It might seem premature to look ahead to Duke’s 2013-14 starting lineup since Duke is currently 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. But it isn’t everyday that a team signs a top recruit that’s drawn comparisons to LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, so why not indulge in a little daydreaming about the future?
Replacing those critical pieces to this year’s team will be difficult, but the promise of Jabari Parker puts Duke into position to be just as strong—albeit much differently composed—in 2013-14.
As of now it is unlikely that any current Blue Devils will jump to the NBA early. Rasheed Sulaimon is a possibility to go pro, but ESPN’s Chad Ford suggested that scouts believe Sulaimon needs another year in college to work on his consistency.
If, as seems probable, Rasheed Sulaimon comes back, then he and Quinn Cook will certainly retain their spots in the starting rotation. The other three spots are where things get interesting.
The most likely starting lineup for Duke next season looks like this:
PG – Quinn Cook – 6’1” – JR
SG – Rasheed Sulaimon – 6’4” – SO
SF – Jabari Parker – 6’8” – FR
PF – Rodney Hood – 6’8” – SO
C – Marshall Plumlee – 7’0” – SO
The first thing to mention is that Hood and Parker are pretty much interchangeable. Hood probably has a better inside game than Parker at this point in time, but both players have the ability to shoot from outside to go along with their strong post moves.
The second thing to point out is the monumental importance of Marshall Plumlee. After missing the first nine games of the season due to injury, the youngest Plumlee brother made only a two minute debut against Cornell before spraining his ankle.
Next season, Marshall Plumlee will not only need to stay healthy, but he’ll be expected to carry the bulk of the load in terms of rebounding and protecting the rim on defense. Though he doesn’t have to be an instrumental part of the team right now, his development as a player this season is crucial to Duke’s success next year.
If Marshall Plumlee is hurt or remains a work-in-progress next season, then Duke will be forced to turn to a forward heavy lineup, similar to what Ohio State currently uses.
The final observation that jumps out when looking at the starting lineup is how young it seems. Plumlee will be a redshirt sophomore, but he’s missed a lot of time due to various injuries. Hood will also be a redshirt sophomore, but coming from Mississippi State, he’s yet to be tested in a conference as strong as the ACC and hasn’t been forced to integrate into a team as loaded with talent as Duke.
Sulaimon and Cook will have gained a great deal of experience thanks to this current season, but freshman Jabari Parker will certainly be called upon as a scorer from the moment he begins his college career.
While youth and lofty expectations foisted on young and relatively unproven players is concerning, the strength of the bench should be enough to overcome such obstacles.
The first players off the bench next season will be the first players off the bench this season. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston will both be seniors and will both likely be team captains. Having such dedicated role players as team leaders should be good for a Duke squad that is stocked up on enormously hyped future superstars.
On the court, Thornton and Hairston will certainly provide their usual defensive intensity. Off the court, the two seniors should serve to keep the egos of the younger players in check so that everyone remains focused on the team’s ultimate goal.
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Duke’s bench will also include sophomores Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy as well as incoming freshman Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye.
Jefferson will serve as a true post player coming off the bench. Next year, he should add some strength, which might make him the best candidate to serve as a backup center. Murphy or Jefferson could spell the combo of Hood and Parker. Jefferson would add an under-the-glass type player to the lineup, and Murphy’s shooting would be utilized to stretch the defense.
Jones and Ojeleye, the two freshman joining Parker in Duke’s 2013 recruiting haul, will provide backcourt depth. Jones is a sharp-shooting guard along the lines of Seth Curry and Sulaimon. He’ll offer a three-point threat along with Sulaimon and ensure that defenses can’t collapse around the Parker and Hood duo.
Ojeley is a 6’6” small forward. He’s athletic enough to play as a big shooting guard, and he is a good shooter from beyond the arc. Moreover, he’s regarded as a skilled rebounder. Ojeleye would probably end up giving breathers to either Hood or Parker. From the small forward spot he’ll be a hard worker and ensure that there isn’t too much of a drop-off in athletic ability or talent when one of the starters goes to the bench.
In all, Duke should boast a 2013-14 team full of talent, versatile players and strong senior leaders. If there is one weakness, it’s that, outside of Marshall Plumlee, Duke won’t have much height. How much of a weakness that presents, we’ll have to wait and see.
But thanks to Jabari Parker’s commitment, the future certainly looks bright for the Blue Devils. But of course, so does the present.