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Even without Ryan Kelly, Duke was only down by four to NC State with two 2:06 left in the second half. Of all the positives to take away from the loss, Amile Jefferson’s emergence was probably the biggest. The athletic freshman had 10 points, two blocks and four rebounds, two of which were offensive (box score via ESPN).
The knock on Jefferson’s game might be that he fouled out having played just 12 minutes. However, and I know this sounds like a homer thing to say, some of the fouls called on Jefferson were questionable to say the least.
The most impressive thing about Jefferson’s game, to me at least, was how he played within the offense. His points came off offensive rebounds and quick cuts to the basket that got him open for good entry passes.
All season, Duke has done a poor job of feeding the post or dishing inside off of penetration (see Quinn Cook slide). Jefferson relocated on the blocks off penetration and, as a result, got separation from his defender while making himself available for inside passes. That’s fundamental stuff, but it’s good to see that Jefferson has a firm handle on it.
Jefferson also aided Duke in rebounding. All year, that has been a bit of a weak spot, but in the first half, Duke was dominating NC State on the boards. Jefferson was an integral part of Duke’s early-game proficiency around the glass.
In effect, Amile Jefferson can at least offer what Josh Hairston brings to the table, but Jefferson has the potential to grow into even more of a contributor. Hairston, on the other hand, seems to have maxed out his development.
The one area where Hairston outdoes Jefferson is defense. Hairston has been around long enough to have a firm grasp on team defense, while Jefferson occasionally seemed unsure of where to be in terms of help defense.
Of course, team defense is best learned through experience. Though Duke fans should be prepared for a learning curve, with more playing time, Jefferson could round himself into an extremely capable player on both ends of the floor.