Duke Basketball: Way-Too-Early Grades for Blue Devils Starters

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

Duke Basketball: Way-Too-Early Grades for Blue Devils Starters

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    Through five games of the 2013-14 season, it’s easy to see it will be a very exciting year for Duke basketball.

    The Blue Devils are 4-1 and ranked No. 6 in the country but have already shown glimpses of why many consider them a Final Four contender.

    However, this is still a young team adjusting to a new style of play, which means there will be growing pains through the first few weeks of the season.

    Let’s take a look at the way-too-early grades for the Duke starters through this point of the season.

Quinn Cook: B-

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    When Quinn Cook plays well, Duke looks nearly unstoppable.

    When Quinn Cook struggles, Duke becomes extremely vulnerable.

    The junior point guard has an extremely impressive 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but he’s still shown questionable shot selection and gets beat far too often on the defensive end.

    Cook played poorly in Duke’s loss to Kansas and had an abysmal second half against East Carolina when the Blue Devils had to battle to get the win.

    If his defense can start to catch up to his offense, he’ll likely be one of the best point guards in the country.

Rasheed Sulaimon: C-

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    Rasheed Sulaimon got off to a strong start to the season with impressive performances against Davidson and Kansas, but he’s cooled off since then.

    He’s a combined 4-of-14 shooting in Duke’s past three games and could see his playing time decrease if Andre Dawkins continues to play well. Dawkins has shot the ball well and also played excellent defense against East Carolina.

    If Sulaimon can become Duke’s third option on offense, it makes the Blue Devils nearly impossible to defend. His driving ability and mid-range game should give him a big advantage with the points of emphasis in officiating this season.

    Similar to last season, the biggest key for Sulaimon will be consistency.

Amile Jefferson: B

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    When Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker attack the basket and draw the attention of the defense, no one benefits more than Amile Jefferson.

    The 6’8” forward gets many open looks around the basket, and Hood and Parker have proven to be excellent passers who look for Jefferson around the rim.

    While his offense has been sharp, Jefferson needs to continue to improve his rebounding. Duke is undersized and vulnerable on the front line and needs the sophomore to be an aggressive presence on the glass.

    If he can play with a sense of urgency whenever he steps on the court and becomes a tenacious rebounder, it will help address one of Duke’s biggest weaknesses.

Rodney Hood: A

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    There was talk last season that Rodney Hood was the best player in practice for Duke even though he couldn’t suit up for the Blue Devils due to NCAA transfer rules.

    After seeing him through his first five games in a Duke uniform, it’s clear to see why people thought so highly of him last season.

    Hood has a fantastic offensive game and is incredibly smooth around the rim. He struggled with his free-throw shooting but has now gone 27-of-29 from the line in his last three games.

    With his ability to beat defenders off the dribble and make teams pay by hitting free throws, it’s tough for the opposition to figure out ways to stop Hood.

Jabari Parker: A+

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    It didn’t seem possible for Jabari Parker to live up to the incredible hype that preceded him before he arrived at Duke, but it’s exactly what he’s done.

    The superstar freshman leads the Blue Devils in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks, and he’s shooting an incredible 59 percent from the field and 66 percent from beyond the three-point line.

    Parker has the unique ability to make a terrific defensive play, drive the length of the floor and finish at the rim, which helps explain why he’s been compared to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce.

    In a year where freshmen have received a tremendous amount of attention in college basketball, Parker is proving he deserves all the attention he’s receiving.