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Duke Basketball: Setting Expectations for Each Projected Starter

Dantzler SmithContributor IIIJune 14, 2016

Duke Basketball: Setting Expectations for Each Projected Starter

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    Duke always has high expectations for the team. This year is no different.

    Of course, to realize the expectations of the team, each individual player must meet his own expectations. Depending on their role, different Blue Devils will be required to meet a variety of different requirements.

    For the starters, these expectations will be fairly lofty. And yet, if the starters are able to meet the following expectations then the Blue Devils will be genuine title contenders.

Quinn Cook

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    If there’s an explanation for why Cook torched Clemson for 27 points and then never looked that good again all season, I’m not aware of it. Seriously, against Clemson he was driving past his defender and getting layups at will. It looked as if Cook had turned the corner. Unfortunately, Cook never even came close to matching that performance against the Tigers.

    More troubling, when it mattered most Cook was decidedly unimpressive.

    During the ACC and NCAA tournament, Cook’s offense was nowhere to be found. Against Michigan State, he had exactly zero points. In the four NCAA tournament games he shot a total of 7-of-32 overall and 0-of-12 from three, according to ESPN. That’s 21.8 percent shooting, and a big part of why the Blue Devils flamed out of the ACC tournament and couldn’t keep up with Louisville’s offensive steamroller.

    There’ll be a lot of scorers on the 2013 Duke team, but Cook’s scoring can’t just come and go game by game. He needs to be a consistent contributor on offense.

    It seems like Cook has the facilitator role down pat. He’s also reined in the turnovers. Both of those will be important, given the amount of teammates that Cook will need to set up in the offensive sets.

    However, the only thing preventing Cook from being a complete player is an ability to consistently drive the lane and to reliably make three-pointers. If he doesn’t prove to be both a passing and scoring threat, then Cook will not have lived up to the high standards that come with playing point guard at Duke. The expectation for Cook is to be that total package.

Rasheed Sulaimon

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    The expectations for Sulaimon are fairly simple. Last season he averaged 11.6 points per game. That was actually a 10th of a point fewer than Quinn Cook. While Cook just needs to get more consistent on offense, Sulaimon needs to develop into the Blue Devils’ primary scorer.

    Sulaimon’s 37.1 three-point shooting percentage simply has to improve. The Blue Devils, with all their wing players, will look to slash and cut to the basket. However, that will only be effective if there is a legitimate three-point threat to prevent defenses from sagging off defensive assignments.

    Sulaimon will be Duke’s most talented perimeter scorer. Though there will be many scorers to share the point-total burden, Sulaimon is the one with the most three-point and dribble-drive potential. If he can combine better outside shooting with the ability to drive the lane as effectively as he did late in the season, then Sulaimon should be a real offensive powerhouse.

    The expectation for Sulaimon, therefore, is to provide Duke with a legitimate three-point shooter and be at least one of the Blue Devils’ top scorers, if not the outright team leader.

Rodney Hood

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    Though Hood only has one year of playing experience under his belt, he will be one of Duke’s most experienced scorers. Seniors Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston aren’t offensive threats, and Cook isn’t going to lead the team in points.

    Hood may have only played one season’s worth of games, but he has the benefit of a year practicing with the team while sitting out 2012-13 due to the transfer rule.

    He’ll be a first-year player for the Blue Devils, but Hood will have a healthy amount of experience. That understanding will be invaluable as Duke seeks to replace all the scoring the Blue Devils have lost. Without Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Duke needs more than a few players to step up and lead the Blue Devils offense.

    Hood not only has experience, he’s also a versatile player. That’ll come in handy as Duke’s roster is comprised of a lot of wing players. That means guys will be asked to do things they aren’t necessarily comfortable with.

    Hood isn’t afraid to go in the post to rebound, penetrate, make passes or shoot from outside. He’ll be asked to do all those things as Duke uses versatility to make up for a lack of size. That adaptability will pose problems for opposing defenses.

    Due to all that Hood has to offer, the expectations for him are to serve as a jack of all trades for Duke. He’ll need to score, defend, rebound and pass, and understand which of those things best serve the team at any particular moment. That’ll require a high basketball IQ as well as loads of talent, but Hood has both of those skills, so he should handle to those difficult duties.

Jabari Parker

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    As a freshman, it may take time for Parker to fully integrate himself into what Duke wants to do. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Parker is so talented that even if he hasn’t fully grasped the system he can still be an offensive and defensive force.

    Parker has the potential to score a ton of points. On pure talent he could project to be the Blue Devils’ leading scorer. But because Parker will be a freshman, expecting him to rise to the level of Duke’s leading scorer is a bit too much.

    There’s also the issue of Parker having to play in the post due to Duke’s roster makeup. Parker will have to adjust to going up against the size and strength of college players. Offensively, Parker will probably adapt to the college game faster than defensively. Unfortunately, the Blue Devils will most need contributions from Parker on defense and on the boards.

    Other than Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson, Parker is the only real post player on the Blue Devils roster. As a result, Parker will be pressed into interior duties. He’ll need to rebound, defend bigger players and creating inside scoring. That’s a lot to ask of a freshman, but obviously Parker is no ordinary freshman.

    In the end, Parker will be expected to provide Duke with an inside presence on both offense and defense. He doesn’t have to be a scoring star for the Blue Devils, but he will need to develop into a player that answers Duke’s interior weakness.

    His ability to do so will be integral to Duke’s championship aspirations.

Amile Jefferson

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    It’s possible that Marshall Plumlee plays his way past Jefferson into the starting spot, but for now Jefferson projects as the favorite. Jefferson didn’t play a ton as a freshman, but in limited minutes he managed to impress.

    He made smart cuts to the basket on offense and played hard-nosed defense against guys bigger and stronger than him. In fact, the only real complaint with Jefferson was how skinny he was.

    Over the year he seemed to put on muscle and that’ll surely be a point of emphasis for Jefferson’s offseason regimen. He also had a tendency to pick up fouls, but that should decrease as his understanding of the game improves via experience.

    What’s really impressive about Jefferson is how he rebounded. Though he never seemed to come off as a dominant rebounder, Jefferson came away averaging 2.9 rebounds per game while averaging under 13 minutes of play, according to ESPN.

    The expectation for Jefferson is to anchor Duke on offense and defense.

    Offensively, Jefferson doesn’t need to score. All the Blue Devils need him to do is grab offensive rebounds and set picks to create mismatches. On defense, however, Jefferson’s responsibilities increase dramatically. He’ll be asked to check the opposing center. In that matchup, Jefferson will almost always be outsized.

    In order to realize his potential and make Duke a strong title contender, Jefferson will have to play with the tenacity of Steve Wojciechowski. If he hustles and hassles opponents in the post, then Jefferson should live up to this expectation and make Duke an extremely tough team to beat.

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