Duke Basketball: Comparing Each Current Blue Devil to a Former Duke Player

Ro ShiellAnalyst IJune 15, 2011

Duke Basketball: Comparing Each Current Blue Devil to a Former Duke Player

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    After watching any college team play enough times it is easy to notice that certain players adopt a similar playing style to past players of the same program.

    Duke has always had that 6'1" to 6'3" guard who can shoot but whose NBA prospects always hang in the balance.

    Recently we learned about Tom Emma, one of Mike Krzyzewski's first starting guards at Duke, who died under unfortunate circumstances. May he rest in peace.

    Although not recruited by Coach K, the 49-year-old Emma seems to be the original shooter, and was the first person to connect on a three-point shot in the ACC.

    Then there was Johnny Dawkins who was Duke's all-time leading scorer until JJ Redick came to Durham.

    Nolan Smith just graduated but there was Daniel Ewing, William Avery, DeMarcus Nelson and Trajan Langdon before him.

    This comparison is not strictly for the guards, as I will be comparing the current scholarship players to a past player.

Ryan Kelly Is Mike Dunleavy Jr.

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    Ryan is not as fluid as Mike Dunleavy Junior and is about two inches taller, but they both have a shot that is liquid.

    If they were in the X-Men they would be Cyclops. Useless in a fist fight but remove those glasses and that deadly optic beam would be unleashed.

    Ryan Kelly's beam is his three-point shot and when it is connecting, Duke's chances of winning drastically increase.

    For the coming season, the junior to be will be expected to be a leader, as Duke has only one senior, to the five freshmen coming in. The power forward spot is up in the air so Kelly has as much chance as anyone to grab this.

    Dunleavy Jr. came to Duke a shooter and left a much more rounded player that was drafted third by the Golden State Warriors in 2002.

    In his junior year (his last year), he was asked to play power forward, a spot vacated by Shane Battier, and he responded by averaging 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Very impressive rebounding numbers for someone who looked like a string bean.

    That's why Coach K refers to the younger Dunleavy, whose dad once coached the L.A. Clippers, as ”the most versatile player we've had here since Grant Hill."

Josh Hairston Is Lance Thomas

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    We have not seen much of Josh Hairston, but it seems that he is in line for a heavier contribution this season. Last season he was used as a relief player, someone who just spells the starters and second-string players while they catch their breath or avoid further foul trouble.

    Based on their build, Hairston and Lance Thomas mirror each other. Previously I referred back to Duke always having a prototypical guard but good news for Hairston is that Duke has always had a player like Lance Thomas on their championship teams. From Thomas Hill, to Reggie Love and Lance in 2010.

    He is that tweener forward who buys into the Duke system and does the little things necessary to guarantee a win. Thomas' stats do not tell the whole truth about his senior year at Duke. In 25 minutes he averaged a modest 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.

    However, he formed a devastating defensive pack with Brian Zoubek that allowed players like Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler to play to their strength and brought Coach Krzyzewski's fourth championship.

    Hairston is still a work in progress but Shane Battier started slow deferring to more senior players and ended up Player of the Year in 2001.

Tyler Thornton Is Sean Dockery

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    Dockery was a point guard that struggled to run the team. The 2006 captain seemed really uncomfortable when he was in charge of the offense and that led to one too many unforced errors. However, Dockery is one of the on-ball defenders Duke had in the last decade.

    Thornton plays with a little more poise than Dockery. He seems to be more of a pure point guard, but I compare them because nothing was expected of Dockery, same as Thornton. Both came in unheralded.

    Last season it was Seth Curry people wanted to see more of but Thornton threatened to derail that idea with his stellar defence and by the end of the season, the general thought was that this guy will be valuable some day but it was just not his time yet.

    Where Thornton can differentiate himself from Dockery is this season. The point guard spot is open and he's a versatile guard. Rivers may have a head start, as Coach K is known to experiment until he finds the best lineup, but it is only by a hair.

    Quinn Cook is a McDonald's All-American unlike Thornton, but the rising sophomore has experience and that should give him an edge.

Quinn Cook Is Chris Duhon

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    Quinn Cook is a good a humble kid. Follow him on twitter and he dedicates all of his tweets to his bereaved father. I have seen numerous highlights of Cook but only saw him in one game. He could score no doubt, but can he run a team?

    He did not play the point in the McDonald's game but he was impressive nonetheless, scoring most of his points in the paint among some tall trees that will pull an NBA check after a year's hiatus among the college ranks.

    Quinn Cook is a dilemma for me. He can be anything from William Avery to Jason Williams but scouts really rate him for his court vision. Chris Duhon had great court vision and was a great glue player.

    Cook is more the black swan of Duhon's white swan. Where Duhon plays within the system, protects the ball and mostly takes what the defense gives, Cook will look to attack with a bigger arsenal of moves.

    Duhon won three ACC championships during his four years at Duke, one NCAA championship and is Duke's all-time leader in steals.

    Cook has a lot to live up to, but he played at Oak Hill Academy, a school that had a player on the last three NCAA champions’ roster—Roscoe Smith at UConn, Nolan Smith at Duke in 2010 and Ty Lawson at North Carolina in 2009. This fact was pointed out by Cook via Twitter.

Mason Plumlee Is Josh McRoberts

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    This may be considered an unfair comparison as Mason works very hard, is a great defensive player and seems happy to be at Duke. McRoberts probably had more NBA aspirations and seemed to be just waiting for David Stern to call his name.

    Both came to Duke with a lot of expectations, and are long athletic forwards that are very good at blocking shots and rebounding. Not to discount these qualities but a little more was expected of McRoberts and will be expected from Mason.

    McRoberts preferred to settle for mid-range jumpers if a rim-rocking dunk was not readily available. This was perfect his first season at Duke but without Sheldon Williams, things got a lot more serious fast for McRoberts who was expected to take over from the Landlord.

    The trouble is Williams and McRoberts are just two different types of players. The current Indiana Pacers forward loved to settle for the mid-range jumper, had very poor foot work in the post and always seem extremely mechanical when posting up, like Mason.

    Mason is not much of a shooter but this team does not require that skill from him. He needs to improve his post moves and free-throw shooting. Having a forward that is able to get the opposing team's big man in foul trouble is critical.

    Duke will be playing Ohio State in the Big Ten/ACC annual showdown. Power forward Jared Sullinger will do a lot of damage offensively but if Duke can get him in early foul trouble that would be a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.

    Mason, who still has time to learn, will be an upperclassman next season and his little brother will be pushing him for playing time. That's a lot of motivation there.

    If that's not enough, the NBA executives are just waiting for the middle Plumlee to get his game together and at this minute he is a lottery pick. The old adage "you can't teach height" applies here.

    The downer for Mason is if this season is not favorable then it's curtains on the NBA lottery, but barring injury he still has the best chance between him and his brothers of being the first to bank an NBA check one day.

Miles Plumlee Is Casey Saunders

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    You can't confuse one with the other but defense is their calling card and and they are pretty good at it.

    The elder Plumlee might be a finished product. He is not going to turn into Christian Laettner or Elton Brand over night.

    But if the rising senior can stay on the floor, obviously avoiding foul trouble, do enough for defences to respect him in the post, his man will be one less player ready to double-team or clog up the lanes.

    The 6'11" Casey Saunders always made it to the Sweet Sixteen his four years at Duke and played on one championship team.

Michael Gbinije Is Nate James

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    Long before he wore those sharp suits on the sideline, Nate James was the Duke No.14 that co-captained the team in 2001 and 2002. He is the 13th player on Duke's all-time three-pointers made list.

    At 6'6" he was an athletic wing for Duke. Michael Gbinije seems to be made of the same mold. Both can score in the same style though James was more likely to settle for the pull-up jumper while Gbinije seems to relish finishing inside with contact.

    Obviously it is easier to finish inside in high school when you are 6'6" than in college. If the freshman can continue this attacking style for Coach Krzyzewski next season, he will be off to a good start in his college career.

Marshall Plumlee Is Shavlik Randolph.

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    When you are the third brother in a basketball-playing family there will always be comparisons to your older brothers. Marshall has a good feel for the game though at this time, weight gain seems to be his priority.

    His greatest asset is that he is seven-feet tall. Size matters in college basketball and if you have an athletic seven-footer that's an advantage in a league where centers tend to be in the 6'8" to 6'9" range.

    Like his older brother Mason, he seems to relish dunking, and will be a defensive asset. His ESPN scouting report describes him as an agile post scorer but needs to work on rebounding outside his area.

    Marshall is quicker in the post and utilises hooks well from his highlights, though it would be foolish to judge a player on a video of his best plays.

    Shavlik Randolf is the best inside scorer Duke has seen since Elton Brand. He was just foul-prone and could not stay on the floor. Shelden Williams had more of a power game where he used his size to overpower his defender. Randolph was more skilled and slick.

    Back in the 2004 Final Four game between UConn and Duke, Omeka Okafor was a beast and he probably won that game in the end.

    Randolph's contribution was vital though and kept Duke in the game. In the video above, look at the way he seals his man and gets around him at 1:16. Then at 4:16, he goes straight at Okafor, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and calmly adjusts his shot and scores over him.

    Randolf is one that got away.

    Marshall is quicker and has his whole career ahead of him but I have to admit that this is more of a desirable comparison than actuality. Marshall currently looks like a younger version of Mason but if he can add Randolph's scoring prowess to his older brother's defensive ability, the Blue Devils will be better for it.

Andre Dawkins Is JJ Redick

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    They both have one of the smoothest releases on their three-point shot and stand at 6'4" but Dawkins is more athletic.

    The big difference between these two players though is their demeanor. While Redick had to learn early to adopt a cocky nature to deal with the unwanted attention great college players attract, Dawkins seems easily spooked.

    Maybe he is still affected by the death of his sister. Lacey Dawkins, 21, died while driving to see her brother play in one of his freshman games.

    Up to that point, Dawkins seemed to be ready to take over for either Jon Scheyer or Smith, the only other guards on the team.

    In truth, Dawkins should really be compared to Nolan Smith. Both their first two seasons were filled with promise that was never totally capitalised. I came across this story about Smith where he said:

    "After my sophomore year, I saw my reality,” Smith says. “And I got an understanding of how serious I had to get. I knew that if I wanted to one day make it to the NBA, I had to learn to get mad every time I stepped on the court. I had to condition myself to always be in attack mode. You have to have that switch and know how to use it.” 

    As soon as I heard that this is a decision, I thought that this could be Dawkins. He has size, athletic ability and the skill to shoot. JJ Redick made himself into an NBA player with less starting tools—Dawkins' ceiling is Ray Allen.

    Smith continued, "That transition wasn't easy with who I am as a loving and caring person,” he says. “But once I finally figured out I could be both (friendly and ferocious), then it just clicked.” 

    If Dawkins can channel his inner Nolan Smith he will be just as great as JJ Redick.

    Maybe Dawkins just needs to mature a little more; he skipped his senior of high school to enrol early at  Duke.

Alex Murphy Is Kyle Singler

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    I previously wrote a story asking if it is fair to compare Alex Murphy with Kyle Singler. The truth is they play so much alike it is scary but it is never easy to immediately follow in the footsteps of a great player.

    Just ask Loren Woods who followed Tim Duncan at Wake Forest or Larry Drew who followed Ty Lawson at North Carolina.

    Murphy seems to have no problem with this challenge. He is happy to wear No. 12, Singler's number, next season.

    That number deserves retiring but if anyone is going to do Singler's memory justice, Murphy is well equipped to do so.

    He left high school a year early to play for Duke, however he had repeated his first year of high school.

Austin Rivers Is Jason Williams

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    Duke has never seen a player with the prestige of Austin Rivers in a long time. Is he any good? Hard to tell at this point. The scouts rave about him being able to get his shot off at will, an invaluable skill, but can that work in college?

    Can he play with other very good players in a disciplined system? There are a lot more questions about this kid than answers at this point.

    Rivers will have to prove himself in the coming season, though like JJ Redick or LeBron James, there are a lot of people waiting for him to fall on his face.

    But anything short of Jason Williams' season will be considered a bust. Williams averaged 14.1 points his first season at Duke, along with 6.5 assists, even though he was not considered a total point guard.

    Williams, the highest Duke guard ever drafted when he went to Chicago Bulls at No. 2 in 2002, had a storybook career at Duke.

    At this point, Rivers has to better Williams to live up to the hype or his name will be synonymous with LeBron James as a choke artist.

Seth Curry Is William Avery

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    I previously omitted Seth curry from the original list and only noticed it when a keen eyed reader pointed it out to me in the comments section. Is this an omen of things to come? Lets hope not.

    William Avery was the point guard on that loaded 1998 Duke team that lost in the NCAA finals. Elton Brand and Shane Battier were at forward, together! Duke legends, Trajan Langdon, Chris Chris Carrawell and Nate James were also around.

    Just like Curry playing with a loaded team his second year at Duke.

    Avery averaged 15 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 40 minutes of play. Judging from Duke's loaded back court, Curry prob wont see that many minutes, nor is he the primary ball handler, although that could change.

    William Avery also made 41% of his three point attempts and was an 81% free throw shooter and was the third leading scorer on that team. Not a terrible comparison. The bar could be raised higher but if Curry can play to Avery's standard his team will be better off.