Why Coach K May Play Extreme Small Ball with Jabari Parker-Led Blue Devils
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
In the last few years, college basketball has been trending to lineups that feature a stretch-4, a big man who often wanders to the three-point line.
So this season, when Duke plays freshman Jabari Parker at power forward, it's hardly going to make any headlines. In fact, Mike Krzyzewski appears to be set at playing Parker, a natural small forward, at the 4 spot. Coach K has a logjam on the perimeter and a lack of depth inside.
It just makes sense.
But what could come as a surprise is a nugget that assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski gave ESPN Insider's Jordan Brennen this week. The Blue Devils believe Parker, who Wojo said is now 6'9", 245 pounds, can handle playing the 5 spot with fellow wing Rodney Hood moving from the 3 to the 4.
That type of lineup is not something we have seen from any big school in recent memory—and if I'm forgetting a revolutionary coach, please remind me. Most coaches are scared of the vulnerability such a lineup would create on the defensive end, playing a wing at center.
The advantage Coach K has is that he's been able to experiment with such lineups with Team USA.
The U.S. overcame size disadvantages by using their quickness to apply pressure on the perimeter. Coach K also had his guys swarm the ball when it got in the post and trap every ball screen. Thanks to well-executed rotations, this defense worked really well with some of the best rotations cut up below by Pruiti.
Similar to the Olympic team, Duke will have the kind of size on the wing and the perimeter to play this way. In addition to Parker and Hood, who is 6'8", Coach K has a rotation that will include Semi Ojeleye (6'7"), Alex Murphy (6'9"), Andre Dawkins (6'5"), Rasheed Sulaimon (6'4") and Matt Jones (6'4").
Those are all wings or guards, and they can all shoot the ball.
The reason that you did not see Coach K resort to such small lineups last season, after he had experimented with the U.S., was he had big men who were not offensively challenged (Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly). He also did not have the kind of depth at the 2 and 3 that he will have this year.
The temptation to go small will come from a lack of scoring options in the post. Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston are all non-scorers. So why not get five scorers on the court if the defense does not suffer?
Imagine the mismatches that Duke could create.
Good luck asking your center to chase Parker out to the perimeter. The only option for an opposing coach would be to either go small like Duke—and few teams will be able to match the talent of Coach K's small lineups—or stay big and go zone. With as many shooters as Duke will have, that would be a last resort (unless you're Jim Boeheim).
The luxury that Coach K had with the Olympic team was that he was coaching some of the best athletes on the planet with a great understanding of the game.
It's not as easy getting college guys to be so precise with their rotations.
Duke could be exploited by good teams with smart guards and good back-to-the-basket big men, but those teams are a rarity in today's college basketball. That's why Coach K's small-ball experiment with Parker at the 5 really could work splendidly.
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