In part 1 we spoke of Duke's lone senior Grayson Allen who will have to, for the first time, be a leader in order for Duke to thrive this year. What should aid Allen,somewhat, will be what I call Duke's middle management. They don't have the court time that Grayson Allen has, they haven't lived through the battles and they aren't National Champions - what they do bring to the table is what to expect from a culture. These are the guys that have been in the system and know all about the adjustment one makes from high school to big time program.
Junior Antonio Vrankovic hasn’t seen the floor a ton at Duke but he has been in the program going into his third year. When the junior center has been on the floor he has given Duke toughness, energy and effort. Antoino spent time in the off-season working with the Croatian National Team - sharpening his skills and playing against grown men. While I do not expect his role to change much, depending on the lineups K and Company choose to employ he could and should see more time this year. Moreover his ability to accept whatever role comes his way, to be a cheerleader at times but staying ready is a valuable lesson. Regardless of his on the court role, he is one of the elder statesmen of the team (which sounds funny to say for a rising junior).
Marques Bolden - New Year, New Journey
Marques Bolden is in a unique situation at Duke this year. Marques came in as part of a heralded freshman class but his season was curtailed by injury, issues with effort and attitude. Physically, the skills for Marques are all there - he checks all the boxes: He can finish, he can run the floor, he is strong and is a good defender. Bolden has spent his summer working on his game, refining his offensive skillset and extending his range. What has yet to materialize for the young man is on-the-court success. Training videos are great for building hype but at some point these things must translate to game results and consistency. Defensively, Bolden could be key for Duke. Having spent time both on the bench for stretches and in the game in a few big moments last year, he should have no issues with adjusting. He is in a good spot to welcome in the bigs Duke has added this season. I believe Duke has taken the approach of "ownership" with Marques. Much like a business, employees tend to work harder, better and smarter when they are tied intimately with the results and are held accountable. Last year was last year, and Marques for all intents and purposes is one of Duke's leaders this year. He will need to show Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley, what he's learned and the pitfalls of coming in as a top recruit as well as the expectations of being a big in this program. His story, his journey is one that will be interesting to see unfold this year but Duke is expecting big things. With a plethora of big man talent on this team, each forward or center should be able to go hard - there is depth. Just watching Marques, I think he is still a kid waiting for a moment, a trigger to show him that he is as good as the coaches think he is. I think once that happens - if that happens, he could own his position.
"You kind of try to block those things out and leave last year where it is. If you dwell on the past and what could have happened, you'll just be living in the past forever. I'm just building a new mindset and coming in more aggressive than ever and just playing basketball."
Javin & Jack Know the Role
Javin DeLaurier and Jack White are the two players that, to me, have the most ambiguous role going into this season. From all accounts DeLaurier has been a beast in all of the early season workouts and practices but was nursing an injury during Duke social media open practice/scrimmage earlier in the month. He may be the most athletic of the Duke bigs and it will be hard for the coaching staff, especially if Javin has progressed, to juggle so many moving pieces at the forward and center spots. Javin is a high motor guy, with "ups", in high school he displayed the ability to be a pick and pop guy. Something I don’t think any of the other Duke bigs possess. I do expect him to see more time than last year. Where and what position those minutes come from and where he will be situated on the court is a mystery still. Jack White is an enigma to me - is he a small forward, a big guard? He has the ability to shoot the 3 but not sure he's quick enough for perimeter play but I’m saying that with only a small sample size to go on. Small forward seems like the logical place for him size wise but I'm not sure if that position is best suited for his talents. If anything he and Javin are good players but are they players that fit into what Duke is trying to do this year? I think we are all anxious to see their progression from last year and see just how Duke utilizes them in the pre-season.
"I think Javin eventually will be a pro, just the process of becoming that takes longer,” Krzyzewski said. “He's 6-9, 230. He's a fantastic athlete and he’s become a really good rebounder, a hungry rebounder. He eats up the court when he runs and he can defend multiple positions."
Time Will Tell
These middle management guys are not savvy court veterans but do have a place in ushering in new additions to this team. Comradery and togetherness is important as is the ability to check your ego, these guys who were tops in whatever program they came out of in high school have had to do these things and learn these hard lessons. None of the freshman coming in this year have worked as hard as they are working right now. Seeing the supporting cast working just as hard as the superstars is an invaluable thing. That being said, if Duke can buck it's trend of shortening the bench to 7,8 or 9 guys and find a way to use Javin, Jack and Vrank, I think the team will be better for it.
"We've usually had a lot of perimeter guys, shooters. We don’t have that many. That doesn't mean that we can't shoot, but we're not the outside shooting force that we’ve been in some of these previous years."