Jones is the one guy who isn’t going to move around positionally. He’s the starting point guard, he will be on the floor a lot, he will have the ball in his hand and he will initiate the offense.
It’s his team.
Freshmen Carey, Hurt and Moore are almost certainly going to get major minutes. I would expect O’Connell, White, Baker, maybe Stanley to get chances at filling that fifth spot. DeLaurier will play a lot but will he be good enough to play ahead of Hurt or good enough to move Hurt to the wing?
Keep in mind that the five players who start aren’t necessarily the five players who finish, aren’t necessarily the five players who play the most minutes, aren’t necessarily the five players who will start next week or next month.
Duke can and likely will go big or small, experienced or young, offense-first or defense-first.
Krzyzewski talked almost wistfully about the traditional career arc where players stick around and get better year after year. Duke has some players who fit that description. Will they be able to leverage their experience to play ahead of more talented youngsters?
Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s a debate Duke hasn’t had much recently and if Duke needs experience it has more at is disposal than the last couple of seasons.
And then there’s three-point shooting, Duke’s Achilles heel last season. What combination--if any-of Jones, Hurt, Baker, O’Connell and White can master the new, deeper three-point shot?
“It’s just a matter of people,” Krzyzewski says. “Two years ago we were a great three-point team. You can’t get fixated on the lowest percentage that you do, that you score on. You have to figure out how to score the ball. So, we’ll try to do that with this team. That’s why we try not to systematize, so we can go to their strengths.”
The core question for any Duke team is simple; can it cut down the nets in April?
The cynic would say that more talented Duke teams than this one have come up short.
But it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Does any knowledgeable Duke fan think the 1991 team was better than the 1986 team or that the 2010 team was better than the 1999 team?
March is about match-ups and luck and health. And yes, talent. The goal for this and every Duke team is to sufficiently develop the talent and the cohesion to put yourself in position to benefit from match-ups and luck and health.