The Blue Devils’ soap opera non-conference season finally came to a close on Wednesday night. It’s tough to complain, sitting at 12-1, but the season has featured a fair share of road bumps. In order for Duke to have success in what may be the most talented ACC Conference of all-time, a few things must be straightened out. Here are my New Year’s Resolutions for this potent Duke Basketball team:
1) Embrace the Hate
I don’t want to talk too much about the Grayson Allen narrative just because I think everyone has heard far more than enough, but it must be mentioned. Obviously, the media had a field day with Grayson’s lack of self-control, but in order for Duke to find success, they need to maintain chemistry and composure. When Grayson returns to the lineup, which I would expect to be fairly soon, the youngsters need to see a good response from their captain. He needs to feed off of the hate, cause it ain’t going anywhere. It would be a big positive for this team if Grayson would stop worrying so much about the media and his perception, and rather adopt a villain role on this roster, whether he truly is one or not. His response is critical, and will likely set the tone for the season.
2) Get the Frosh Up to Speed
The wait is finally over… the big three freshmen are all available. However, it is one thing to be available and another to be effective. So far, only one of the three has been an effective addition to the team, and that is Jayson Tatum. Marques Bolden has been out of sync, and Harry Giles is far from his full potential. Entering conference play, Duke will be facing top tier opponents week-in and week-out, and they will need the talent found in these two frontcourt assets. Bolden has the ability to become a premier rim protector and enforcer in the paint, while Giles’ versatility makes his potential through the roof. It is unknown how healthy Bolden really is, but in is few minutes on the court he seems out of rhythm. As for Giles, he just needs to see more minutes at the college level and understand his role. The problem is, Duke no longer has the luxury of time and weak opponents to get these two in rhythm. Coach K now has the difficult task of finding minutes for these newcomers, getting them comfortable in the system, while still beating ACC opponents. But if K can jolt Giles and Bolden past the learning curve before it’s too late, this Duke team will be a force to be reckoned with.
3) Get All Scorers to Buy In
One of the concerns regarding this team was how they would be able to function with so many alpha scorers on the floor. Frank Jackson, Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, and Luke Kennard are all ball-handlers wired to score the basketball, and often on the court together. There have been times this year where the Duke offense has seemed to stall, showing little to know motion and falling in love with isolation plays. Since the team is lacking a true point guard, it is critical that each scorer truly buys in to the team goals and keeps the ball moving. Having so many scorers can be both a blessing and a curse. If there is a sense of envy on the court, the abundance of talent will become a curse… but if individual stats can be set aside and the wealth can be shared, then this team will be unbeatable. Some days Tatum will fill that stat sheet. Other days it will be Kennard or Allen. It is essential that each guy must find some way to contribute every game whether it be defense, rebounding, passing, or scoring. The hunger to score must be converted to all assets of the game. Duke is currently sitting at 181st in the country with 13.8 assists per game. While nobody expected this Duke team to run off of assists, this number is concerning.