Finally the day arrived with 66.6% of the “Big 3” played a meaningful game in a Duke uniform. Hopefully it signals the end of the conspiracy theories and endless speculation…oh wait, there’s still Harry Giles… crap.
One thing to note and to keep an eye on for Duke fans is how well Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden mesh with the on-court chemistry that this team has built in their absence. This is a team that has only lost a 2 point game to a strong Kansas team and while there are clear issues on both ends of the floor – those types of issues are to be expected at this juncture of the season.
I expect the transition to be a lot easier for Marques Bolden because he is not a shot-seeking type of player. He’s happy to clean up misses, rebound and obviously he’ll get his looks underneath and posting up but being a big he’s not a primary ball-handler (although I do expect the offense to run through him in a sense that his ability to score in the post will help to get shooters open looks). The addition of Bolden will allow Amile Jefferson to slide over to his natural position at the power forward spot and also give Duke some rim protection. It was very easy for teams to pull Jefferson away from the basket and give free access to the lane. One would hope that being able to play them both may alleviate that concern. It may have just been a statistical anomaly but Duke did pull in its best rebounding haul of the season with the addition of the two freshmen into the lineup (Bolden didn’t start). Bolden and Tatum accounted for 13 rebounds this is going to be a fun stat to watch as they become more acclimated to being on the floor and the team becomes more acclimated to them. Duke also tied it’s best performance in blocked shots with 8. Tatum and Bolden had a block each but it just really underscores this team is different defensively whether they are responsible for the uptick or not statistically.
Duke Fast Break Points – First 9 games
Tatum on the offensive end is the bigger question I have. Tatum was uber aggressive in the Maine game – which is a positive in terms of injury recovery, he showed no mental hangover. Will Tatums aggressiveness cause other players, like Grayson Allen, to become less aggressive? I’ve often heard the term “not enough balls to go around” it will be interesting to see how guys like Allen, Kennard, Jackson and Tatum co-exist with each being shot hunting aggressive offensive players. You would hope with added defensive pressure will come more turnovers and more possessions and fast break opportunities. Duke as not been very adept at getting fast break looks – even in live ball turnover situations, when Jackson is not on the floor Duke generally looks to walk it up the court or slow things down. Duke has had 35 fast break points all season and 13 of those were against Grand Canyon – that’s under 4 a game against not the best competition. Duke had zero against Kansas and 2 against Michigan State.
This is where Tatums unique abilities may help Duke in that regard. Tatum with his size and handle (as we saw against Maine) has no problem gathering a rebound and taking the ball directly coast to coast into the teeth of the defense. His handle right now is probably better than anyone Duke has at the guard spot with the exception of Frank Jackson.
For me the story of the next few games is how Duke chooses to infuse these guys into a team that has had to adjust already from what they practiced all summer, and now again from what they’ve played for 9 games.