With May moving along and the Duke lineup looking to be set it’s time to take a good look at what Duke is bringing in, what they have and how those pieces can work together. A lot of the roster construction over the past few years has been completely top heavy, which is fine until you are reliant on a few players the majority of them freshmen and there is no complimentary bench to speak of. The hope is for that not to be the case this year. I preface this by saying it’s my opinion and everyone has theirs but it’s my space so you get my words and my opinions.
What I find intriguing about this lineup firstly is the size. There are only 2 scholarship players 6’2 or under that being guards Jeremy Roach and Jaylen Blakes although Blakes does have a 6’8 wingspan – he’s going to be fun to watch defensively. Everyone else on the roster is 6’5 or above. Even when Duke goes small they will be bigger than a lot of teams and I’m here for it. The second thing I find intriguing is the number of guys who are versatile and multi-positional. Wendell Moore, Trevor Keels, AJ Griffin these are all guys that can play several positions from guard to small forward. Situationally, possibly small ball 4’s if you prescribe to such positional basketball. The point is this team has size and versatility in the spots where they need it.
What has most Duke dans salivating is the front court where Duke boasts some very good pieces. Probably the best recruiting win for Duke this offseason was securing a sophomore season from center Mark Williams. Williams, a legit 7 footer, ended the season in fantastic fashion where he averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds in the last 6 games of the season. He was just hitting his proverbial stride when COVID claimed the season. Adding 6’11, do-it-all, power forward Paolo Banchero makes this middle for Duke extremely formidable. Not to say that Banchero is strictly an inside player, he is a legit threat to score at all 3 levels and has a handle to boot. Paolo has shown the ability to take his man off the dribble, hit step back jumpers, fade aways and with his frame he can also be a power player. He will be the unicorn for this Blue Devil team and Duke will and should use him all over the court.
For depth and to shore up the losses of Henry Coleman and Jaemyn Brakefield Duke brings in via transfer Theo John and Bates Jones. While no one is expecting Jones to have many minutes he has shown the ability in his 4 years to be a cleanup guy. John on the other hand was an integral part of what Marquette did where he averaged 26 minutes a game and started 26 games his senior year. John averaged 8 points and 5 boards a game but the most intriguing stat for me is his 1.5 blocks per game – he had 13 games last year with more than 1 block. I can see him getting minutes at both the 4 and the 5 with Bates Jones getting a minute here and there in relief or due to foul trouble. The addition of AJ Griffin who will most likely play several positions including 2,3 and the 4 is another win for Duke and possibly an upgrade. Griffin has an NBA body at 6’7, 210-215 pounds think of a comparable body to Justise Winslow, and like Winslow, Griffin will be one of Duke’s most versatile assets. Winslow in his lone year in Durham played nearly every position at times due to his size, strength and fluidity. Griffin has similar bones in that he can slash, looks to be a decent shooter and has the raw materials to be a complete dog on defense. If there’s a such thing as an x-factor AJ may just be that.
But..But…But What About Baldwin?
Certainly adding a player with the skillset of Patrick Baldwin is always something to like but Duke is built for success as is. I contemplated before his decision to play for his father (which is never a bad decision and a once in a lifetime opportunity) what him coming to Durham could do to the Duke rotation. It would have been a nice problem to have, as they say, but I think it would assuredly cut minutes for guys like Keels and Griffin so it very well could be a win-win for both Duke and for Patrick that he chose to stay home.
I’ve seen several question marks around shooting the 3 with this team, and while I don’t think it will be the primary go-to means of scoring, I do think Duke will shoot better this year than they did last year. I expect Trevor Keels who, among other skills, has shooting in his arsenal. I expect improvements to come with the a proper offseason in the shooting of both Wendell Moore, who has improved his shooting each year so far, and also Jeremy Roach who coming into Duke was still in the upswing of coming back from a very serious injury. If Joey Baker can return to his sophomore year form where he shot just under 40% Duke will have a supremely formidable outside game.
How the Rotation Could Shake Out
One way the rotation could shake out
25 Jeremy Roach 10 Trevor Keels 5 Jaylen Blakes
20 Wendell Moore 15 Trevor Keels 5 Jaylen Blakes
25 Adrian Griffin 8 Wendell Moore 7 Joey Baker
20 Paolo Banchero 15 Theo John 5 Bates Jones
25 Mark Williams 10 Theo John 5 Paolo Banchero
Roach: 25 minutes
Moore: 28 minutes
Banchero: 25 minutes
Williams: 25 minutes
Griffin: 25 minutes
Keels: 25 minutes
John: 25 minutes
Blakes: 10 minutes
Baker: 7 minutes
Jones: 5 minutes
Double figure minutes among top 10 teams plus DUKE, UVA, UNC:
Baylor – 9 players average double figure minutes
Gonzaga – 7 players average double figure minutes
Illinois – 8 players average double figure minutes
Michigan – 8 players average double figure minutes
Alabama – 9 players average double figure minutes
Houston – 11 players average double figure minutes*
Ohio State – 9 players average double figure minutes**
Iowa – 9 players average double figure minutes
Texas – 9 players average double figure minutes
Arkansas – 9 players average double figure minutes
Duke – 9 players average double figure minutes***
UNC – 8 players average double figure minutes
UVA – 8 players average double figure minutes
*1 of those only played 4 games
**1 other player had 9.6
***Jalen Johnson quite the team which likely elevated the minutes of others
Why I’m Bullish and Why Duke Has Enough
What I definitely like is the mix of young talent, veteran presence and role players – Duke has that. I know there are those that continually want to add players until every scholarship is replete with NBA draft picks but that is not a reality in todays world of college basketball. Very few successful teams go beyond a rotation or 8-9 players it’s a rarity to go 10. Not many players are going to a school where they have the possibility of falling into that 9th or 10th spot. The power, now, more than ever is in the hands of the player. The newer rules on transferring, love it or hate it has deemed it so – no one has to wait or sit. So the days of fantasy sports as a means of building rosters is over.
I think the most important piece for this Duke team is getting to campus in June and having a proper offseason and preseason. With the lineup now set and players expected back to Duke in June that is looking more and more like a reality.