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Article by @RandyDunson: How Does Duke Stack Up Prior to Moving Into ACC Play

By December 13, 2015No Comments

How Does Duke Stack Up Prior to Moving Into ACC Play

By Randy Dunson

I thought I would take a gut check of the team prior to moving into ACC play. First though, we cannot look past the four games left on the schedule beforehand. First up, on Tuesday, December 15, Georgia Southern visits Cameron. This is followed by a trip to Duke’s home away from home, the Big Apple, on Saturday, December 19 to face a tough Utah team (currently ranked 25/24) in the Ameritas Insurance Classic. However, Utah was upset on Saturday. Finally, Elon comes to town on December 28 followed by another tough team in Long Beach State on December 30. If something drastic happens during that stretch, I will be back to discuss it unless covered in my game previews.

Let us take a look at individual players first, then the team as a whole, followed by a look at some key points going forward.

Grayson Allen

The Blue Devils are led by sophomore guard Grayson Allen, who averages a team-high 21.8 points per game while shooting 50.0% overall. He is shooting 42.6 percent from behind the arc. Finally, he is hitting 90.6 percent of his free throws. Keeping him out of the lane is a test for any opponent’s defense.

After being shut down by Kentucky, Allen has adjusted his approach to not only driving the ball to the rim, but he is beginning to mix-up his shots. The adjustment been great as he was the first player since J.J. Reddick in 2006 to have back-to-back 30-point games.

Probably the most impressive thing about Allen’s performance are the games against VCU and Georgetown. In the VCU, he was pulled from the starting lineup and had to come off the bench. Obviously that affected his psyche as he was back as a starter against Georgetown.

Joining Allen in the perimeter rotation are junior Matt Jones and freshmen Derryck Thornton, Luke Kennard, and Brandon Ingram.

Matt Jones

Jones was a starter on last season’s team and is currently is third on in scoring at 13. points per game. Like Allen, he has scorched beyond the arc (team high 46.3 percent) after hitting just 37.6 percent from deep as a sophomore.

Jones has been extremely consistent to date. It has not been just for his statistics, which have been very good, but more importantly, his ability to provide leadership that is much-needed on a team so young in the back-court and so thin in the front-court.

Jones, a junior guard, is the only perimeter player to start every game in 2015-16. He has been the Blue Devils’ most consistent on the outside, and as noted above, he is third to Allen in overall scoring and leads the team in three-point shooting.

Again, his contribution statistically is very good, but the guidance he is giving to Allen and freshmen guards Luke Kennard and Derryck Thornton is just as important. He’s also the first one to get on freshman forward Brandon Ingram when he struggles and he’s also serving as a leader to senior big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee because he’s spent more time in the starting lineup than they have over the years.

With Krzyzewski showing the willingness to mix and match his starters and who is on the court together throughout the game, Jones has been the one constant.

Derryk Thornton

Thornton, who reclassified from 2016 to 2015, is the only true point guard on the roster. However, like Kennard, has also gone through some early growing pains. That is to be expected given that he is the youngest player on the court. Thornton is turning it over on 19.7 percent of his possessions and also has the lowest effective field goal percentage of Duke’s regulars at 44.4 (just behind Kennard at 46.2).

He has averaged 8.6 points per game this year along with 2.7 assists. Thornton has shown flashes of what he is capable of against the likes of Kentucky and Georgetown but still has not played with the consistency to warrant him a permanent starting position. I have to say that I think he should be the starting PG, however if Matt Jones and Grayson Allen can continue to handle the 1 spot, then Thornton will continue to be a very helpful twenty-plus-minute option off the bench to have while he develops. He does still need work on his mid-range and floater game.

As noted above, with the exception of two games, Thornton has come off the bench. He started against both VCU and Georgetown, scoring a career-best 19 points against VCU with another 14 against Georgetown. He was 10-of-17 from the field in those starts and got to the line 19 times after attempting only 16 foul shots in the first three games. The distribution and ball-handling numbers, 2.7 assists (2nd to Allen at 3.0) and 2.0 turnovers per game, are still coming around, though, as the freshman becomes more comfortable running the offense.

With Grayson Allen and Matt Jones there to back him up at the point, Thornton has not been forced to take on everything all at once. Given that, he should become more comfortable with each appearance, and should eventually work himself into a starting role.

Luke Kennard

Kennard is beginning to show signs of the , a left-hander who is wired to score, is coming off a 22-point game against Utah State, but has struggled from the perimeter so far. Kennard is just 10-of-36 on three pointers, but is bound to start figuring things out soon.

Luke Kennard‘s shooting struggles have been well documented this entire year but one can tell that if he ever gets his shooting stroke back, he is in for big things. His scoring prowess was on display against Utah State where he poured in 22 points and looked like the player everyone thought he would be coming out of high school. Despite not shooting well the entire year, Kennard plays twenty minutes a game because he does not turn the ball over and his basketball I.Q. is always a positive when he is on the court. He helps the team even when he is not scoring.

Brandon Ingram

As for Ingram, he is really in a class of his own, being able to play the 1 through 4 spot on any given night. When he came in, the expectations were surreal as being deemed another one-and-done player to go early in the next draft. Well, fans started questioning that prowess until the last four games. He is currently working hard with assistant head coach Nate James.

He is using 24.9 percent of possessions while on the floor (second to Allen), but has a respectable effective field goal percentage of 51.5, but is hitting just 59.0 percent from the line. At 6-foot-9, his length and athleticism will cause problems for any team, especially if they go small. That said, if an opponent is going to play off anyone on the perimeter, Ingram (34 3PP) along with Thornton (40.4 percent) are the smart bets.

Recruiting rankings for high school players are based on how they looked against competition that was of the same age range, but not necessarily always the same skill level. Brandon Ingram dominated at the prep level and thus ended up third overall in the 2015 class (per 247Sports).

It was highly touted that coming into Duke, he was going to be a Top 5 draft pick in the NBA draft, but, until the last four games, the 6’9″ freshman forward had looked anything but a superstar, and his struggles led to him losing his starting spot at one point. Coach K alluded to his being knocked back with the level of physicality and attention and competitiveness. He also noted though, that Ingram has to grow from that and that he was not even close to playing where he should be playing, and he knew it. That is when Nate James stepped in to rebuild his confidence, which has paid off in dividends.

Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson

One might lump Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee into one player because they are seniors and provide similar leadership qualities to this team. Now Jefferson is a better player, averaging a double-double with 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Plumlee only averages 5.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, however both make so many little plays throughout a game that do not show up in the box score. They are fantastic help defenders as well as elite box out players. They might not get every rebound but they make sure that their man does not get the rebound either. Both average at least two blocks per game and force steals at a high rate for big men.

In the post, Duke starts seniors Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson. The 7-foot Plumlee has been a role player up until this season, but has emerged as an important piece to the puzzle. Plumlee has taken just 24 field goal attempts, but has earned 38 free throw attempts. More importantly, he has provided solid rim protection (7.4 block percentage) and rebounding (19.5 DR%).

These two are more utilitarian in their approach than the average five-star prospect. It works for the Blue Devils, a program that has always placed a premium on utilitarianism, like drawing charges and setting solid screens. They may play more like role players, but with this season’s Duke squad, it is a pretty big role.

Amile Jefferson

Jefferson’s role has also grown in his final season as he is the team’s best rebounder (10.3 per game) and is finishing an incredible 68.3 percent of his two pointers. Freshman Chase Jeter is the backup big, but is averaging just eight minutes per game. The Las Vegas native is averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

Amile Jefferson has started every game at the four, the position he held for most of last season before Duke opted to go with three guards and move Justise Winslow into the frontcourt. The Blue Devils are deep in the backcourt again and primarily start three guards, but Jefferson has earned the right to hold onto his spot after a solid start of his senior year.

The 6’9″ Jefferson is averaging 11.4 points (4th on the team) and a team-best 10.3 rebounds per game, with double-doubles in four of Duke’s games thus far. His production ebb and flow dependent on the productivity of Plumlee and Ingram as Amile is the epitome of a team player.

Jefferson was not expected to be a full-time answer up front this season, but with Brandon Ingram showing very little ability to play inside and Chase Jeter coming along slower than expected, he has had to be more involved. His offensive rebounding kept Duke from being blown out early against Kentucky, and he has 43 offensive boards (Plumlee is 2nd with 18!) this season. He is handling that role well, though, and for the time being it is getting the job done.

Marshall Plumlee

This is the end of the ‘Plumlee era’ at Duke this year as Marshall Plumlee’s senior year will mark the end of the run for a family that has had three brothers on the Blue Devils.

He is the least-heralded of the trio, yet what Marshall has done so far this year has made him no less valuable than Miles and Mason before him.

The 7-footer has started all eight games at center and the future Army member is making the most of his opportunity by giving the Blue Devils valuable minutes down low as a rebounder and defender. The 6./7 points per game has been gravy.

The long-term plan is to have freshman Chase Jeter get more time inside, but since he has not reached the point of averaging more than eight minutes per game the job belongs to Plumlee. However, he will need to avoid being such a foul magnet, as he fouled out in 24 minutes against Georgetown.

The Others…

And then there were the others, sophomore transfer forward Sean Obi, who has yet to take off his warm-ups all year, freshman forward Antonio Vrankovic (who sits alongside Obi), walk-on junior guard Nick Pagliuca, and finally, the unheralded freshman F/C Chase Jeter.

I have a lot to say about the status of these so-called “benchwarmers” (played in fewer than 10% of a team’s minutes), but for the sake of this article, I will remain positive. With the exception of Pagliuca and Jeter (also recently red-shirted freshman guard Justin Robinson), only time will tell if Obi and Vrankovic will ever see meaningful minutes while at Duke. Given the class of 2016, and looming even further, the building class of 2017, it is doubtful that the two will play much, unless God forbid, a player sustains a long-term injury. I will leave my commentary there.

As noted above, Chase Jeter has seen limited floor action this year, even in games that Duke had opponents on the ropes. There was the Buffalo game where walk-on Pagliuca saw a miniscule amount of minutes while Jeter was left on the bench to cheer.

Jeter definitely needs to bulk up for a year in Duke’s strength program given his intended position, but I see him much the same as Jefferson. Jeter is more skilled on the block at his young age than Jefferson was. Given his talent level, and dependent on the final class of 2016 recruits, Jeter should become a real factor on this team next year. 

Team Overall

The Duke Blue Devils capped off their eighth victory of the season on December xx with a win over the University of Buffalo, 82-59. Duke is on a six game winning streak after previously having fallen to the Kentucky Wildcats on November 17. Now they are completing their Finals and will begin prepping for four games the next three weeks, prior to diving into ACC play.

Duke’ current rotation scheme is to play just eight guys. They have started six different players so far this season, with three players in the lineup every game and three others rotating at a pair of the guard spots.

As a team, let us look at some statistics then finish up with a few key points, some of which are continually addressed in my game previews.

The table below represents key statistics per The categories are self-explanatory. As I do for each game preview, let us take a look at the four factors to winning first from the offensive perspective. As you can see, Duke is ahead of the Division I average, which is a good thing, but each could use improvement.

When it comes to effective field goal percentage (eFG%), Duke is shooting the ball very effectively. This statistic differs from conventional field goal percentage by taking into account the extra value of a made 3-pointer.

Next, we will take a look at turnover percentage, which is the number of turnovers divided by the number of possessions. Duke’s TO% percentage is low at less than 15 percent.

When it comes to offensive rebounding percentage, Duke ranks high at 39.7. This statistic is computed from OR/(OR + DR). The value in the defensive column can be thought of as offensive rebounding percentage allowed.

Finally, we look at the free throw rate, which is FTA/FGA (number of times a team gets to the line) and can be uses for both the offensive and defensive values. Both of Duke’s values are very good.

I will leave the remaining stats for you to ponder as we move to some key points moving forward.


Category Offense Defense D-I Avg
Adj. Efficiency 120.2 1 95.7 36 102.0
Adj. Tempo 69.6 208 70.3
Avg. Poss. Length 17.0 166 17.3 221 17.0
Four Factors
Effective FG%: 55.0 37 48.4 150 49.3
Turnover %: 14.7 17 19.0 146 18.7
Off. Reb. %: 39.7 12 30.8 192 30.4
FTA/FGA: 46.8 25 27.3 34 36.7
Miscellaneous Components
3P%: 39.4 43 35.7 236 34.1
2P%: 52.9 64 46.4 125 48.3
FT%: 71.8 107 66.9 99 69.1
Block%: 8.1 129 13.4 39 9.2
Steal%: 7.6 91 10.4 73 8.7
Style Components
3PA/FGA: 33.4 215 28.4 19 35.3
A/FGM: 42.9 324 47.7 73 52.8
Defensive Fingerprint: Mostly Man
Point Distribution (% of total points)
3-Pointers: 27.5 202 26.4 246 29.1
2-Pointers: 49.1 219 57.7 23 50.5
Free Throws: 23.4 76 15.9 325 20.5
Strength of Schedule
Components: 104.1 83 100.7 102 102.0
Overall: .5953 93 .5000
Non-conference: .5953 101 .5000
Bench Minutes: 26.8% 307 32.6%
Experience: 1.31 yrs 300 1.70
Effective Height: +4.2 13 0.0
Average Height: 78.8″ 5 76.8″

Key Points Prior to Moving Into ACC Play

Again, there may be some overlap with my preview points, but that is not a bad thing.

After playing nine games in a little more than three weeks, Duke is taking the first of two lengthy breaks before the preseason ends and the ACC slate begins in January. There are just two games between now and December 28, a period when the Blue Devils will rest but also work on improving their play for the second half of the 2015-16 season.

Duke is 8-1 on the year, its only loss coming in the third game against Kentucky. Since then it has won six in a row by an average of 17.5 points, the last four by 23.8 points.

Things are going well, but if you ever have listened to a Coach K interview, the mantra is that they can always get better. Not everything is fixable through practice, though. As many of you know, the absence of translating practice into developing a player in game-timre situations is a pet peeve of mine. We will leave it at that!

  • Two More to go Before the ACC
    • Typically, Duke’s nonconference schedule is routinely a mix of challenging matchups and ones that will only cause trouble if the Blue Devils let them.
      • That was the case with Yale, a solid mid-major team but not one that should have been able to hang with Duke, yet it played incredible in the first half a few weeks ago
    • The Indiana game was supposed to be a marquee matchup but due to Duke’s stifling defense in the 2nd half, it turned into a rout
      • The IU game may have got into the players heads as the next game against Buffalo was as an uninspired performance as you can get
      • The Blue Devils won by 23 despite shooting only 32.3 percent in the first half and 40.7 percent overall
    • Need to get pushed to the limit at least once more before getting into ACC play
      • Hopefully, this readies the team for the long haul
      • Two strong teams should provide this challenge, either the December 19 game against Utah in the Big Apple or when Long Beach State visits Cameron on December 30
  • Defense – Zone or Man-to-Man
    • As noted in my game previews, Duke has become more reliant on zone defenses, particularly in crisis situations or to slow down opponents
    • Traditionally, Duke has been known as an exclusive man-to-man team, but I believe that Coach K is now looking for ways to become a better man-to-man and rely less & less on the zone
      • When looking at statistics, Duke is allowing opponents to shoot 43.4 percent overall, 35.7 percent from outside, and giving up 69.3 points per game
      • Compared to last year, the Blue Devils allowed 42.2 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively, using almost exclusively in man defense
  • The Coming of Age of Brandon Ingram
    • As noted above, Ingram has been up and down over the first nine games of his career, looking average at his worst, and potentially dominating at his best
      • He has been on an upswing as of late, possibly motivated by getting pulled from the starting lineup for two games
      • The improvement hasn’t just been on offense (47 points on 18-of-30 shooting the last two games), but Ingram is starting to use his length better on the defensive end
  • Frontcourt Depth
    • At the beginning of the year, the premise was that Duke would have depth in the frontcourt
    • This premise is far from reality, as there are essentially three players splitting time at the two post position while the rest are simply not involved
      • Seniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee have started every game, combining for 55 minutes per night
      • Ingram is best served at the three, though on occasion Duke puts him at power forward when going with a smaller lineup, so it has been up to Jefferson-and-Plumlee to hold down the post
      • For reasons that remain unknown, freshman Chase Jeter is not the next man up down low as expected and transfer Sean Obi from Rice appears to not be in the mix
        • The 6’9”, 270-pound sophomore who sat out the 2014-15 season yet got to practice against Okafor every day, has played a mere five minutes in two games
      • Freshman Antonio Vrankovic has nine minutes played in three games, while freshman Justin Robinson is redshirting this season
      • This scenario will not bode well when Duke begins playing much bigger teams that have perimeter talent as well
      • [As a side note, the NC State – University of South Florida game was on while I was finishing this article; if both Jefferson & Plumlee get into foul trouble, there will be absolutely no one on Duke’s bench who can step in & defend the likes of Anye & Abou]
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