College basketball fans may remember Duke slinking off the court after a 2014 NCAA tournament loss to Mercer, but the Blue Devils were absolutely dominant during the regular season on the offensive end.
In fact, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad finished second in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings and featured the likes of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. The Blue Devils failed to live up to expectations because the defense faltered, not the offense.
Parker was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft and led the way for Duke on the offensive end with 19.1 points per game, a lethal mid-range attack, a solid three-point stroke and an underrated post game.
Hood was the second option and poured in 16.1 points a night behind 42 percent shooting from downtown and 80.7 percent shooting from the free-throw stripe. Much like Parker, Hood could score from anywhere on the floor and went to the Utah Jazz with the No. 23 pick.
However, Parker and Hood are no longer on campus, and it is only natural to wonder whether the offense will be as formidable in the 2014-15 campaign.
When discussing this year’s Blue Devils team, it’s best to start from the inside and work our way out.
Freshman Jahlil Okafor could very well be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. He is incredibly strong with nimble footwork and will be able to carve out space on the blocks with relative ease. Throw in his array of post moves and his ability to swallow up offensive rebounds that lead to easy putbacks, and it’s clear why Okafor will be such a force right away.
On the other block will be Amile Jefferson, who was the most improved Blue Devil as the season wore on last year. He should be even better in 2014-15 because Okafor will draw the majority of the opposing defense’s attention down low. Jefferson may not have the offensive moves that Okafor does, but he will have more room to operate as a productive offensive weapon.
It’s not just big men that will steer the Duke offense, though.
Justise Winslow will be another stud freshman who can operate from the stretch forward position. The thing that immediately jumps out about his game is his versatility, pure athleticism and length at 6'6". He is capable of playing small forward, shooting guard, point guard and even power forward and can drill it from deep or attack the lane with his quickness.
Look for Winslow to post up smaller defenders as well because he checks in north of 200 pounds.
Winslow commented on his excitement level entering the season, via Adam Finkelstein of ESPN.com:
I am very comfortable being around and playing with Jahlil and Tyus. And I don't know Grayson as well but we follow each other on Twitter and I know Coach K only recruits good players and people. I am very excited about what we can do.
As for the backcourt, veterans Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook return to provide some leadership for this young team. Both can hit from deep, but it was Sulaimon’s ability to handle the point guard duties down the stretch last year that should have fans excited. If nothing else, it gives Coach K another mix-and-match option with his rotations.
Since we are talking about offense, Cook shouldn’t be a problem, either. He thrives on that end of the floor and cut down on most of his turnover issues last year. Cook is always willing to set up his teammates from the point, but he was actually third on the team in scoring behind Parker and Hood at 11.6 a night.
Despite the presence of Cook and Sulaimon, the thought here is that freshman Tyus Jones runs the show at the point.
Jones is the perfect point guard for a team that is loaded with talent across the board because he is an elite distributor first. Whether in transition, working off a pick-and-roll or simply running the half-court offense, Jones’ high basketball IQ allows him to make the right pass almost every time.
Throw in his explosive quickness and dangerous stroke from behind the three-point line, and we could be talking about an All-American offensive talent.
Outside of that main six, the bench should be fairly deep this year as well. Yes, whoever does not start out of Cook or Sulaimon will lead the way, but Marshall Plumlee gives the Blue Devils more depth down low. He is not an offensive burner, but he should be able to find the basket with some putbacks.
What’s more, the Blue Devils are loaded with athletes on the bench in the form of Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye.
Duke’s offense may not be as ruthlessly efficient as it was last year with NBA-bound Parker and Hood leading the way, but there is much more depth in place. It is a solid mix of veteran leadership and young talent and should finish in the top 10 of Pomeroy’s rankings yet again.
The real question in terms of wins and losses, though, is whether the defense will improve.
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