With each mass exodus from Duke each year "the holdovers" tend to get lost in the shuffle amid the new talent arriving. Duke is bringing back some significant pieces this season that provide depth, experience and hopefully buckets. Here is my assessment of each returning scholarship player and my expectations for the upcoming season.
This offseason the biggest recruiting coo for Coach K and the staff was Tre Jones opting to stay in Durham for another year. The expectations for most 5 star recruits is an immediate jump to the next level, it's the opportunity often afforded highly ranked recruits - Jones as a little different. He clearly saw no need to rush to the league, he recognized that Duke provided him a proper proving ground for his skills, it provided him a chance to chase a banner and generally a way to raise his value going into a possible early entry next season ~everyone runs their own race. Jones led the Blue Devils in assists last year averaging 5.3 per game to go along with his 9.4 points per game. Where the sophomore Jones will need to improve is from beyond the arc - shooting under 27% for the year last season Jones should see even more opportunities and if he can raise his average 3-5 percentage points defenses will have to honor his abilities off the drive as well as behind the 3 point line. Defensively Jones was sensational for the Blue Devils, averaging just under 2 steals a game and establishing a reputation as a pesky defender. Jones is in a unique position among Duke point guards - he's in a second season. The team will go as far as Jones will lead them.
POWER FORWARD / CENTER
When Javin DeLaurier entered the pre-draft process the biggest winners may have been the Duke Blue Devils, not because of the potential for him to leave but for the ability for Javin to go through the process, see what holes there were in his game and possibly return to the Blue Devils with some perspective. Luckily for Duke the latter happened. Javin was already trending towards improvement and even though the season ended too early for Duke fans - Javin played spectacularly in their loss to Michigan State in the Elite 8. DeLaurier scored 10 points, recorded 3 blocks and pulled down 11 rebounds against the Spartans - not missing a shot in 23 minutes of action. This has been a summer of work for the 6'10 power forward, who used the feedback he received from the the pre-draft process to work on his game. DeLaurier claims to have figured out the formula for being a double-double guy - which for him includes increasing his stamina in order to stay on the floor and not commit silly fouls which has been his Achilles heel. DeLaurier should be able to slide both into the 4 or 5 spots for Duke and should give a different look from Vernon Carey or Matthew Hurt. DeLaurier, when asked about being named captain on this year's squad remarked, "it is a tremendous honor". This Duke team will rely heavily on DeLaurier's rim protection this year and what he can give Duke on the offensive end should be gravy. This past season saw the senior play in 38 games, the most since he's been at Duke and saw an uptick for DeLaurier in minutes played, field goal percentage, rebounds
SMALL FORWARD / POWER FORWARD
For the second straight year Jack White was named captain of the Duke Men's Basketball team. The Blue Devils will need a calming presence on the court, in the huddle and on the bench this season with another crop of freshmen entering the mix. White in his 3 years at Duke has had to adjust to multiple iterations of lineups and has dealt with adversity and injury. A nagging hamstring injury suffered last year has healed and White gained some newfound confidence playing for his home country, Australia, in the World University Games this summer in Italy. White dealt with a shooting slump for the ages last season missing on 28 consecutive 3-point shots before hitting 3 in a row against Miami, only to on and miss 9 more in a row. During international play the junior big man was able to hit on 4 of 8 which could be a good sign for the Blue Devils with the 3-line now in step with international play. Duke will need White, not only as a shot maker but as a defender and a strong rebounder. His versatility will be huge for the Blue Devils next year. White averaged 4.1 Pts, 4.7 Reb, 0.7 Ast in his junior season all career highs.
Alex O'Connell came into last season being Duke's number one remaining threat from beyond the arc. While not with a huge sample size the Georgian shot 48.9% from 3 point range coming into the season. Last season with more attempts his numbers dropped to 37.5% which was still good enough for tops among Duke's scholarship players. In his junior season O'Connell has a chance to be the x-factor for the Blu Devils. Once again he should enter the season as Duke's most dangerous player from beyond the arc but it's what Alex does in other phases of the game that will determine whether this opportunities present themselves. Aside from physical attributes like putting on more muscle and weight, the Blue Devils will need O'Connell to improve both defensively and in his ball handling. His abilities are there, one needs to look no further than the two regular season games Duke played against the Syracuse Orange - those were breakout games for O'Connell where he averaged 18 points and shot 56% from beyond the arc. We've also gotten glimpses of his athleticism on the break and if the junior guard can funnel these glimpses into consistency he could very well earn himself a spot in the starting lineup. That's not to say there won't be stiff competition for that spot but if O'Connell can channel his 2 years of experience and become a reliable veteran guard look for him to have more games like the two against Syracuse.
People seem to forget that before Joey Baker reclassified to come to Duke he was a top-20 recruit in the 2019 class. Redshirting for the purposes of development seemed to be the plan but he was activated late during last year's season after Zion Williamson was injured. Baker only appeared in 4 games for 18 minutes but none of that negates the fact that Baker was able to work alongside and against the best of the ACC in practice the entire season, he now knows what is expected of him and what is role will be. While most don't expect much from him next season I think his shooting if as advertised could be an X factor for a team that doesn't have many proven shooters. The hope is for Baker to be a plug and play guy that Duke can use in a couple of different spots and if he's gotten stronger that could be the case. At 6'7 Baker should be able to provide some minutes in the post if needed (although not ideal) but his true value should be on the wing. He'll need to have worked on footwork defensively in addition to perfecting his shooting touch.
Jordan Goldwire appeared in a career high 35 games last year and it stands to reason this season that number could increase. With Tre Jones solidifying his position as a starter the junior guard could see his minutes at the point increase significantly as well. The piece that has been lacking from Goldwire's game up to this point has been offensively. Known primarily for his defensive efforts, Goldwire just needs to solidify his ability to hit the open shot to bring value to this new squad. No Duke fan will forget the huge role he played in the Blue Devils’ 23-point comeback against the Cardinals. The then sophomore Goldwire had 2 steals and according to Coach K, "He had the best look of anyone on the bench,". We haven't seen enough of a sample size to know what his true progression has been but with a more balanced team in Durham this year and fewer legitimate ball-handlers his role could become crucial. If it's spelling Jones or playing alongside of Jones for a different look Goldwire has a place on this team that could only be limited by his own development.