I generally don’t like to speculate too much on the future, especially when the present is so exciting and interesting in Duke Basketball. With the commitment of Harry Giles I think most Duke fans are pretty giddy. Lets contemplate for a minute the roster next year and have some fun.
We’ll make some assumptions about the lineup which I’ve deemed ok to do. Firstly the back-court:
Derryck Thornton and Frank Jackson will provide the Devils with a very capable back-court. Thornton has yet to play his first meaningful game as a collegian but there are some undeniable assets that he has and that will make next year as well as this year exciting. I’m nearly certain that there isn’t a more speedy point guard in college basketball currently. Thornton has shown the ability to be a basketball version of the flash. It’s hard to say with only 2 exhibition games under his belt whether he will be a consistent shooter. One can only expect improvement as the youngster learns the game. A year older is a year better and pairing Derryck Thornton with the uber athletic Frank Jackson either as a back up to provide Duke with a different look or on the court in tandem could be dangerous for other teams. Both Thornton and Jackson have the ability to get to the tin and where Thornton is a speedy race horse Jackson is power driver to the basket and a volume scorer at the guard spot.
The 2 guard spot will be a position of strength for the Devils. With a junior Grayson Allen and a senior Matt Jones the experience factor cannot be overstated. Grayson continues to transform his body and expand his game. Jones and Allen are both capable defenders and with both likely captains next year Duke will be primed for a run. Luke Kennard will back up 3 positions if things go the way I see them. Kennard can be a primary ball handler if the need arises but has the height and ability to also play the 2 and the 3. What separates Kennard from most is his IQ for the game as Coach K would put it, “he’s a player”.
The small forward spot is where the speculation portion of this article steps in. I think most would agree that most likely forward/guard Brandon Ingram will most likely be in the NBA next year. As much as I hate saying or predicting things like that, it’s a likely scenario. With Ingram’s probably departure, Jayson Tatum would step into that role along with Luke Kennard either as a starter or as the backup. Tatum brings not only length to the position but a lot of ability. Like Ingram, Tatum has above average ball-handling skills – he’s a long 6’8 and shares the same versatility that Ingram does. Duke will always have a plethora of shooters but Tatum provides the mid-range game and the ability to use his length and skill off the dribble to penetrate, as Tatum gets stronger he’ll be able absorb contact on that penetration.
The addition of Harry Giles does change the game for Duke, assuming his rehab goes well and there is no indication that it won’t – he can be dominant. An explosive athlete who didn’t lose any of that after his prior injury. Giles has the ability to take what should be an already dominant team (on paper) and take it over the top. Giles has always been a great player, there is a reason he’s been recruited for the entirely of his high school career. His game has also evolved over that time span, he’s quick, agile and strong. His lateral quickness coupled with his length, wingspan and strength makes Giles a very capable post defender who should be able to defend away from the basket as well. In the paint Giles is decisive, when the ball goes into Giles there is no hesitation he makes quick decisions and is a monster finisher. The underrated part of Giles’ arsenal is his strength on the boards, Giles has the potential to be a double digit rebounder and works hard for to get and maintain his rebounding position. As unassuming as Harry is off the court he is fire on it, an intense competitor who doesn’t need to think, he reacts. Basketball IQ is seemingly intrinsic to Giles and the scary thing for his competition is he is going to get better and he would be the first to say, “I’m not satisfied”.
Duke fans should not underestimate the addition of Javin DeLaurier. Not many players in the 2016 class had an arc of improvement as great as the 6’9 power forward out of Virginia. Delaurier is bouncy, plays above the rim but brings more to the table than just being athletic. Javin has worked at developing his mid-range game and may, along with Tatum, be the most versatile player in this recruiting class for Duke. Javin is very quick off the floor, and very quick to a second jump as well. Javin’s going to be a guy you can use in the pick and pop situation. It’s been a while since Duke had a player that fit that mold but DeLaurier can be that. He has the motor of an Amile Jefferson or a Lance Thomas but much more of an explosive and skilled offensive player than either. What also stands out about Javin is his ability to blend in with high level talent. It’s a trait that gets overlooked in high level recruiting but a guy that is a workhorse and puts team above all is a guy you want on your team.
The fun part is imagining an even bigger and stronger Chase Jeter at the center spot at 6’10, playing with a 6’9 Giles and a 6’8 Tatum or the 6’9 DeLaurier. All four guys are versatile and can finish but with the collective basketball IQ in this front court the interior passing could be a thing of beauty. The rebound numbers could be off the charts and on the break all are strong finishers and top-tier talents. The other great trait about these guys is defense. Jeter, Giles, Tatum & DeLaurier all have the raw materials to be great defenders – athletic, long, quick – but most importantly is a willingness and eagerness to defend makes them a coaches dream.
It’s not hard to imagine if you’ve watched these guys play that it very well could be one of the best front courts in Blue Devil history. It could be a very scary year for opponents but a very entertaining and joyous one if you are in Duke Blue.