Six games into the 2013-14 season, the Duke basketball program sits at No. 6 in the country in the AP Top 25 poll largely due to the efforts of two players.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood had never played together at the college level prior to this season, but they are already on the short list for the best one-two punch in the country before the end of the schedule’s first month.
Parker was the one who got all the preseason love, and all of it was much-deserved. He is the type of versatile, lengthy and athletic specimen that makes NBA scouts drool, he has stuffed the stat sheet in almost every category in the early going and is very comfortable in the spotlight that being the best player at Duke brings.
It’s not as if he isn’t used to this attention. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school prospect and compared to none other than LeBron James in the accompanying profile.
Spotlight pressure or not, Parker has delivered thus far. He is averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal per game and has scored at least 20 points in every single Duke contest.
There have been some defensive lapses, but he and Hood are basically carrying the Blue Devils’ lackluster rebounding game on their respective backs. The blocked shots are also noteworthy.
Parker isn’t the only superstar in Durham, though.
For as great as Parker has been, Duke would have likely suffered stunning losses on its home floor to the likes of Vermont and East Carolina had it not been for Hood’s efforts. He poured in 52 points between those two contests and made the winning play with the ball in his hands in the final seconds against the Catamounts.
Hood may be considered the “sidekick” to Parker, but he is putting up similar numbers. He is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal per night.
Hood is the same type of athletic and versatile forward that Parker is and can play a number of different positions in coach Mike Krzyzewski's rotation.
So is the Parker-Hood combination as good as it gets in college basketball?
The biggest argument in its favor isn’t just the eye-popping stats, but the efficiency with which the two players post them.
Parker is shooting 58 percent from the field and 61 percent from behind the three-point line. Hood checks in with even better marks at 67 percent from the field and 69 percent from downtown. Both also get to the free-throw line on a regular basis.
These efficiency numbers, which are even more impressive when you consider just how often the ball is in one of their hands, are the main reason the Blue Devils are No. 1 in the country in kenpom.com's pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
Basically, Duke is the best offense in the nation in the season’s early and small sample size largely because of its superstar tandem.
There are countless competitors for Parker and Hood’s hypothetical one-two punch throne, though.
Michigan State's Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis, Kentucky's Julius Randle and James Young, Arizona's Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Markel Brown and Louisville's Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell come to mind immediately, and that’s just from the highly ranked teams across the board.
Arguments can be made for and against each pair, but the primary reasoning against Parker and Hood is too hard to ignore. Duke has been so abysmal on defense (179th in kenpom.com's pace-adjusted efficiency rankings) that each has to share some responsibility.
Parker and Hood have both blocked some shots and racked up steals, but each has been beaten rather regularly off the dribble by lesser competition.
The lapses—along with the startling lack of a dominant inside presence by Duke standards—cost the Blue Devils the game against Kansas and have made them look vulnerable against teams they typically blow out.
Parker and Hood are the best one-two punch in the nation on the offensive end, but until Duke improves its lackluster defense, it’s hard to call them the best combination in the country.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.
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