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Duke Basketball: Greatest Weakness of Blue Devils' Projected Starters

Chad LykinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2013

Duke Basketball: Greatest Weakness of Blue Devils' Projected Starters

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    As we continue to drift through the offseason in college basketball, the 2013-14 season is shaping up to be another outstanding year with a collection of championship-caliber teams. Included among them is the Duke Blue Devils, a team that barely missed reaching the Final Four a year ago.

    Although, unlike previous Duke basketball teams in the past, next year's roster will feature a completely different look. 

    The senior trio of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have each departed from Durham. However, Duke will reload with a highly ranked three-man recruiting class headlined by the uber-talented Jabari Parker to go along with an exceptional mix of upperclassmen.

    The following slideshow will project the starting lineup for Duke next season, as well as identifying the most significant weakness in each starter's individual game. 

Amile Jefferson, C/PF: Size

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    Entering the 2013-14 college basketball season, the question marks surrounding the frontcourt of the Duke Blue Devils have been discussed at length. At the forefront of those questions is the projected starting 5 for Duke, sophomore Amile Jefferson.

    Upon his arrival to Duke, Jefferson was a long yet extremely lean freshman. Despite becoming a highly touted recruit with an impressive all-around skill set, he was primarily judged on his slender 6'8", 195-pound frame. 

    Throughout his freshman season, Jefferson earned quality minutes for the Blue Devils following a foot injury to departed senior Ryan Kelly. Although he showed tremendous promise while starting in seven games with his energetic style of play and rebounding abilities, his lack of size showed against a much stronger crop of opposing ACC big men.

    After averaging four points and nearly three rebounds a game in less than 13 minutes of playing time, it was evident that Jefferson needed to bulk up considerably to make an instant impact in his second season.

    The Philadelphia native has all of the tools to succeed at the college level for Duke. He's extremely active, tough and skilled at both ends of the floor. The only chink in his armor is the tag of being an undersized big man.

    For a frontcourt player, it's a reputation that could prove detrimental in one's success. Recognizing the importance of that and next season in general, though, Jefferson has made great strides in the offseason to make vast changes to his body.   

    Time will tell if Jefferson can shoulder the load for the Blue Devils as their starting center. But his mindset and confidence in himself and his overall development could not be at a higher level than it is right now. 

Jabari Parker, PF/SF: Quickness

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    In three of the last four seasons, Duke has landed a consensus top-five recruit. In 2010, it was Kyrie Irving. The following year, Austin Rivers. And this year, arguably the most talented incoming freshman of the last 10 years, Jabari Parker. 

    When examining the class of 2013, no other player possesses an advanced skill set or is more multi-faceted than Parker. Capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, the 6'8" Chicago native is a nightmare for opposing defenses. 

    In a lot of ways, Parker is almost the perfect player at this stage. However, as great as he is, the most notable weakness of his game is glaring. He lacks great lateral quickness. 

    Although he has terrific size as a combo forward with a 7'0" wingspan, Parker's foot speed is a cause for concern. To some, that specific weakness can be attributed to a foot injury he suffered last summer that took a great deal of rehabilitation in his senior season. It slowed his development and in many ways regressed his overall game. 

    After a lengthy recovery, Parker is now at 100 percent and currently preparing himself for his first healthy season since his junior year of high school. 

    Driven to succeed, Parker will be pushed extensively at Duke. By the start of the season, his strength and conditioning levels should be top-notch, which will have a significant impact on his all-around speed. 

    If Parker is capable of improving his one critical flaw, a 16th Final Four is likely for the Blue Devils. 

Rodney Hood, SF: Free-Throw Shooting

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    After complying with NCAA rules last season following his transfer out of the Mississippi State program, Rodney Hood will make his highly anticipated debut for Duke in 2013-14. 

    Hood, who had garnered extremely high praise in Blue Devil practices last year, is a dynamic athlete with championship-level talent. He plays under control with each passing minute and combines great length with an explosive leaping ability.

    He has also made significant improvements with his ball-handling, which will allow him to be extremely difficult to keep from driving to the basket. He has also proved that he can knock down contested jumpers from the mid-range or the perimeter. 

    In his freshman season at Mississippi State, Hood was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team after averaging 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and two assists per game. His shooting numbers were solid from the field (44.3 percent) and from beyond the arc (36.4 percent), although, not as much from the charity stripe (65.9 percent). 

    Hood is the prototypical slashing wing. He is at his very best when he attacks the basket either looking to score or draw contact. 

    But to evolve into an even dangerous weapon for Duke, he will need to convert his opportunities at the free-throw line. And he will have plenty of chances in doing so.

Rasheed Sulaimon, SG: Offensive Efficiency

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    Last season, Duke found itself one game away from returning back to the Final Four for the first time since its triumphant championship victory in 2010. However, its opponent in the Elite Eight, eventual national champion Louisville, had other things in mind. 

    Louisville defeated Duke by a 22-point margin in a game that spiraled out of control for the Blue Devils in the second half. It was also a game that rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon would not soon forget. 

    Sulaimon struggled mightily in the contest, scoring just three points on 1-of-10 shooting and eventually fouling out. As Louisville celebrated on the court following its overpowering victory, Sulaimon, meanwhile, was in the Blue Devil locker room of Lucas Oil Stadium distraught over his performance and the end result. 

    Even though Sulaimon was one of the Blue Devils' primary contributors during the 2012-13 season, he was also extremely prone to offensive slumps. His struggles from late-December to mid-January were dreadful, averaging 6.4 points on an atrocious 9-of-40 shooting in five games.

    Although he exhibited a lot of bright moments in his first season, his disappearance from a number of games became worrisome. 

    Next season, Sulaimon's role will increase significantly as the starting shooting guard. If he can remain an efficient offensive player throughout the season, Duke's championship chances will see a serious increase as well.

Quinn Cook, PG: Consistency

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    For rising junior point guard Quinn Cook, the 2012-13 season was a breakout year. As the vocal leader for Duke, he orchestrated one of the country's best offenses to its 19th Elite Eight appearance in school history. 

    From a statistical standpoint, Cook elevated his numbers in a major way. He finished fourth in scoring for Duke behind the senior trio of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee with 11.7 points per game, while compiling a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio in 36 games. 

    However, as marvelous as Cook was last season, like teammate Rasheed Sulaimon, he, too, experienced his share of up-and-down moments. And also like Sulaimon, Cook's 2012-13 stellar season ended on a sour note.  

    Despite averaging an outstanding 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA tournament, Cook's shooting numbers were terribly inconsistent, as he went 7-of-32 from the field and zero-of-9 from three-point land.

    Looking ahead to next season, Cook is unquestionably the key returning player for the Blue Devils. After spending two years sharing the ball-handling duties with a pair of prolific scoring guards in Curry and Austin Rivers, the 2013-14 season will be the first full season that the real Quinn Cook should emerge into his own. 

    There is no argument that Cook can handle the responsibility, however, he will need to develop consistency over the course of next season on a regular basis to fully maximize his full potential.

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