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Duke’s Offense Is Improving But Not As Much As It May Soon

When the threes start falling, look out.

Bellarmine v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 21: Jeremy Roach #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a three-point shot against the Bellarmine Knights during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 74-57.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Jon Scheyer has been pretty clear that he wants to use Duke’s size and talent to attack the basket. So how’s that going?

Mostly pretty well.

You could see Kyle Filipowski getting after it last night, taking his defenders inside. He was a major focus for Iowa, but still hit three of his five shots inside the restricted arc. However, Ryan Young and Dereck Lively only took three shots between them, hitting two, both close to the basket.

The guards got in the lane a fair amount too - Tyrese Proctor scored twice there and Jeremy Roach scored twice near the basket also and three times between the basket and the foul line (he also missed two very similar layups near the end of the game that rimmed off in exactly the same way, which could have been really bad in a closer game).

Dariq Whitehead, who is improving rapidly, had two baskets in the restricted arc.

But the wild card Tuesday night was Mark Mitchell.

The lanky 6-8 freshman has carved out an interesting role. He’s an excellent and versatile defender who can guard almost anyone this side of Zach Edey. He’s got a jumper that’s really not bad, especially from the left corner, although he’s gotten some flack about it being too flat. The coaches can argue about the mechanics. When he’s on it drops through the net without touching anything, so he knows what he’s doing. Argue about his form if you’d like, but when you see a guy hit shots in the dead center of the rim, that guy is a shooter.

But where he’s really interesting is when he drives.

He reminds us a bit of former Blue Devil Luol Deng, who looked like he never ran hard because he seemed to just glide.

When Mitchell heads to the basket, because he’s so long it looks like he’s not moving fast - but of course he is. His length disguises his speed, at least from a distance.

Against Iowa, Mitchell had six baskets, all within the restricted arc.

Duke can live with whatever Young gets inside because he offers so much value in other ways. His rebounding has been eye opening and he’s learned how to work around his limitations pretty brilliantly. No one on this team has better awareness of how to use his body to shield his shot than Young does. It’s an interesting case of turning a negative into a real positive. He knows exactly what he’s working with and what he can and can't get away with.

Like Whitehead, Lively is rounding into form. He’s getting really good at the pick and roll and his teammates are learning to find him out of that. He runs amazingly well at 7-1 but he’s still thin and can’t assert himself inside yet. Almost of his shots so far this season come from dunks and a lot of those are alley-oops off pick and roll plays.

We really haven’t seen him put up many contested shots, so the jury is still out. However, like Young, he offers other benefits like rim protection. And he’s only going to get better.

Iowa zoned Duke for a bit Tuesday and it caused some short-term problems that Duke ultimately solved.

However, teams are going to try to pack the lane and force the Blue Devils to shoot over the defense and so far, Duke has been erratic from behind the line.

Mitchell is the leading three point shooter at 42.9 percent. Jacob Grandison is hitting 37.9 percent, Filipowski 35 percent and Roach 33.3 percent.

We’re starting to see improved three point shooting from Whitehead, who is currently hitting 27.8 percent, and Proctor, who is at just 21.4 percent.

Both of those guys are going to be key for Duke, and if they start hitting from deep, it changes things.

For instance, Whitehead shot 0-2 against Purdue and of course didn't play against Kansas. And while Proctor’s game has been steadily improving, he shot 0-4 against Purdue from deep and 1-5 against Kansas.

The point?

Scheyer has already shown that he’s an elite coach defensively. If three point shooting becomes a serious factor - and keep in mind we haven’t seen anyone but Mitchell really get hot from back there - the ceiling for this team gets significantly higher.

One more statistical note.

Early in his career when Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t getting elite recruits, he sought out a way to balance things against more talented teams like UNC, Virginia and Maryland. Part of his solution was to get uncontested shots and the way he did that was to have his players drive aggressively in order to get to the foul line where Brad Daugherty, Michael Jordan and even 7-4 Ralph Sampson were helpless. That’s where the famous Duke-makes-more-foul-shots-than-its-opponents-attempt stuff started (it was also the genesis of Duke-gets-all-the-calls started too).

We’d have to really check this, but our sense is that over the last few years, Duke hasn’t shot all that well from the line.

This year though it’s going pretty well. The Blue Devils are hitting 77.4 percent collectively. Grandison has only shot four times, but he’s hit them all - and he has been an excellent foul shooter throughout his career at Holy Cross and Illinois. Two years ago, he hit 95.7 percent and has been above 80 percent every season except for his first, when he hit 74.1 percent.

Proctor is hitting 90.9 percent, Young 85.7 percent, Filipowski 80.8 percent, Whitehead 80 percent, Mitchell 77.3 percent and Roach 73.5 percent.

The guy you want to foul right now is Lively, who is hitting just 44 percent. However, his stats may be a bit skewed. He’s been to the line nine times in three games. Against Delaware, he was 1-2. He hit 3-3 in the Ohio State game.

Xavier was the problem: Lively was 0-4. But who knows? He might have banged his shooting hand up in that one or had some other problem for all we know.

It’s too early to call it an anomaly, but toss that out and he’s shooting 80 percent.

Obviously a single digit data sample isn’t going to reveal much but our guess is that you write off the bad game for now. Plus he has a reputation as a decent shooter, so we’d expect that will trend up over time.

What we would like to see is more aggression, but perhaps that will come as his conditioning improves after his return from injury.