Quinn Cook will be the only scholarship senior on the Duke basketball team entering the 2014-15 season and has played 104 games throughout his career. Logic would suggest that he will play a major role as a team leader and critical piece to an ACC championship run.
Not so fast. The Blue Devils are loaded, which means playing time is going to be more difficult to come by for Cook than many would expect. Freshman Tyus Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon could see serious minutes at the point, which could leave Cook as the de facto third option for Mike Krzyzewski.
Jones may only be a freshman, but he has All-American potential and is the ideal ball-handling distributor who will find his talented teammates all season. His court vision alone will lead to easy baskets for Jahlil Okafor and Co., and Jones can score when the moment calls for critical baskets with a smooth jumper and the quickness to get to the rim.
As for Sulaimon, his versatility makes him an intriguing backcourt option for Coach K. He can play shooting guard because of his three-point stroke (41 percent last year), but he turned his season around when he took minutes away from Cook down the stretch at the point.
It was Sulaimon’s perimeter defense in relation to Cook’s that led to those extra minutes as a ball-handler.
That brings us to Cook’s 2014-15 role. Sure, Jones could be an absolute phenom and Sulaimon sparked the Blue Devils during the second half of last season, but we aren’t talking about a slouch in Cook. He shot 37 percent from deep last year and averaged 11.6 points per game, which was third on the team behind Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
What’s more, Cook averaged 4.4 assists a night compared to 1.6 turnovers, which is certainly an acceptable ratio.
Perhaps most importantly, Duke is going to need some senior leadership from Cook. Krzyzewski spoke about the importance of a balance between young talent and veteran leaders, via Ryan Hoerger of The Chronicle:
We have a new team every year. So continuity is very difficult for us. The two times in the past five years we’ve had continuity, we’ve either won a national championship or were close. The third year where we had continuity and newness combine, Kyrie [Irving] got hurt. This should be like a whole new team and its own team. It has to develop its identity quickly and the togetherness that a team needs real fast while we’re trying to maintain the level of success that we’ve had over the years.
It’s almost impossible to envision Cook not getting serious minutes because of the need for guidance from the upperclassmen alone. Duke will be loaded with talented freshmen such as Jones, Okafor and Justise Winslow, but there will be moments in a daunting ACC schedule where a senior will need to step up, especially on the road.
Cook has played in some of the most intimidating venues in the country throughout his career, and he is also always ready to get the passionate Cameron Crazies involved at home. Both of those mean something when doling out the minutes.
Still, the defensive issues are hard to overlook when talking about Cook.
The Blue Devils ranked 116th in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings last year. Of course, this isn’t Cook’s fault alone in the slightest, but it is hard to ignore the fact that ball-handlers were blowing past him and getting easy looks at the rim. It didn’t help matters that there weren’t a ton of shot-blockers when those opponents reached the paint.
The guess here is that Cook sees a reduced role next season. That is more a byproduct of how much elite talent will be surrounding him than anything else. We mentioned Sulaimon and Jones, but Matt Jones, Grayson Allen and even the incredibly versatile Winslow could see time in the backcourt.
Cook’s best chance to see the floor more and demonstrate that senior leadership Duke will need is by improving his defense. That’s much easier said than done, but the blueprint is there.
Now all he has to do is follow it.
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