To start the discussion of the 2015 Duke Blue Devils squad we have to begin with where we left off – The 2015 National Championship. The last time on the court Duke was different, Duke was great. A 68 to 63 win against a strong Wisconsin squad saw a team of many young pieces melded together with some staunch veteran talent and leadership.The Blue Devils and Coach K and staff will need to find a way to replace around 70% of its scoring load from last year. Duke lost 4 double figure scorers in Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. More than just scoring Duke will need to replace intangibles from each player. Quinn Cook was the rock, the leader – Cook played the big brother role for freshman Tyus Jones and had a huge hand in allowing the freshmen room to grow and develop. It was Cook who set the tone after losing to Mercer in the first round the previous year, Cook let the freshman know this year would be different.
Tyus Jones played the season like a veteran, controlled, clutch and unfazed. He was a fearless floor general. Justise Winslow provided toughness and edge to the Blue Devils, he also provided versatility. Jahlil Okafor provided instant offense in his lone year at Duke, he was often times the offensive leader but sometimes he was the decoy, allowing his teammates to get open by drawing double teams.
Looking at Duke’s roster as a whole what stands out about this team is the height. Duke will have only one player under 6’3 (PG Derryck Thornton).
Duke replaces a lot with a lot. Duke will have depth in the paint with with returning players Amile Jefferson, Sean Obi and Marshall Plumlee with additions of Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic. Duke will also have exceptional depth at the guard position with freshman Derryck Thornton being the lone pure point guard. Duke will have a plethora of shooting guards to pair with Thornton in junior Matt Jones, Sophomore Grayson Allen and freshman Luke Kennard. It stands to reason that each guard will have a hand in playing some point guard but Thornton will most likely be the primary ball handler. Where Duke is thin literally and figuratively is at the small forward position but with only having Justise Winslow in that spot last year it shouldn’t leave Duke in a bad spot. Duke will have incoming freshman Brandon Ingram at the small forward spot but considering his versatility it shouldn’t surprise Duke fans to see him playing every position on the floor. It’s unclear how much action freshman Justin Robinson will see.
|2||Chase Jeter||F/C||6-10||195||Fr.||Bishop Gorman|
|3||Grayson Allen||G||6-5||205||So.||Providence School|
|12||Derryck Thornton||G||6-2||175||Fr.||Findlay Prep|
|21||Amile Jefferson||F||6-9||225||Sr.||Friends Central School|
|30||Antonio Vrankovic||C||7-0||270||Fr.||Pine Crest School|
|34||Sean Obi||F||6-9||265||So.||Greens Farms Academy|
|45||Nick Pagliuca||G||6-3||195||Jr.||Milton Academy|
|50||Justin Robinson||F||6-8||190||Fr.||San Antonio Christian Academy|
|53||Brennan Besser||G||6-5||180||Fr.||Latin School|
In 2014 Coach K and Duke did a masterful job of integrating a phenomenal recruiting class with the experienced players that remained in Durham from the previous season. In order to attempt to capture the level of success of last season if at all possible Coach K will need a few things to go his way. The first part piece of the puzzle for success:
Recruiting – Duke addressed it’s needs in the off-season and pulled in the number 1 class in 2015.
Leadership – Duke has two seniors on the roster in Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee. They will play huge roles in terms of helping to usher the freshmen into a new environment. Duke may not have seniors at the guard spot but Matt Jones and Grayson Allen have played at the highest levels now and the off-season is for preparing and Duke will need both to step into the forefront and make significant progression this season.
On the court in addition to replacing the scoring, Duke will need it’s guards to rebound. Duke has always been a rebound by committee team and Coach K was able to get 10 rebounds a game from the guard spots, it will need that same level of production if not more this coming season. While Duke is taller this year it does lose a lot in terms of experience. It will be paramount for the guards to get up to speed fast and it will take Jones and Allen to help spur that along. Duke will also need its guards, starting with Derryck Thornton, to average high assist numbers. Duke has a lot of ability on the offensive end but to maximize each players potential Duke will need a good set-up man. Thornton is a pass first point guard with a strong handle, he’s crafty and plays the angles very well. He is a different animal than Tyus Jones but no less talented. As Derryck goes, so go the Blue Devils.
Versatility – Brandon Ingram may be the most versatile player on the Blue Devil roster. Ingram may play 4 to 5 positions and can also be another ball-handler for Coach K. Last season Duke had versatility in Justise Winslow, a strong player who was able to play the 4 and 5 spots as well as take the ball coast to coast to prevent defenses from getting set. Ingram has a different skill-set but presents similar match-up problems. A wiry 6’9, Ingram can handle like a guard, slash to the hoop as well as hit shots from 3 point range on in. Duke will also need similar efforts from Luke Kennard, listed as a 2 guard the Franklin, Ohio product may see time at the point and possibly the small forward spot depending on match-ups.
Player by player:
Derryck Thornton – Be the consummate set-up man, know when to pass and when to look for yours. Make the simple play and learn from mistakes. Make the doubters into fans.
We are going to love this young mans game.
Grayson Allen – Build upon last season, bring a new level of consistency. Be a threat both off the dribble and from beyond the arc, develop a mid-range.
Matt Jones – Be the defensive stopper, be consistent from beyond the arc. Be a leader whether you start or not. Keep expanding your skill-set and force Coach K to play you by making your presence felt.
Luke Kennard – Let the game come to you, learn and do not fear mistakes. Rebound from the guard spot and get used to the speed of the college game. Shoot the ball like you always have be ready to play point if called upon and show that same swagger you had in high school.
Brandon Ingram – Go HAM, a lot of expectations have been placed on Ingram, the player he was in HS is the player Duke wants. Duke needs him to have a Durant-like versatility. Ingram will and should play all over and be the match-up nightmare he’s always been. I expect Ingram to have high assist numbers as his passing game is vastly underrated. Brandon can score the ball from anywhere on the court and what he lacks in strength he makes up for with ability and versatility.
Justin Robinson – learn, go hard in practice and if your number is called be ready. Going up against Brandon Ingram in practice is going to enhance Robinson’s game tremendously. While it’s hard to judge where he is competition wise he has the facilities, background and opportunities to grow and succeed.
Amile Jefferson – Be the anchor on defense and bring your offensive game along. Amile showed flashes and has every season but has yet to be a consistent offensive threat. More importantly for the senior is to rebound, take advantage of opportunities and show the freshmen the Duke way.
Chase Jeter – Chase will have experience in front of him, he will get banged around in practice and will appreciate it. Between playing against Plumlee, Obi, Vrankovic and Amile – Chase will be ready and itching to face someone not in a Duke uniform. He will have experience guarding different types of bigs. Aside from that, rebounding will be paramount for Duke this year if Chase Jeter can do the little things – the put backs, the kick-outs – he will be successful. We already know he can do the big things.
Marshall Plumlee – Marshall is a known asset, he brings energy, he can be a leader on the defensive end of the floor much like Jefferson and he can be a teacher. Each year at Duke Marshall has added to his game he may very well end up starting at the center spot.
Sean Obi – After going up against Jahlil Okafor for a year in practice and learning the Duke system, Obi is ready to show what he can do. Known as a prolific rebounder, Sean Obi is a space eater who, if can develop an offensive game could provide necessary depth at both the forward and center spot.
Antonio Vrankovic – Whether or not Antonio red-shirts his job should remain the same – be a physical presence in practice and soak up knowledge. A very underrated and understated part of what builds a winning team is how you practice. Just as Jahlil Okafor benefitted from having Sean Obi to physically punish him in practice. Vrank will provide that for the other bigs as well. That does not mean I don’t expect him not to contribute its just hard this early to say how much.
Brennan Besser – is a talented guard and I could see him being used almost like a scout team is used in football. He will be one of the more talented walk-ons Duke has had in a while.
Nick Pagliuca – Will push the other guards in practice, be a pest and a motivator. You definitely never judge a teammate by minutes played. Pagliuca comes from a basketball family, he knows the game.
YOUR THOUGHTS – weigh in and comment on what you think could make this team successful this year. Include your twitter handle and I will mention your comments in the next Blue Print Podcast.
As a team, to duplicate the success of last year there has to be cohesion, leadership and guys must buy in. Coach Krzyzewski emphasizes 5 words for his teams: communication, trust, collective responsibility, care, and pride. The emphasis is on the power of these words and combining them in a manner that creates unity, which in turn creates victory.
“A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That’s how I want you to play.”