In our previous comments about next season, we’ve looked primarily at bigs and guards. As you probably know, Coach K famously doesn’t use positions. In Cameron, when players are announced, no positions are identified.
Players are simply encouraged to fill team needs, do what they do well, and learn to do other things well.
Even though Coach K doesn’t want players to limit themselves by position, it’s not a strict prohibition. He likes to have a point guard and some years formally anoints someone as the point guard, with a little ceremony entrusting him with the ball.
Duke is also famous for stretch 4 forwards. Danny Ferry was a great one. So was Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Kyle Singler and, most recently, Matthew Hurt.
No matter how you look at it though, under Mike Krzyzewski has always liked versatile, mid-sized players and his best teams usually have some guys like that who can do a little bit of everything.
Think Chris Carrawell, Brian Davis, Dahntay Jones, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson.
Next year’s team will have AJ Griffin, Joey Baker and Wendell Moore to plug into multiple situations and scenarios. And while Trevor Keels comes to Duke most valued for his shooting eye, he may have more to offer as well.
With Paolo Banchero getting so much buzz among the freshmen, and justifiably so, people may not realize how valuable Griffin potentially is.
What we’ve watched of Griffin is eye opening. At times, high school players look like...well, high school players. You can see potential but they just look like teenage kids.
Griffin doesn't really look like that. He looks far more athletic than the other guys on the court with him and seems to play with a lot of intensity.
He shoots well, handles the ball well and seems to have the sort of understanding of the game you’d except from a coach’s kid (his father is Toronto assistant Adrian Griffin). He apparently enjoys defense, too, which could make him a devastating factor for Duke.
Wendell Moore has had some ups and downs at Duke to be sure. As a freshman, he made sure he would never be forgotten with his buzzer beating shot to take out UNC in Chapel Hill. It’s not quite as great as what Austin Rivers did over there, but it’s not far behind either.
Then last year he started in a huge offensive funk, unable to hit anything. That evened out over time however and we saw, again, that he could do so many different things: drive, defend, handle the ball, pass well, and, after a while, his shot came back.
Moore forced a lot as a freshman, much less as a sophomore and we would expect less agains as a junior. He’s also going to add leadership and may be surprised to learn that his sometimes hard lessons will pay off in that regard.
That brings us to Baker.
Now a senior, Baker hasn’t played a lot of minutes or had huge stats. Who cares? He’s one of our favorite players in years for a very basic reason: in our opinion, being on Duke’s team means more to him than almost anyone we can think of.
A lot of guys realize it when they leave but not everyone does when they are in uniform. Jeff Capel told his dad when he was a freshman that he wanted to transfer (his dad told him he was nuts and made him pay for lunch). Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams both wanted to go to UNC before ultimately picking Duke. And not everyone who comes to Cameron has a story book career.
Neither has Baker. Everything about the guy screams teammate though. He willingly gave up his redshirt year quite late in case he was needed. When guys have been ahead of him in the rotation, he cheered for their successes and it wasn’t pro forma; he meant it. When Duke’s had dog piles after big wins, he’s not the guy jumping on top. He’s one of the first guys to get there.
And while we can’t prove this, our suspicion is that Coach K looks at him and yes, sees a great teammate, but also a guy who would be a tremendous soldier. Baker grew up in a military family and understands sacrifice and being part of something bigger than himself.
Our guess is that Krzyzewski looks at Baker and sees a little bit of himself.
He’s a gifted shooter though he’s sacrificed that to an extent when he’s been asked to do other things. He’s turned himself into a good defender and the other parts of his game are solid too.
This coming season, he may be able to focus on his best talents, shooting, and leadership. In many ways, he’s the Blue Devil most teammates should aspire to be: loyal, relentless and more invested in team ego than his own.
A lot of his contributions may come behind the scenes but make no mistake: Baker will put his stamp on this team.