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Duke’s Loss To Wake Forest Highlighted Dereck Lively’s Importance

The Blue Devils’ lethargic loss without him showed how much of an impact Lively makes on the court

NCAA Basketball: Maryland - E. Shore at Duke
Duke Blue Devils center Dereck Lively (1) blocks the shot of Maryland Eastern Shore Eagles guard Zion Styles (3) during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke fans have been spoiled with a bounty of uber-talented freshmen in the one-and-done era that make immediate impacts in Durham. It’s understandable, then, why many have worried over Dereck Lively’s relatively pedestrian numbers 11 games into his college career.

But Lively’s value has never been more apparent than in the Blue Devils’ loss to Wake Forest, where his absence was conspicuous in almost every facet of the game.

Without Lively, Duke let up a season high 81 points to the Demon Deacons, and the team’s defensive identity seemed compromised. The stifling perimeter pressure that Blue Devil guards have used to disrupt opponents became a liability without Lively guarding the rim, perhaps best emphasized by multiple lobs over replacement starter Ryan Young that Lively very likely would have been better able to defend. Duke’s defense seemed much more chaotic, and the rotations much more hectic, without Lively’s mobility as well.

Then there’s the rebounding battle. Lively has hardly been a world-beater on the glass, averaging just 3.7 boards per game, but his ability to keep balls alive doesn’t show up in the box score. Neither does the attention that his athletic and long 7-foot-1 frame requires from the opposition. It’s perhaps not a coincidence, then, that Kyle Filipowski had one of his worst rebounding performances against Wake Forest with a mere six: the Demon Deacons were able to key on him in their box outs, rather than having to split their attention between him and Lively.

On the other end of the floor, Lively rarely creates his own offense. But his quickness, especially given his size, has been key on the fast break: even if he doesn’t always finish the play, his presence clears space for guards like Jeremy Roach to attack the rim. While Roach was obviously not himself against Wake Forest as he overcomes a toe injury, his struggles to find open space on the break could be partly attributed to Lively’s absence alongside him.

Finally, for as valuable as Young has been this season, he remains best suited as a change-of-pace big off the bench, perhaps platooning with Lively when the matchup demands. But Young was forced into 35 minutes of action against Wake Forest, more minutes than he’s played at any point in his career. While he performed admirably offensively and on the glass, those prolonged stretches perhaps exacerbated Young’s defensive shortcomings.

Dereck Lively may not ever be the double-double machine that Blue Devil fans envisioned him to be as a consensus Top 5 recruit. But the impact he makes on the game that doesn’t show up in the box score has never been more apparent than in how Duke performed without him last night. The Blue Devils need him to reach their ceiling this season, regardless of what the raw numbers might say.