Duke will go into next season with a lot of positives. The team is replete with versatile players that coach Mike Krzyzewski can mix and match into a variety of different lineups.
Unfortunately, for all the scoring and dynamic play the Blue Devils will have, what they’ll lack will be size.
Marshall Plumlee will be the only Duke player over 6’8”. Of course, the 6’11” sophomore just underwent surgery on the foot he broke prior to last season. That raises some concern that maybe the youngest Plumlee is injury-prone. If he misses any time, then Duke gets real small real quick.
Even if Marshall Plumlee remains healthy, he’s one of only three reliable interior options.
Amile Jefferson showed good ability in the post last season. In limited minutes, Jefferson demonstrated an ability to score off offensive rebounds and make good cuts to the basket. Beyond an ability to contribute on offense, Jefferson defended and rebounded well.
He’ll have to improve in all aspects of his game, but Jefferson might have the edge over Marshall Plumlee as a starter.
Right now, Marshall Plumlee looks to be a bigger version of Josh Hairston. He didn’t show an ability to score inside last season, so his role will be to come in and play defense in the post. Because of his size, he should be able to block shots and to match up against opposing centers that will be bigger than Jefferson.
A worst-case scenario for Plumlee is that he mainly comes off the bench and has five fouls to give against opposing post players. On the other end of the spectrum, it was thought that Plumlee was one of the best six players on last year’s team before he got hurt. If that’s the player he truly is when healthy, then he’d snatch a spot in the starting five and be a big boost for Duke inside.
Jabari Parker is the final answer to Duke’s issue of height. Like Jefferson, Parker is 6’8”, but the freshman is already listed at 220 pounds. Therefore, Parker already has more bulk than Jefferson. Plus, Parker is more of a scorer than Jefferson or Plumlee.
The problem is that Parker is often at his best when he faces up defenders away from the basket. He also likes to exploit his mid-range shooting ability. That means Parker won’t want to spend all his time grinding under the basket. Plus, he’s also only a freshman and will take some time to adjust to banging inside against bulkier college defenders.
On the face of it, Duke’s lack of size seems troubling. Only those three players are really capable of banging in the paint, and after them, there’s only the offensively challenged 6’7” Josh Hairston and the perimeter playing 6’8” Alex Murphy.
Fortunately, Coach K is nothing if not creative. Duke fans will surely remember Chris Carrawell guarding Tim Duncan. Though Carrawell gave up about half-a-foot to Duncan, he defended the future NBA All-Star center admirably and led Duke to a win.
Coach K also went with a smaller lineup as the coach of Team USA. The US squad boasted a boatload of guards and forwards but no real center other than Tyson Chandler.
What Duke will do next season is essentially what the Olympics team did. They’ll spread the court and run a motion offense where every player on the court can score. Jefferson or Plumlee might anchor the middle, but everyone else will be capable of putting up points from just about anywhere on the floor.
Defensively, Duke will struggle more than they will on offense. While the Blue Devils will be extremely difficult to guard, the lack of an interior post presence will surely be a focal point for opposing offenses.
Still, pressure defense has long been a cornerstone of Coach K’s tenure at Duke. This season, that pressure will need to ratchet up to another level. The Blue Devils will be able to switch on every player and are athletic enough to really hound ball-handlers. It won’t be VCU’s havoc defense, but it’ll be a Blue Devils version of it.
In all, the lack of size is a question Duke will have to answer. Because of the coaching staff and the litany of versatile players, the Blue Devils should be able to answer that question sufficiently. In fact, the lack of size might make for one of the more exciting Duke teams we’ve seen in a while.