Duke Basketball: 5 Bold Predictions for the Blue Devils' Incoming Freshmen
New recruits represent infinite possibilities. It’s impossible to forecast exactly how a new player will perform or how he will impact the team. So given the inability to make pinpoint predictions, it’s a great time to make some bold claims.
Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones are all great talents. Therefore, making bold predictions means imagining best-case scenarios for their careers at Duke. Such elevated optimism might be somewhat misguided, but the Blue Devils won’t need each of these predictions to come to fruition in order to be successful.
If just one or two of these brash claims turn out to be true, then Duke should have no trouble going deep in March.
Jabari Parker Will Be Duke’s Leading Scorer
Even Jason Williams didn’t lead his team in scoring as a freshman, but Parker has a chance to do it.
Parker obviously has the vast skills to be a great scorer, but it’s not his skills that give this claim some credence. Parker may be the Blue Devils’ top scorer simply because points will be spread around Duke's many offensive weapons.
Rasheed Sulaimon really turned up his offense at the end of last season. As a sophomore, Sulaimon will give Duke a good outside shooter. He’ll combine that with an ability to drive and draw fouls. Similarly, Rodney Hood is a shooter who can slash to the basket. Alongside those two, Quinn Cook can add some points.
With all those scorers, no one will really run away with a points-per-game average too far above and beyond the others. Among all that parity, Parker presents possibly the most reliable offensive option.
Parker is Duke’s only real scoring threat in the post. He can post up or create his own shot with a mid-range game and short drives from just outside the paint. With plenty of shooters, Duke will probably look to establish an inside game to balance the offensive attack. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are fine players, but they don’t offer the offensive firepower that Parker does.
As the primary inside player with scoring potential, Parker’s scoring will be a point of emphasis. Thanks to his skills, it’s not unreasonable to expect an average around 14 points per game. Due to the points being spread out among so many scorers, an average like that could conceivably be a team high.
Semi Ojeleye Will Have an Impact
The 2013 Blue Devils will have a ton of wing players. Between Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Alex Murphy, there isn’t much playing time up for grabs at the small forward spot.
Nevertheless, Ojeleye will force the Duke coaching staff to find him minutes.
Ojeleye is from a relatively small high school, so he didn’t face the stoutest competition. Regardless, Ojeleye set the Kansas state high school record for most points in a season and most points in a career. He’s an unassuming kid and scouts suggest that he needs to be a more aggressive scorer, but clearly his high school success demonstrates that Ojeleye can be a team’s offensive focal point.
His leadership and skills are so admirable that Parade named Ojeleye the Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Duke won’t need Ojeleye to carry much of the scoring burden. Amazingly, Ojeleye’s various attributes mean that he’ll be able to do all the small things that winning teams need. He’s athletic enough to be a lockdown defender, unselfish enough to make good passes and—as his 4.0 high school GPA suggests—smart enough to pick up the system.
Ojeleye may not average double-digit points, but he’ll earn playing time and excel as a role player during his first year at Duke. After that, he could develop into a superstar.
Jabari Parker Will Outplay Andrew Wiggins
Parker was the top high school recruit until Wiggins moved up into the 2013 class. Wiggins then dragged out his recruiting beyond the date for college players to declare for the NBA draft, while Parker pretty quickly made the decision to go to Duke.
Even though scouts insist that Wiggins has more raw talent than Parker, the Blue Devils freshman walks into a better situation.
At Kansas, Wiggins will be the team’s best player right off the bat. While that will work in his favor in terms of raising his NBA profile, it’ll mean that opponents will focus their defenses on Wiggins. Getting the full force of a college defense’s attention will make Wiggins work extremely hard to put up points and lead the Jayhawks to wins.
Parker, meanwhile, doesn’t have to be Duke’s leading scorer (although, as I said earlier, he has the potential to be). Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood will score a lot of points for the Blue Devils. While Parker needs to score for Duke to be successful, he won’t feel the same kind of offensive pressure that Wiggins will.
Moreover, defenses won’t be able to single in on Parker. Duke has so many scoring options that opponents can’t simply clamp down on one player. Unlike Wiggins, Parker will have the opportunity to rack up rebounds and assists to go with his points as he takes whatever the defense gives him.
In both the game against Kansas that will be played in Parker’s hometown of Chicago and throughout the entire season, Parker will put up more impressive numbers than Wiggins.
Matt Jones Will Mask Dawkins’ Bad Games
With Andre Dawkins returning, Matt Jones becomes somewhat redundant. He, like Dawkins, is a shooting guard who makes a living behind the three-point line. Unfortunately for Jones, Dawkins is a fifth-year senior with a proven track record.
As a result, Dawkins will be ahead of Jones on the depth chart.
However, Dawkins has never been a consistent shooter. When he’s hot, he’s unstoppable and can hit from anywhere in the gym. But when Dawkins is cold, it’s "Katy, bar the door" because he ain’t getting any better.
That’s when Duke will be glad to have Jones.
On nights when Dawkins isn’t finding the range, the Blue Devils can go to a second option that does essentially the same thing. Between Dawkins and Jones, Duke is likely to have at least one three-point shooting threat that is producing.
Most teams are lucky to have just one deadeye three-point shooter. Next season Duke will have two. While Jones will be the second option, he’ll be a useful bit of insurance if Dawkins goes cold from the floor.
Duke’s Incoming Class Will Have a Greater Impact than Kentucky’s
Yes, Kentucky landed an unbelievable recruiting class. Julius Randle, the Harrison twins, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are all ranked inside Scout’s Top 25. In fact, those six recruits are a historic influx of high school talent even by Kentucky’s standards.
That being said, most of those guys are one-and-done players. So they can only impact the Kentucky program for one year. If they win a national championship next season, that’d be a monumental achievement for the Wildcats. If they don’t win it all, then those players—or at least most of them—will skip off to the NBA.
Conversely, Duke’s Jabari Parker is likely a one-year player, but both Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye project as multi-year players. As a result, Jones and Ojeleye will impact the Blue Devils even after the 2013-14 season.
What Duke gets with Jones and Ojeleye is a long-term foundation for success. Kentucky, on the other hand, will only get one year from this recruiting haul. If Kentucky doesn’t get an NCAA tournament win from this class, then Johnson and Co. will leave college having contributed little to the lore of Kentucky.
Conversely, Duke will enjoy the services of these players for season after season in which they’ll have the potential to make a championship run. It’s a bold prediction in the sense that it goes against the grain of favoring Kentucky to win the tournament. It’s also an endorsement for the way that Duke builds the program.