There’s hope yet.
For 36 years Duke teams posed a reliable threat from 3-point range. Usually there was at least one Blue Devil on the wing who could deliver a long-range dagger, often when the momentum-generating shot mattered most.
The last time the Devils went without a made 3-pointer in a game was Dec. 30, 1989 in the Rainbow Classic at Honolulu. That was the fourth season the shot was in effect. Since that abstemious victory over Hawai’i Duke has gone 1,175 games and counting without being blanked from the bonusphere, the second-longest run of its kind in Division I basketball.
While the streak endures, the Devils’ acuity has slipped, at least lately. Through a mid-January loss at Clemson the ‘23 team was en route to ranking as the second least-accurate Duke unit since the shot went into effect for all of college ball in 1987. “We were just missing open looks,” rationalized Tyrese Proctor, tops on the team in 3-point tries.
While Duke personnel have changed more times than a traffic light in recent years, a slump in long-distance dialing has more or less lingered since 2019, when an outstanding team fell by a point to Michigan State in the NCAA Elite Eight. That group, led by RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish, made a program nadir for the season (.308) from beyond the arc.
Here’s how reliably adept Mike Krzyzewski’s squads were at converting threes, a program strength generally overlooked by outsiders: They led the ACC in 3-point percentage 10 times in 37 opportunities, including a run of 4 seasons out of 5 between 2010 and 2014. That half-decade saw the Blue Devils make a pair of Final Four visits, with current coach Jon Scheyer converting at a .383 clip in ’10, when they won an NCAA title.
Five different Blue Devils paced the league in 3-point accuracy over the years – Rodney Hood (.420 in 2014), Daniel Ewing in 2004 (.411), Shane Battier in 2000 (.444), Trajan Langdon in 1999 (.441), and Christian Laettner in 1992 (.557).
Even in their worst years shooting threes, Duke has almost entirely stayed above a breakeven percentage, and all but twice above .349 accuracy. (Breakeven is .333.)
Given that history, it’s rather striking the 2023 season has seen Duke sputter so markedly from beyond the arc. To date, none of its three most-prolific bombers (Proctor, Kyle Filipowski, and Jeremy Roach) have made a third of their shots from long-range. Roach, the veteran leader, was impressive overall in the 2022 Final Four. But he entered this season with his jump shooting a work in progress; he made a less-than-breakeven .322 of his threes in ‘22.
The current team’s inaccuracy —.311 through mid-January – demanded attention during practices. The effect was notable. Over the four games prior to hosting North Carolina, including putting down Wake to end the month, the Blue Devils made .393 percent of their 3-pointers. (That only raised their season-long conversion rate to a still-anemic .325.)
The backcourt of Proctor and an apparently-healthy Roach did hit half of its bonusphere attempts against Wake in a 75-73 win as Duke went 6-17 on threes.
“I don’t think anything changed,” forward Ryan Young said of the uptick. To be fair, while a close observer of the group’s dynamics, the grad student has yet to attempt a three. “I think it’s just a matter of trusting the work.”
Given Duke’s strong interior presence, the absence of a dangerous 3-point attack previously enabled opponents to slant defenses to cover their own weaknesses in the paint. Duke was 3-21 from long distance in its defeat by the Jayhawks, 2 of 19 against Purdue’s Boilermakers, and 3-20 in a loss at Clemson.
The Devils have made more than 10 3-pointers in only three games so far this season; they turned that trick 11 times in 2022.
Perimeter success can be contagious, especially ignited in an atmosphere like Cameron. Such a happy break from less healthful contagions is essential if Duke is to secure an NCAA berth, mark of a program-worthy year.
Seasons With Worst Team 3-Point Accuracy By Duke
(Through Games Of Jan. 31, 2023)
|3-Pt Pct||3A-3M||Season||3M As Pct