Duke Basketball: One Thing Each Blue Devil Needs to Work on This Offseason
I can't say I was surprised when Duke University fell to the Derrick Williams led University of Arizona in the Sweet 16 in March.
The Blue Devils are traditionally nonathletic, while Arizona had an abundance of high-flyers who turned the game into a YouTube highlight reel.
With the loss of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Duke will start the 2011-2012 season without its top three players and scorers from the previous season.
The most notable addition to the team is Austin Rivers, a guard who is widely considered one of the top recruits in the nation.
If the Blue Devils are going to make another run at a title, they'll need to get tougher. When they won in 2010, seven-footer Brian Zoubek morphed into an inside presence that carried the team through the tournament.
Rivers will get his points, but will another player be able to step and fill the second-scorer role? Who will it be?
Here's one thing each player could work on this summer to get the Blue Devils back on track.
Quinn Cook, an incoming freshman out of Oak Hill Academy, looks to have NBA-ready court vision. But Duke doesn't run like the NBA, and these flashy passes might not have the same effects in a slow-it-down offense like Duke's.
Cook's a great passer. That much is clear. I think it'd be a good idea for him to practice the kick-out pass rather than the dumps inside. Because Quinn looks like he can get wherever he wants on the floor, there's going to be plenty of open threes available when he's on the court.
Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins should reap the benefits.
Seth Curry spent his freshman season at Liberty racking up threes on inferior players. After sitting out a year due to his transfer, Curry settled into a fourth or fifth scoring role during his sophomore season, averaging 9.5 points per game.
Curry will need to become the No. 2 option for the Blue Devils that season, and that means diversifying his scoring. Curry likes to live behind the three-point line, but he'll need to keep defenders honest by developing a solid one-dribble jumper.
Andre Dawkins is known more for his three-point shooting than his acrobatic dunking at Duke. The 6'4'' junior shot 43 percent from long range last season, good for eight points per game.
It would serve the Blue Devils well if Dawkins took a page out of his high-school highlight reel. The Dukies struggle getting to the rim (see Singler, Kyle), and teams can typically zone in on a knockdown shooter.
If Dawkins can keep opposing defenses honest, it'll allow him to get his own shot off as well as adding a new dribble-drive dimension from the wing to the Duke offense.
When Derrick Williams turned Kyle Singler into the proverbial chair in the Sweet 16, it became painfully clear that Duke just didn't have a perimeter defender (though I don't know that anyone in the NCAA could have shut down Williams that night).
Michael Gbinije can be that guy. He's got the length and size to shut down the opposing teams' best forward. His offensive game isn't too shabby either; it looks like he can create his own shot and knock them down.
Defense, defense, defense.
It's pretty clear watching the video above that Josh Hairston (A) cannot dribble with his left hand and (B) is a physical specimen.
At 6'8'', he has the length and athleticism to shut down small forwards, power forwards and even most centers.
Hairston didn't see much time during his freshman season. If he works on his defense this summer, maybe he'll dig himself out of Club Trillion (look it up).
Clearly, Ryan Kelly isn't asked to fill the same role for Duke as he was for his high school team. Who knew he could jump?
The only thing I want Kelly to do this summer is keep shooting. With the Plumlee brothers in full force, Kelly probably won't be asked to venture into the post often. Not many teams have a 6'11'' three-point threat or somebody who can guard one.
Kelly should be able to get his shot off whenever he wants and, as funny as he looks, he needs to be a huge contributor for the Blue Devils.
David Mayer did not once get off the bench as a freshman.
He should work on his towel waiving, fist pumping and floor slapping.
Alex Murphy, an incoming freshman from the Saint Mark's School in Rhode Island, spent his high school years putting up impressive stats against unimpressive opponents.
He's another three-point shooter in Coach K's pocket, and he's got good size.
Could he morph into the next Kyle Singler? It looks like Murphy probably would have sunk some of the shots Singler missed in the NCAA tournament.
Murphy should work on creating his own shot this summer. College players close out threes more quickly. Singler learned how to beat defenders off the dribble for pull-up jumpers and nifty layups. Murphy should do the same.
The Plumlee Brothers
The Plumlee brothers, Miles, Mason and Marshall are the hyper-athletic, near-seven-footers from Indiana entering their senior, junior and freshman years, respectively.
I think it would be pretty interesting to see all three brothers on the court at once, perhaps in a 2-3 zone defense as the three down low. It's experimental, but Duke could try to perfect it during the cupcake non-conference schedule.
If the Plumlee trio can find a way to make that work, Duke becomes the biggest team in the nation. You could never say that about Duke teams of the past.
For the second consecutive year, Duke's best player will be a freshman.
Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers, will be expected to carry the load offensively right away. He has a ton of moves (look at that fast-break, step-back three at 0:43), so the question mark will be his ability to defend.
If he can play solid defense, Rivers will be the most complete player the Blue Devils have seen since, well, Kyrie Irving.
Tyler Thornton does everything pretty well but seemingly nothing great. Nolan Smith was like that. He did just fine.
Thornton didn't see much time playing behind Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith last season. That probably won't change much with Quinn Cook and Austin Rivers stepping in.
Thornton should work on his shooting this summer. It's probably the easiest thing for non-elite athletes to become great at.
Keep waving those towels, Todd.