There are many questions to be answered leading up to the 2012-13 season in Durham. Of these questions, no other may be asked more than who the starting five will be come tipoff. Duke has a plethora of exciting newcomers and a solid core of returning players, but who deserves the starting nods?
When I predict a starting rotation, I take numerous aspects into consideration. Not only do I want to see the best possible combination on the court regarding talent, but I also want to see a leader and experience. With that said, the Blue Devils' starting five should be:
With these five players on the court, Duke will have a balanced attack and enough experience to help younger players fulfill their potential. Each position on this year's team—with the exception of center—has very capable and talented backups, who could at any point in the season take the starting role over.
Last year, we saw Austin Rivers and Seth Curry take over most of the ball-handling duties and any Duke fan knows how frustrating this combination was. With Rivers gone, Seth Curry would be far better off if he were not running the point. Of all the options for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Quinn Cook makes the most sense and provides the most upside.
Last year, Cook had an up-and-down freshman season. Injuries plagued the young guard for a large portion of the year, effecting his speed and quickness—two qualities a point guard must have to thrive in such a fast-paced system. This upcoming season, however, Cook will be healthy, and he deserves the chance to showcase his abilities.
Tyler Thornton and Rasheed Sulaimon are also viable options, but both have their reasons as to why Cook deserves the spot. Playing in almost twice as many minutes per game, Thornton failed to produce better statistics than Cook. Although he is better known for his defensive capabilities, the lack of offense while Thornton is running the point hurts the team more than he can help on defense.
Sulaimon is a very talented and exciting freshman, but with Cook having some experience, Coach K should take the opportunity to develop the future floor general. It would be no surprise to see Sulaimon take over the role as soon as Cook falters, though.
Seth Curry needs to be the starting shooting guard. You should take notice that he needs to be, rather than should be.
Curry is a lethal shooter, but that aspect of his game was lost last year due to the shoot-first mentality of Rivers. When a true point guard such as Cook is handling the ball, Curry has the ability to spot up and shoot, making him a lights-out shooter on a consistent basis. With such a strong outside shooting team like Duke, it will be tough for teams to concentrate solely on Curry. With Cook feeding the ball inside and Curry finding his spot for the kick-out pass, Duke will once again have the constant three-point threat that seemed to be non-existent in too many games last season.
Beyond his talent and shooting capabilities, Curry is the one player that can emerge as the experienced leader of this year's squad. In fact, his leadership is a must-have for Duke to be as successful as possible. In an article written by Bleacher Report contributor Adam B. Weinberger, he further explains why Curry must step up and become a leader.
Without any doubts, one of the starting forward positions will belong to Ryan Kelly. The smooth shooting stroke we saw in many of last season's games led Duke fans to believe he was the key to success. Unfortunately, the injury that kept him from playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament proved just how valuable he was. Kelly has the length to contribute inside, the ability to shoot from long range and brings more experienced knowledge to the team. His role as a starter and main contributor will be nearly just as vital as Curry becoming a leader.
The other side of the paint should be occupied by incoming freshman Amile Jefferson. Although I made a point about developing Sulaimon, Jefferson has too much talent and upside to make way for anyone else starting. The lengthy true power forward needs to build his frame a little, but he has the ability to play above the rim with an excellent feel for the game. His jump shot could improve—which would make him almost unstoppable—but with Kelly's shooting abilities, Jefferson has the rare chance to contribute and develop at the same time.
Mason Plumlee at center is as clear-cut a decision as Coack K will get to make. Deciding not to enter the NBA draft—where he would have most likely been a first-round selection—Plumlee plays a key role for the Blue Devils. In order to succeed in the ACC and on the national stage, Plumlee will be expected to provide stability under the boards and be a dominant scoring threat in the paint.
The talent has always been there, and this is the year that the development of another Plumlee brother cashes in and takes effect. When on his game, there are very few big men athletic enough to guard him and fast enough to run the floor with him. Of all the Duke players, I see Plumlee having the most productive season across the stat sheets.
With this starting five set for tipoff, Duke will create the best chance at another highly-ranked season. Experience, talent and depth do not fall short on the 2012-13 roster, and make no mistake: The Blue Devils will once again become a powerhouse no opposing coach wants to face.