As we said earlier, Duke famously has three systems: defense, offense and communications.
We can’t really say a lot about communication at this point and it’s harder than it would normally be since only four players are back. So we’ll focus on offense.
And Duke should do just fine on offense.
First, although this team isn’t as deep as some others, it is, like a lot of Mike Krzyzewski’s better teams, very versatile.
For a good example, let’s look back to 2000. Duke had essentially a six-man rotation: Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell, Nate James, Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy.
Yet players rarely got tired.
Because the versatility allowed them to be rotated out systematically so that no one had to play to exhaustion and it worked brilliantly until Mike Dunleavy contracted mononucleosis.
It was, in many ways, one of Coach K’s greatest accomplishments.
So he knows how to use that and how to work with a limited roster if he has one. Anyone remember Eight is enough?
After Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed, Coach K told his team that the remaining eight players would win the national championship: Eight was enough.
So don’t get hung up on depth unless it becomes a problem.
Duke has depth at virtually every position. Krzyzewski has three gifted big men, several wings, and at least three guys who can play point.
Let’s take a look.
By the end of last season, Mark Williams emerged as one of the best big men in the ACC. He was very long and was a solid shotblocker and rebounder. He also shot well, mostly inside obviously, although Coach K says he has extended his range to past the three point line. However, he’s also a very smart passer.
Theo John wasn’t a huge offensive factor at Marquette but in early scrimmage footage we’ve seen him shoot over Williams and drive past him. He’s going to be solid and it won’t surprise us if he starts at times. He’ll force Williams to work to keep his spot.
We can’t see anyone keeping Paolo Banchero out of the lineup. The freshman might end up being the best player in the ACC. He can play all over the court, he handles the ball well and he has a 40” vertical. Like Williams, he’s also a smart passer. He’s good enough to be the first pick in next summer’s NBA draft.
It’s going to be really tough to control Duke in the paint and more so since the other players can put pressure on in various ways.
A lot of people have realized that Wendell Moore is now a very different player. In his first two seasons he was inconsistent and lacked confidence. He appears to have corrected those faults and if his scoring is consistent, he’s going to be a load. He’s gotten himself in supreme physical condition and even just looking at him you can see a difference. His confidence is visible.
Like Moore, Joey Baker has really upped his game. No one has ever doubted his heart but he too has had trouble being consistent. This year, Duke has a powerful inside game and some really good three point shooters. Baker will get his shots. He could be really dangerous.
And we expect AJ Griffin to be very dangerous indeed.
Griffin is tremendously athletic. He’ll get to the basket - so will Moore - and he is a solid ball handler. We’re not totally sure yet that he is a good three point shooter but if he is, look out. Like Banchero, he’s likely to be a lottery pick, possibly quite high. He’s explosively athletic, possibly the best athlete on the team.
Duke has multiple candidates at shooting guard: Moore, Baker and Griffin can all handle it and so can freshman Trevor Keels.
We need to see more of Keels to really understand this potential, but based on what we’ve seen so far, he may be a little behind some of the other guys. He’s a thick player, weighing 221 and he may need to lose some to reach his potential. We could be wrong though; we haven’t seen him enough to form a meaningful opinion. We could be completely off. We do know he can shoot.
Barring something unforeseen, Jeremy Roach is going to start at the point and we expect a very different player than we saw last year. Roach is smart and tough and this year unlike last, he’ll have the full Duke treatment from summer school to the end of the season. Look for him to make a major jump.
And again, Duke has a lot of backup. Start with freshman Jaylen Blakes. We expect that he can carve out a role as an energy player and from there, who knows?
But Duke can also turn to Moore and possibly Griffin to help out as needed.
Rebounding shouldn’t be an issue. Williams, John and Banchero should all be excellent and Moore and Griffin will get their share too.
Duke has three point shooters in Roach, Baker who can now focus on his scoring, Banchero and possibly Griffin and Blakes. And with the inside strength of the three big guys, you really can’t focus on one aspect of Duke’s too much.
And Coach K has slashers at his disposal in Griffin and Moore and probably Banchero to an extent.
Clearly there’s a lot of offensive talent with this group. The questions that we can’t answer are how roles will develop and who can step up to address whatever weaknesses get exposed by competition.
How often have we, as Duke fans, seen that happen? Who saw Brian Zoubek emerging at the end of his senior year and having so much to do with Duke’s 2010 national championship?
What about Reggie Love, who wasn’t even a full-time member of the basketball team in 2001? Future coach Jon Scheyer moving to point?
Krzyzewski has a lot of strengths as a coach but one that gets consistently underestimated is his ability to identify problems and to fix them even if it means a late-season adjustment.
If he needs to do that this year, he’ll have plenty of options.