Duke Basketball: Stock Watch for Blue Devils Starters
Duke’s 6-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not where the Blue Devils wanted to be through eight games when the season started.
Mike Krzyzewski’s squad wants to be considered one of the truly elite national title contenders this year, but the way to do that isn’t by losing the only two contests of the year so far against noteworthy competition and struggling at home against Vermont and East Carolina.
Coach K has instituted a handful of starting lineups in the early going, but we are going to use the latest one he tried in the loss to Arizona for the purpose of this exercise. Read on to get a stock report for the Blue Devils starters.
There are both highlights and concerns when it comes to Quinn Cook’s game, but thus far, the positives are outweighing the negatives for Duke’s point guard.
The most important stat for Cook in the early going is his better than 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Turnovers have been a problem for Cook at times in the past, and it is clear he made a conscious effort this offseason to minimize the number of times he coughs it up.
He only combined for three turnovers in the Arizona and Kansas losses, so any worries about Cook being able to run the offense under the spotlight should be put to rest.
Cook is also the Blue Devils’ third-leading scorer at better than 13 points a night. Many thought Rasheed Sulaimon would fill the third banana role in this department behind Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but if Cook continues shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from downtown, Coach K will have no complaints.
The only concern for Cook right now, which is a pattern on this Duke team, is his defense. He has trouble keeping opposing ball-handlers out of the lane, and with no dominant inside presence to clean up defensive errors on the perimeter, that is a problem. Overall, though, Cook’s stock is trending upward because of his offensive impact.
Tyler Thornton doesn’t find himself in the starting lineup every night, but considering Duke’s defensive struggles thus far, don’t be surprised if he is in there far more often than he has been.
Thornton leads the Blue Devils in steals per game even though he only plays 21 minutes a night. He is the one guard on the roster who consistently stays in front of his man on defense and prevents him from getting to the rim with ease. That alone makes Thornton a valuable stock on this team.
Thornton is far from a big-time scorer (less than three points a game), but he is one of the most dangerous long-range shooters on the team and dishes out 2.5 assists a night. That number would be much higher if he played more often.
If Duke continues to struggle on defense, Thornton’s stock will rise. For now, though, let’s call this a hold.
In terms of a one-two punch, it doesn’t get much better than Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker on the offensive side of the ball.
While opposing defenses have been shifting much of their attention toward the incredible Parker, Hood has benefited to the tune of 20 points and five rebounds a night. More impressively, he is shooting 62 percent from the field, 59 percent from downtown and 82 percent from the free-throw stripe.
Hood saved the Blue Devils with 30 points in the closer-than-it-should-have-been contest against East Carolina and 22 points in a similar game against Vermont. Hood—not Parker—was the one who got to the line and made the winning free throw against the Catamounts in the final seconds.
Look for Hood’s stock to continue to rise as more people realize just how talented he is. Yes, he is the benefactor of the attention that Parker draws, but there are only a handful of players in the nation who could take advantage of that opportunity as effectively as Hood has thus far.
People seemed to forget just how talented Jabari Parker is during the offseason with all the discussion about Andrew Wiggins, but he is clearly one of the best players in the nation.
His athleticism and versatility allow Parker to score in a variety of ways depending on how the defense is guarding him. He finishes at the rim through contact with ease, can hit a jumper from nearly anywhere on the court and glides through defenders with ease when attacking off the dribble.
He has stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 23 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and better than a steal per night. His field-goal percentage is a ridiculous 55 percent, considering how often he has the ball and the attention being thrown his way by opposing defenses, and his three-point percentage isn’t far behind at 50 percent.
There is one concern in particular for Parker on the offensive side of the ball, though. He is averaging more than three turnovers a game compared to just two assists a night. With so much defensive attention focused on his every move, Parker needs to find his open teammates more and cough it up a bit less.
However, his stock is still through the roof. Just ask an NBA scout.
In the rotating cradle that is the Duke big-man slot, Josh Hairston has seen the court a whopping 13 minutes a night.
He was given the starting nod against Arizona and delivered a box score of zero points on zero shot attempts in 20 minutes. What’s more, he only grabbed three rebounds all game. In 20 minutes against Alabama the game before, Hairston only scored two points from the line and missed both his field-goal attempts.
Amile Jefferson is probably Coach K’s best option down low at this point, although it may be time to simply accept that the Blue Devils are not going to have a strong inside presence all season. Good thing Jahlil Okafor is on the way.
Hairston’s stock is certainly trending downward.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.
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