Duke Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

Duke Basketball: Biggest Improvement Each Returning Player Must Make

0 of 9

    There will be some exciting new faces as part of the Duke men's basketball program next season.

    With one of the top recruiting classes in the country joining a highly regarded transfer, fans are looking forward to seeing what some new energy will bring to the team.

    To go along with the new group, Duke is one of the few elite programs in college basketball that won't have to deal with any early entries to the NBA draft. Instead, the Blue Devils will lose three seniors while returning the rest of their players from last season's squad.

    Those returning players can spend the offseason working on their games and focusing on specific areas of improvement.

    This slideshow looks at one area of improvement each returning player needs to make.

Quinn Cook: Defensive Pressure

1 of 9

    Quinn Cook's offense has steadily improved during his first two seasons at Duke but he still has defensive lapses.

    Cook had mixed results against the top point guards he faced this season and had difficulty stopping Shane Larkin, Lorenzo Brown and Peyton Siva.

    In order for the rising junior to emerge as one of the best point guards in college basketball, he needs to show the ability to be a lock-down defender. It also seems like the natural progression of point guards for Mike Krzyzewski.

    This offseason for Cook is an important one for him to elevate his game to another level.

Andre Dawkins: Mental Focus

2 of 9

    After spending last season away from the team following the death of his sister, Andre Dawkins returns to the team as a fifth-year senior and a potential impact player for the Blue Devils.

    When he is focused and confident, Dawkins is one of the most dynamic players in the country. His outside shooting touch and athletic ability make him a very dangerous offensive weapon.

    People forget that Dawkins was part of Duke's national championship team in 2010 and he has valuable experience.

    Now he needs to show he has the maturity and mental strength to play with consistency.

Josh Hairston: Shot Selection

3 of 9

    There are so many areas where Josh Hairston needs to improve, but the fact is that he's a rising senior who clearly has a lot of limitations in his game.

    He needs to improve his ability to finish plays in the paint, but more importantly, he needs to know when to pick his spots in the offense.

    Just because he can occasionally knock down a 15-foot jump shot does not mean it is a good option for most offensive sets for the Blue Devils. There's a reason that defenses usually choose to leave Hairston open for that mid-range shot.

    Despite head coach Mike Krzyzewski's mentality of teaching his players to attack, Hairston must learn that his outside jump shot should only be a last resort.

Amile Jefferson: Strength

4 of 9

    Amile Jefferson's play as a freshman was arguably the biggest surprise of the 2012-13 season for the Duke Blue Devils.

    At 6'8", 195 pounds, Jefferson was expected to struggle against other players because of his lack of size and strength. Yet, the lanky forward was able to hold his own against most opponents and use his quickness to his advantage.

    However, if he can use the offseason to put on an extra 20-25 pounds of muscle and maintain his explosiveness, Jefferson will have the ability to match up against any interior player in the ACC.

    He clearly has great skills, but now it's a matter of having his body catch up to those skills.

Alex Murphy: Defensive Quickness

5 of 9

    After starting Duke's two exhibition games in the preseason, Alex Murphy was expected to be a key piece of the 2012-13 team.

    Instead, Murphy started the regular season on the bench and was never able to break into Mike Krzyzewski's regular rotation.

    The redshirt freshman had some impressive offensive displays with ridiculous dunks against N.C. State, Miami and Maryland, but his defense was shaky. He had trouble staying on the floor because of his tendency to be too slow when switching on a screen or getting beat by a player making a backdoor cut.

    People are excited about the potential Alex Murphy has shown, but his defense must improve in order for him to showcase that potential.

Marshall Plumlee: Post Moves

6 of 9

    Mike Krzyzewski said Marshall Plumlee was the team's sixth-best player prior to suffering a preseason injury. That injury must have had a major impact on him.

    When Plumlee was healthy enough to return, he looked completely lost on the court and had difficulty hanging onto the ball whenever he could get his hands on it in the paint.

    Like his two older brothers, Plumlee has tremendous athleticism, but he appears to be very raw.

    He needs to put in a great deal of work in the offseason to develop some reliable post-moves and improve his ability to finish plays around the rim.

Rasheed Sulaimon: Outside Shooting

7 of 9

    Rasheed Sulaimon, a shooting guard from Houston, had a streaky freshman season, but showed potential to be the next star guard at Duke.

    His quality mid-range game and ability to finish with contact in the lane is reminiscent of former Duke guard Nolan Smith.

    However, Smith worked during his career to become one of the best perimeter scorers in the country.

    Sulaimon was a streaky shooter, but when his touch becomes more consistent, he will be one of the most complete offensive players in college basketball.

Tyler Thornton: Dribble-Drive

8 of 9

    Similar to Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton is a rising senior who has clearly carved out his role during his first three seasons.

    That isn't likely to change next season.

    Thornton brings leadership, physical defense and a willingness to take the open shot when given the opportunity.

    Teams defend Thornton as nothing more than a spot-up shooter. An added dimension of driving the basketball would be a great asset for him.

    Duke doesn't need Thornton to become another Rasheed Sulaimon with his dribble-drives, but if he can make opponents respect his ability to beat them off the dribble, it will help open the floor for his teammates.

Todd Zafirovski:: Practice Pressure

9 of 9

    It's difficult to come up with an area of improvement for a player who sees limited game action, but Todd Zafirovski still deserves a mention because he is part of the team.

    He will still primarily be used as a practice player next season, but this will be a critical role, particularly for Duke's post players.

    With Duke's thin and inexperienced front line, it is important for Zafirovski to do everything he can to push Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson in practice to prepare them for game action.

    Zafirovski's improvement may not show up in a box score, but Duke's coaching staff will certainly notice.