Duke Basketball: Who Is Blue Devils' Most Indispensable Player in 2013-14?

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Duke Basketball: Who Is Blue Devils' Most Indispensable Player in 2013-14?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Mike Krzyzewski has as talented roster as he's ever had, but it's more unproven than most of his teams that have turned out to be great.

Mike Krzyzewski has so much versatility on his roster this season that his assistant coaches are talking about playing small ball. The coaches don't mean in the traditional way we've come to think of small ball with four smalls and one big, but going with a lineup that features all five perimeter players.

The Blue Devils could go a legitimate 12 deep. They have nine players on the roster who were ranked in the top 56 of their recruiting class and two others who were ranked in the top 140—according to Rivals.com. Coach K can mix and match to his heart's content with more talent than he really needs.

But even with all of those possibilities, we really don't know for certain who will be the Blue Devils' leading scorer or who will play the most minutes.

If Coach K had to name the player he could least afford to be without this season, could he?

My best guess might surprise you. Here are the candidates.

 

Jabari Parker

The freshman forward is probably the most talented guy on the roster and would be the leading candidate to be the team's leading scorer.

But it's rare for Coach K to run the offense through a freshman, and the one time he did it recently, that team flopped in March.

USA TODAY Sports
At one time, Jabari Parker was considered the best player in the 2013 class.

In fact, it's such a rarity that a freshman has led the Blue Devils in scoring that it has happened twice in the Coach K era. Can you name the two players?

Here's an impressive list of scorers who did not do it: Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick and Luol Deng. (Hill was the fifth-leading scorer for the Blue Devils his freshman year).

Johnny Dawkins did it in 1982-83 in Coach K's third season in Durham on a 11-17 team, and Austin Rivers led the Blue Devils in 2011-12.

If Coach K had it to do over again, he probably would have changed things with Rivers. Duke actually became a better team last season without Rivers on the roster. Roles became more defined and the Blue Devils had a point guard, Quinn Cook, who set up his teammates.

Rivers had a ridiculously low assist rate (13.0) for a point guard, compared to 29.0 last season for Cook, per KenPom.com's numbers (subscription needed).

That doesn't mean that running the offense through Parkera totally different kind of player than Riverswould be a bad thing.

Parker is also the guy who makes the Blue Devils the most versatile. Who would play the 5 spot if Duke goes small? Parker. His role a majority of the time will be as a stretch 4, and he can play the 3 if Duke goes big.

Parker can also score from just about anywhere on the court. He is extremely valuable. But if he were lost for a short period of time, Coach K could simply slide Rodney Hood into Parker's role as the stretch 4 and move Andre Hawkins, Matt Jones or Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup, and Duke would still be a really good offensive team.

 

Rasheed Sulaimon

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Rasheed Sulaimon, seen here driving to the basket, started 33 out of 36 games last year for Duke as a freshman.

Rasheed Sulaimon had an up-and-down freshman year. Simply look at his NCAA tournament.

He started the tourney by taking only two shots and scoring seven points against Albany. Then Sulaimon went for 21 points in a win against Creighton and followed that up with 16 points against Michigan State. And after those two great games, he scored a measly three points on 1-of-10 shooting in the Elite Eight loss to Louisville.

It was still an impressive freshman season. Sulaimon played with a bunch of veterans and carved himself an important role in the offense.

Typically in Coach K's system, the kind of year Sulaimon had leads to a huge sophomore season.

Here's the one thing that could make it difficult for Suliamon to make that kind of leap: Competition. 

Duke Scorers Who Have Had Big Sophomore Jumps
Fr. PPG Soph. PPG
Christian Laettner 8.9 16.3
Grant Hill 11.2 14.0
Trajan Langdon 11.3 14.0
Elton Brand 13.4 17.7
William Avery 8.5 14.9
Jason Williams 14.5 21.6
Kyle Singler 13.3 16.5
Rasheed Sulaimon 11.6 ?

goduke.statsgeek.com

Dawkins returns for his senior season after sitting out last year and both Ojeleye and Jones are top-40 recruits.

Unless Sulaimon establishes himself as the go-to guy early on in the year, he could see a slight drop to his minutes.

 

Rodney Hood

Hood had an extremely impressive freshman year in 2011-12 in a jump-shooter role at Mississippi State. He made 36.4 percent of his threes and 50.6 percent of his twos that season.

His efficiency inside the arc is even more impressive when you consider where he took his shots. According to Hoop-Math.com, Hood attempted only 10 percent of his shots at the rim and made 45 percent of his two-point jumpers, which is well above average.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Rodney Hood averaged 10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman at Mississippi State.

What could be most intriguing about this Duke team is how good Hood could be. Most expect big things out of Parker, but Hood is flying slightly under the radar because of the year away from action, a season spent with the Duke coaches that had to be good for his development.

If North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried isn't full of it, the expectations for Hood should be pretty high. Gottfried said this summer that he believes Duke could "potentially have the second and third picks" in the 2014 NBA Draft in Parker and Hood.

Like Parker, Hood, at 6'8", also gives the Blue Devils a lot of versatility as he could play the 2, 3 (his natural position) or the 4. 

But because the Blue Devils have both Hood and Parker, they would be able to survive with only one of the two. 

 

Quinn Cook 

So you've probably figured out by now that this is the guy, in my opinion, that is Duke's most indispensable piece. 

There are other point guards around the country who you could put in Cook's position and Duke would be just fine, but none of those guys are on Duke's roster. 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Duke point guard Quinn Cook had at least five assists in 21 games last season.

The Blue Devils have so many shooters that they need Cook to set the table and spread the ball around. He's the best penetrator on the team and really the only natural point guard. 

Cook's backup will probably be Tyler Thornton, who is a nice player. Thornton has been in the rotation the last two years because he's a good defender and a decent three-point shooter, but set-up man he is not. He had a higher turnover rate (25.7) than assist rate (16.2) last season, something that has been true throughout his career. 

Cook is also the obvious pick to be Duke's leader, as he is the only upperclassmen who was a starter last year. 

Is he Duke's best player? No. In fact, he might be the fourth, fifth or even sixth-most talented. But he is the man the Blue Devils cannot afford to lose.

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