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What Happens After AJ Griffin’s Injury?

It’s not the end of the world and there may even be some positives

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Tech
Joey Baker, left, and Wendell Moore, right, are among the guys who will be asked to step up until AJ Griffin is back.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

We caught an episode of Mike Krzyzewski’s XMSirius show Basketball and Beyond several years ago when Bob Knight was the guest.

Knight has some well-known flaws and some less well-known virtues. Among his underrated gifts is that he’s a great story teller.

On that particular show he was talking about being in a room with some older coaches when he was quite young and one of the team’s stars had been hurt. Some of the guys were bemoaning the injury and then an older coach spoke up and asked something like “so who’s next?”

The point was that unlike fans, coaches can’t afford to feel bad about an injury. They just have to figure out what to do even if it seems kind of of cold.

We aren’t nearly subtle enough to know what Coach K might do and for that matter we haven’t seen most of these guys play much so that's another issue.

But speculation is part of the fun, so let’s get down to it!

Actually, this first: Duke took an MRI and there is no structural damage. So that’s great news.

Okay, back to the speculation.

First, with a not-so-deep roster, everyone is going to get more minutes and Griffin’s responsibilities will be divvied up.

The first two candidates are likely to be Wendell Moore and Joey Baker. Moore might well be a better defender than Griffin if only because he’s going into his third season. He’s always worked hard on defense and we’re sure that won’t change. His offense has been a wild card in his first two seasons. The word is that he’s much improved and if he plays with confidence, he can do a lot to help until Griffin is back.

Joey Baker is best known for his three point shooting but he’s improved on defense considerably and, like Moore, he’s in the best shape of his life. He looked great in summer play too.

Both those guys are likely to be captains and this is their first test.

Trevor Keels is big enough to slide over and pick up some of the work. We haven’t seen him enough yet to be confident that he can help a lot on defense, at least not at Griffin’s level. Our assumption is that he’ll be more about offense as a freshman but we don’t have a lot to base that on. He has a chance to carve out a bigger role early if his defense is solid.

The guy who may have the best opportunity though is Jaylen Blakes. We don’t expect him to fill Griffin’s role. He’s one of the two smallest scholarships players at 6-1 (Jeremy Roach is the other). But what he can do is lessen stress on the rotation and that will, in turn, allow other guys to pick up various aspects of what Griffin will ultimately do.

If he can provide solid minutes that frees up Moore, Keels and Baker to focus on other things. And it’ll allow the big guys - Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero and Theo John - to focus on their primary skill sets.

Of course the other alternative, at least defensively, is zone. Coach K has been more willing to go zone in recent years, particularly after his Olympic experience, and it would buy some minutes for potentially tired legs.

Aside from the good MRI news though, the best news is the timing. It’s possible that Griffin could be back for the Kentucky game, but if not, the next critical game is November 26th against Gonzaga. So it could be a lot worse.

It’s possible in fact that Griffin’s injury could be a blessing in disguise: other guys will have to step up and when Griffin is back, perhaps in only 4-6 weeks, so the middle of November, give or take, everyone else will be further along. And given Duke’s tremendous sports medicine program, it won’t surprise us if Griffin is closer to four weeks than six.

In other words, not much will be lost and much could be gained.