Duke Basketball: How Rivers-Less Blue Devils Will Improve in 2012-13

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Duke Basketball: How Rivers-Less Blue Devils Will Improve in 2012-13
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils saw their most intimidating player, Austin Rivers, leave for the NBA this past June, but his absence may be just what the team needs in order to improve and succeed in the 2012-2013 season.

There is no doubt that Rivers was a talented and polarizing combination guard, as he led the Duke team in scoring with 15.5 points per game. The young star was also the only player on Coach Krzyzewski's roster who had the ability to effectively drive to the rim consistently.

As always, however, with the good comes the bad. Rivers showed immaturity throughout the season, most notably with his play as point guard and the reluctance to pass. While averaging only 2.1 assists per game, he turned the ball over 2.3 times per game. A higher turnover ratio is exactly what you do not want to see from a player tasked to be the playmaker and leader on the floor.

Now that Rivers has been drafted to the NBA, Cameron Crazies and all other Blue Devil fans should feel not only a sigh of relief, but excitement for the upcoming season.

With the departure of Rivers, multiple players will benefit—along with the team as a whole.

Likely to benefit the most is Sophomore point guard Quinn Cook. Cook is immensely talented with the ball, and although he may not possess the scoring ability of Rivers, he is a true point guard who can create his own shots as well as provide more opportunities for the remaining four players on the court—something Rivers struggled with.

The key to Cook's success will be his ability to drive to the rim. Last year, Duke was a team consisting mostly of shooters and two big men, whom rarely saw the benefits of Rivers' ability to get into the lane. With Cook controlling the ball, assists should vastly improve and players such as Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee will find themselves with more comfortable positioning and therefore easier shots.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Another player who is seemingly glad to see Rivers gone is Curry—and he expressed that feeling when talking to reporter Shawn Krest of CBS. As Krest reported on his Twitter account:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">

Seth Curry on difference between this year's Duke team & last year's:"we like each other"

— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) July 13, 2012

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">

I asked him to clarify & he said it wasn't that last year's guys hated each other "but we weren't close like this"

— Shawn Krest (@KrestDukeCBS) July 13, 2012

With Rivers in a Blue Devil uniform, Curry often found himself handling the ball more often than he has been accustomed to in the past—undoubtedly effecting his ability to be the sharpshooter he is. Now with Cook in control, Curry can find his spot on the floor to await open shots and redeem himself as one of the nation's most lethal shooters.

Much like Curry, Kelly will benefit with Cook at the helm. At times during the 2011-2012 season, Kelly seemed as though he could become Duke's best scorer, but inconsistency reared and it was most likely due to the lack of open shots with Rivers handling the ball.

Besides the addition from subtraction of Rivers leaving, Duke also has three promising young players who will demand their chance to contribute. Forwards Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson along with guard Rasheed Sulaimon, add much needed depth to the roster.

The Blue Devils' team looks strong for 2012-2013, but talent will not be the reason this team sees it's strongest improvements—the philosophy and attitude will.

With Rivers no longer taking ill-advised shots, Duke will return to a team first mentality and style of play, finding contributors all over the court. More open shots will be available and less turnovers will be committed. For that reason, Duke will improve as a team throughout the season and once again strike fear into opposing coaches glimpsing at their teams' schedule.

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