Duke may have caught a nice break with freshman guard Jaylen Blakes.
First, he’s talented. That’s obvious; even the least talented ACC player can kick most people’s butts. It’s just that the top end talent is extraordinary and we sometimes don't realize it.
Secondly, he’s physically mature. As much as we liked Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward last season, they were both slight teenagers. Sometimes it takes a bit to fill out.
That won’t be the case for Blakes. A 6-1 guard, he weighs 208, two pounds more than 6-6 senior Joey Baker and just seven less than 6-6 junior Wendell Moore.
So we’re pretty sure he can take care of himself.
The Duke Chronicle’s Jonathan Levitan praises his athleticism and his scoring ability but wonders about his passing. To which we say: eh. Other guys can handle that this year. He can learn to pass.
No offense to Levitan obviously. He's quite right about Blakes’ offensive talent. It’s real. But as a freshman he’s likely to be behind Roach and Trevor Keels (also a powerful guard incidentally) and Moore, who is certainly capable of playing point.
That means that, as Levitan also intuits, Blakes needs to find a role. And we have one for him. Given what we saw for the last four years, can we introduce a new term for a certain type of Duke player?
He should try to take the Goldwire Grind. Or you could call it Wojo Throttle. Or the Billy King Shutdown. We like the Goldwire Grind though because Goldwire came in to minimal fanfare and built a role - a great role - by defending like his life depended on it. Who can ever forget what he did to Louisville in that massive 2019 comeback?
If Blakes decides that he’s going to play defense harder than anyone else on this roster, he’ll get minutes and probably a lot of them. And when we hit the January Shuffle, which sometimes comes in February or even March, when Coach K gets under the hood and tinkers, if Blakes is That Guy, he could find himself starting.
And even if he doesn’t, a combination of talent, strength and indefatigability will guarantee him a major role this year and a huge role down the road.