I’m very excited to bring a different perspective to the site with the Coach’s Corner. In this space you can expect to read about the team and games from a the perspective of a coach. I’ll be digging into X’s and O’s, player/team tendencies, and potential adjustments by Duke or an upcoming opponent. To start, I want to focus on the play we saw from Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter during the opening weekend.
With two regular season games in the books we’ve already seen the team establishing an offensive identity that includes a heavy dose of post play. It was clear over the weekend that we can expect to see Marvin Bagley get most of his post touches around the left block while Wendell Carter will occupy the right side of the floor. This makes sense given that Bagley strongly prefers his left hand, and is able to use his body to shield defenders from the ball on that side of the floor.
When he posted on the right side of the floor and made moves to the baseline (over his left shoulder) he still preferred to keep the ball in his left hand. Against the defenders of Elon and Utah Valley he was able to get away with that, but it will be an interesting trend to watch going forward. When making that move against defenders who match up with him better physically, it may be tougher to get those shots off because there is very little separation between the ball and the defense. He’ll need to use quick moves and keep the ball high early in his movement in order to beat the defense in those situations.
As for Carter, he demonstrated some very promising instincts off the ball against Utah Valley. When other players drove down the lane and his man had to step up, Carter did a great job of sliding into space along the baseline. This skill is often difficult for young players to develop, because they tend to “stick” to a spot on the floor if they feel they’re open when their man leaves. By adjusting his position while his man steps up, Carter not only creates better passing angles for his teammates, he makes it more difficult for defenders to find him when they turn to recover – something that could lead to him being fouled more frequently. With the perimeter shooting that Duke possesses teams will be reluctant to send help from the opposite wing or corner on drives. That means it will fall to post defenders to be the secondary defender when Duke attacks off the bounce, and Carter showed on Saturday just how effective he can be in those situations.
While both players showed a variety of skills in the post, they also proved to be threats from the perimeter. If these two can provide even average shooting from the three point line, opponents are going to have a very tough decision to make. After Carter took his second three against Utah Valley his man was forced to step above the foul line, opening up an easy high-low post feed to Bagley which turned into a basket and foul. Carter’s willingness to take those shots is important, but he’s got to make enough to keep defenders honest. If he can, there won’t be many teams with a defender who can stop Bagley from scoring on a catch in the middle of the lane. That’s especially true because defenders are also going to be forced to guard him off the bounce from all different areas of the court and have a high enough motor to beat him down the floor and keep him off of the offensive glass. Good luck with that!
On the defensive end I thought it spoke volumes about the trust the coaching staff has in Bagley that they allowed him to switch dribble handoffs and ball screens with other perimeter players. He wasn’t perfect in his footwork or timing on the switches, but very few freshmen are. His effort, energy, and positioning were all very consistent and that is a recipe for consistent improvement in that area moving forward. Something to keep an eye on in the Michigan State game will be if Bagley is still switching those actions – especially if he’s switching onto Miles Bridges. Obviously neither team Duke has played yet had an athlete like Bridges who can score from all three levels. If the coaching staff trusts Bagley to switch onto him without fouling, expect to see it against anybody the Blue Devils play all year.
As for Carter – it sure was nice to see a true rim protector in the middle when Duke went to the zone. He showed good lateral movement from block to block and rarely got caught rotating late. His strength will allow him to prevent offensive players from getting all the way to the rim. If he can stay out of foul trouble like he did against Utah Valley, he’ll alter a lot of shots around the basket. Whether Duke is playing man or zone, that presence will be very welcome as the perimeter defenders work through the timing and positioning on all of those perimeter switches. When Carter was put into ball screen situations, he tended to hang back as the on-ball defender chased over the top of screens. That’s something to keep an eye on going forward – as pick and pop players may be able to take advantage of that if he isn’t attentive to his positioning in relation to the screen.
Looking toward the Michigan State game, if Bagley and Carter continue these positive trends from opening weekend, expect Coach K and the Blue Devils to pick up another W in the Champions Classic!