Get ready, basketball fans, because you will be hearing the names of plenty of Duke Blue Devils at the next NBA draft. Mike Krzyzewski’s roster is loaded with game-changing talent, but it’s going to need more than just the headlining players if it wants to win the ACC this season.
Enter the bench.
Just for reference’s sake, we projected the Duke starting lineup earlier in the offseason. It consisted of point guard Tyus Jones, shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, small forward Justise Winslow, power forward Amile Jefferson and center Jahlil Okafor.
That starting five alone will be enough to propel the Blue Devils into any ACC title discussions, and there could be as many as three potential lottery picks in that fivesome. However, Coach K is going to need some production off his bench if he plans on advancing deep into the NCAA tournament.
There are five nonstarters in particular who we expect to see regular minutes from during the 2014-15 campaign, which means this Duke team could be much deeper than those in the recent past.
Quinn Cook immediately comes to mind because he will be the only scholarship senior on the roster, but the thought here is that Cook sees significantly less playing time than he has been accustomed to throughout his career.
Jones is a potential All-American at point and is the perfect ball-handling distributor who can control the pace of the game on the offensive end and find his numerous talented teammates. Throw in the fact that Sulaimon proved down the stretch last year that he is more than capable of handling the point guard duties, and Cook could be the third option here.
Who should start at point guard for Duke?
Still, he will see the court plenty because of his scoring prowess and experience, but his best bet for more playing time is with an improved approach on the defensive end.
On the opposite side of the experience spectrum is freshman Grayson Allen, who often gets overlooked among his fellow class of 2014 members. He is capable of being a premier scorer, though, especially in transition, with his speed, above-the-rim athleticism and ability to hit from beyond the three-point line.
Allen is also versatile enough to play anything from shooting guard to small forward to even point guard when needed, which improves his chances of seeing the floor. The problem when we are discussing his playing time, though, is just how loaded this Duke team could be at his positions with Cook, Sulaimon, Jones and Winslow.
Allen will come off the bench when Duke needs a spark on the offensive end or an injection of energy into the crowd.
In terms of potential shooting guard and small forward hybrids, it is easy to lump Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye together. Both are raw athletes who can be stoppers on the defensive end because of their ability to disrupt passing lanes and stay in front of quicker ball-handlers.
However, Ojeleye (who is taller at 6’7”) was more efficient in his rare opportunities last year. He connected on 50 percent of his field-goal attempts and drilled four three-pointers in seven tries. With his frame and length, Ojeleye could be the first guy Coach K turns to behind Winslow at the small forward spot.
As for Jones, he was hyped as a shooter coming into the Duke program but never really found his offensive rhythm last season. That shouldn’t take away from his impressive defense, which was something some of the other Blue Devils could have learned from in 2013-14, but Jones needs to be more consistent offensively to see more minutes in 2014-15.
The depth is clearly there at the guard and forward positions, but there isn’t much off the bench behind Jefferson and Okafor in terms of paint production.
Marshall Plumlee will be the main beneficiary of that lack of interior depth in terms of playing time (and Ojeleye or Winslow could even see some minutes at power forward). Plumlee is capable of banging around on the boards and being a physical force on the defensive side and described his role perfectly last year, via Laura Keeley of The News & Observer:
"I’m a guy that can bring us some physicality and energy off the bench. And obviously my size. If I do my part and work hard, I feel like I can compliment a lot of the really talented players we have."
Expect more of the same this season, especially if Okafor or Jefferson gets into foul trouble. The Blue Devils aren’t going to win the deep ACC without some rebounding, interior defense and occasional scoring from their third big man.
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