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Who Will Be Duke’s Point Guard In 2020-21? Part II

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: JAN 20 Spalding Hoophall Classic
SPRINGFIELD, MA - JANUARY 20: Paul VI Panthers guard Jeremy Roach (1) drives to the basket during the first half of the Spalding Hoophall Classic high school basketball game between the Paul VI Panthers and Sierra Canyon Trailblazers on January 20, 2020 at Blake Arena in Springfield, MA
Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Or maybe Goldwire is Plan B. Duke’s class of six freshmen includes Jeremy Roach, one of the nation’s top prep point guards.

Roach missed his junior year following ACL surgery but bounced back for a stellar senior season at Pope VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia.

Tommy Amaker went to high school in Fairfax, but at a different high school.

Roach sounds a lot like Duke-era Amaker. He’s 6-2, about 180, very quick, with a high basketball IQ. He is a consensus top-20 recruit and was named a McDonald’s All-American and Virginia Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Roach averaged around 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals per game last season.

Roach was recruited with the expectation that Tre Jones would go pro after the 2020 season and that Roach would inherit Jones’ starting spot.

Krzyzewski has never shown any reluctance to plug a freshman into this key spot. Johnny Dawkins (1983), Amaker (1984), Hurley (1990), Capel (1994), Williams (2000), Greg Paulus (2006), Irving (briefly, 2011), Tyus Jones (2015), Derryck Thornton (2016), Frank Jackson (2017), Duval (2018) and Tre Jones (2019) all were at least spot starters as freshmen.

Of course Roach and Goldwire can always play together. Duke has had lots of success playing twin-lead guard lineups, including Dawkins-Amaker, Capel-Chris Collins, Williams-Duhon, Scheyer-Smith, Jones-Quinn Cook, Thornton-Grayson Allen and Allen-Jackson among others.

Are there other options?

D.J. Steward is another incoming freshman, the latest Chicago-area recruit from Krzyzewski’s home town. At 6-2, 165 he certainly has the physical profile of a point guard. But his prep reputation is that of a shooter and Duke needs shooters at the wing. Can he play point and also shoot at a high level?

Steward has been compared for former Duke player Daniel Ewing and Ewing did start at point for Duke in 2005, his senior season. And he did it well enough to make third-team All-ACC. But Ewing averaged 4.0 assists per game, a pretty modest total for an All-ACC point guard.

Ewing became starting point guard only after 2004 signee Shaun Livingston bailed for the NBA and Sean Dockery proved to be a sub-optimal option. It likely would take a comparable series of undesirable events to turn Steward into a full-time point guard.

Duke tried Wendell Moore some at point some last season. It did not seem to be the best use of his talents. Another year of maturation might change that. Or might not.

Could incoming freshman Jalen Johnson ease the ball-handling burden?

Duke has had some point forwards. Sophomore Danny Ferry led Duke in assists in 1987 and senior Grant Hill did the same in 1994. Ferry had 506 career assists, Hill 461. Ferry led Duke in assists during Amaker’s senior season and Hill during Capel’s freshman season. It wasn’t a move of desperation in either case, more of a recognition of the considerable skills of Ferry and Hill.

It’s probably unfair to compare freshman Johnson to either of those icons. But both of those icons played in a different era.

By all accounts Johnson does have a pretty refined skill set for a 6-8 teenager. He’s been compared to NBA star Ben Simmons. The website says “Johnson is a versatile player who can play on or off the ball and has legit point guard skills in a 6-8 frame. He excels at initiating the fast break and is a true quarterback of the offense.”

The key word here is “versatile.” Mike Krzyzewski loves versatile players and he loves versatile teams. Johnson figures to have the ball in his hands. A lot.

Does this constitute point-guard-by-committee? My best guess is that Roach starts at point from day one but with lots of other options on the floor, lots of ways to initiate the offense.

But that’s just a guess and it’s still something that will need to get figured out in an off-season whose parameters have yet to be defined.

Still, having lots of options is better than having no options. Duke has options.