With a 103 – 58 victory over McGill the Duke Blue Devils conclude their exhibition tour of Canada with 3 wins by an average of 33 points. Obviously the level of competition has to be weighed into any analysis of what we saw in the 3 games against Canadian schools but there was good and bad and lots to work on and this was an excellent opportunity to get a sense of what Duke needs to work on.
Staring with the positives for Duke so far and it’s obviously only August but Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett seem to be gamers. Both freshmen showed a wide array or skills and were definitely the alpha’s during this trip. Clearly the configuration we saw on this trip is a paired down version as the Devils played without 2 other presumed starters in Tre Jones and Cam Reddish and without sophomore reserve guard Alex O’Connell all out with minor injuries. Even with that shortened mishmash rotation Duke handled each game with no real game pressure past the first couple of quarters.
Judging against the competition in front of them it’s clear that several of the reserves have upped their game. Jordan Goldwire and Javin DeLaurier have clearly shown some progress even with several months to go before the true start of the season. It should definitely ease some Duke fan stress about a back up point guard because Goldwire seems very capable to fill that role behind Jones. Also what bodes well for the ball handling duties for this Blue Devil team is the fact that each of the freshmen brought in this season are good ball handlers.
There are 3 areas that seem to stand out in this early August session to me:
- Three point shooting – 3pt shooting percentage 31.9%
- Defense – opponent shooting percentage 35%
- Post presence – 162 points combined / 40 combined (DeLaurier, Vrankovic & Bolden)
1. While R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson are 3 point threats when they get an open look, hopefully enough to be able to keep defenses honest, it’s not the strength of either of their games. Duke needs them to be serviceable shooters but will lean more on Cam Reddish and Alex O’Connell both have that skill in their arsenal. Tre Jones is more of slasher and mid-range guy but I imagine he, like Zion and R.J. will be serviceable and able to hit an open shot. Duke shooting in the 30% range for this exhibition tour is about what was expected. I’m not certain that long range shooting will be a strength of the 2018-2019 Blue Devils but if they can shoot a reasonable percentage and keep defenses honest they should do ok.
2. Defensively Duke was ok. Fans will enjoy that Duke will return to primarily man-to-man defense with zone being a tool in the proverbial toolbox. Duke has the foot speed and versatility to be great defensively but being as young as this team is, it will take some time. Duke should also be able to press and trap with aplomb with the length and speed on this year’s team but again, its still August. Duke did have trouble at times containing drives but for the most part played ok defensively. Duke held each Canadian team to under 39% shooting.
3. Post presence seems to be something that will be an issue for Duke. Duke has 3 serviceable bigs in Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Antonio Vrankovik. DeLaurier and Vrankovic both had strong showings in the 3 game exhibition. DeLaurier averaged 7 points per game and 6 rebounds a game. Vrankovic had a his strongest showing against McGill scoring 8 points and even starting that last game. A noticeably slimmer looking “Vrank” was active and mixed it up well in the middle. That brings us to Marques Bolden, the enigma with a stigma – Bolden ended the 3 game tour going 0-3 and saw his minutes decrease from 19 in the first game to 10 each in the last two games. There is no denying the big man has talent but the level of production or lack there of is concerning. It could be the fact that Zion and R.J. are pretty ball dominant players or the the game was really up and down but there were not a lot of looks for Bolden. Just as hitting 3’s will keep defenses honest and force them to account for the perimeter shooters, having an inside presence works similarly. Getting Bolden, the most offensively talented of the bigs, to produce would benefit every other facet of Duke’s offensive game. For Duke to be successful this season Duke has to maximize what they have in Bolden. The hope is that the return of Tre Jones can help trigger the big man who clearly is going to need to be fed in order to get looks. It’s worth it, in my opinion, to run some stuff for Bolden to get him going.