There are a lot of things that make Mike Krzyzewski a great coach but at the top of the list, arguably, are communication skills, an intense competitive desire and a willingness to learn and adapt.
Take the one-and-done era.
Krzyzewski adapted to the changes and has kept Duke at the top of the game. Since 2011, Kyrie Irving’s stop in Durham, Duke has racked up these season records:
A couple of notes. First, we left off last season because, as we’ve been saying, everyone gets a pass. And second, in 2019-20, the season ended in the ACC Tournament for everyone in the conference. Duke could easily have won 4-5 more games.
Either way that works out to 29 wins a year, rounded.
That’s required some adjustments though.
In general, Duke has simplified things and particularly on defense.
A young Coach K treated zones like an allergy, but with a compressed timeline, he can’t always teach the principles that he used to such devastating effect for decades in Durham and in three Olympic Games.
This year might be a bit different.
True, Duke only has four scholarship players back but Wendell Moore, Joey Baker, Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams are all willing defenders. Transfer Theo John is also an outstanding defender.
And the freshmen have immense potential on that end as well.
Let’s start inside where Duke has not one, not two, but at least three talented shotblockers.
Williams is, to use the basketball term, really, really long. He averaged 15 mpg last season and 1.4 blocks but over the last ten games that rose to 2.6 per game. There’s no reason to think he can’t continue to improve and we’re sure analytics will show that he drives percentages down near the basket.
Thing is, when he goes out, Theo John could come in and John averaged just under 2 bpg - and he’s much more physical than Williams, which gives Duke a different look and, perhaps, something of an enforcer.
Freshman Paolo Banchero is now close to 7-0 tall and has around a 40” vertical. He hasn’t proven himself as a collegiate shotblocker yet and will have other roles to play, but there’s no reason why he can’t grab some himself.
Duke could easily get 6-8 blocks per game, conceivably more (One more not-so-small point: Duke has now officially added a new walk-on, and he’s a bit unusual: Stanley Borden is 7-0 and 240. He has American parents but has lived in Istanbul. How often does a 7-0 walk-on come along?)
And here’s the thing: like Red Auerbach’s Celtics, Duke has enough athletes to channel the offense down the middle where there should always be a shot blocker, and opportunities for fast breaks as long as they don’t throw the ball out bounds and give it back instead of trying to capture it and forcing a turnover.
As always, none of us know how Coach K will put the pieces together, weighing pluses and minuses to get the best group on the floor. But we expect we’ll see Moore and freshman AJ Griffin attacking on defense and we think we’ll see a much improved defender in Roach.
Trevor Keels, at this point in his career, is almost certainly further along on offense than defense, but he has the talent and strength to do well on the other end too.
We’re really excited to see how Jaylen Blakes does. He’s likely to be the backup point guard as a freshman and his best chance to expand his role this year is to take on a strong defensive role.
This group has the chance to be a superb defensive force, one that attacks and dictates. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch it develop.