Early Observations: Duke Blue Devils

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Mike Krzyzewski’s 2014-2015 Duke Blue Devils have a different outlook from the team that got bounced by Mercer in the second round of the tournament earlier in the year. With four top recruits in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen, Coach K will have a balance of experience and talent in what looks like a promising Blue Devils team. While Duke is only three games in, the Blue Devils look like a complete team, which showed in Tuesday’s win over Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.

What has stood out the most through three games is the efficiency of Duke’s offense. With a dominant inside presence in Jahlil Okafor, Coach K can run his offense through one of the nation’s best players, allowing for a spaced-out floor. Last year, Duke had to rely heavily on the three because there was no inside force on the offensive end. With Okafor, the three ball will come with the offense and shots won’t be forced at a high rate. The Duke offense has also showed early signs of selflessness throughout their first three games. Against Michigan State, the extra pass was always made to ensure a high percentage shot was going up; whereas last year individuals too often tried to win games themselves which stalled the Blue Devils production on the scoreboard. Now that the Blue Devils have an inside presence, the pressure on Duke’s guards to create an open shot for their teammates will decrease, and the offense can just flow with the speed of the game.

The depth Coach K has to work with this year will create issues for Duke’s opponents. Along with Okafor in the frontcourt includes Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and sophomore Semi Ojeleye, while Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones, and Justise Winslow make up the Blue Devils’ backcourt. There is a balance of experience and talent on the roster to form a complete team. Veterans Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Sulaimon, while they won’t be the big playmakers, create a sense of stability on the court to complement the four highly talented Diaper Dandies. With the immense depth inside and along the perimeter, Duke has the ability to throw solid five-man rotations that excel in specific facets of the game, whether it be three-point shooting or defense, while not experiencing any drop-off in production, even if their five best players are not in the game. Foul trouble was on the list of many defects of the Mercer’d Blue Devils, however fouls will not be as detrimental to Duke throughout the course of the 2014-2015 season because of their depth. If Okafor or Tyus Jones ever experience foul trouble, the Blue Devils won’t struggle to win games as much as they did last year when Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood had to sit because of fouls.

Despite the positives Duke has shown early, the flaws have still appeared on the forefront. Rebounding was the achilles heel and the center of every Duke loss suffered with Jabari Parker. Despite the presence of Okafor and inside depth on Coach K’s roster, the Blue Devils were still out-rebounded by double-digits in their win against Michigan State. In basketball, the team that wins the rebounding battle wins the game 82% of the time. Duke cannot afford to find new ways to be in the 18% that wins despite being beated on the glass. They could not do it last year and will not be able to do it this year against a more competitive ACC.

The youth showed at times as the Michigan State game progressed. As the Spartans went on runs to cut Duke’s lead, the Blue Devils became sloppy with the basketball and frazzled while running the floor. That is where Cook, Jefferson, and Sulaimon will play key roles. Keeping the freshmen in check and using their experience to take control of the game and slow down the pace of the game will be massive in Duke’s success in games against ranked opponents. Grayson Allen is a special shooting talent, and Coach K should look to increase Allen’s minute total as the season advances, as he has the jump shot to be the next J.J. Redick.

The Duke haters are going to be flustered this year. These freshmen are no joke, and they are out to prove why they belong as a part of the historic Duke program. Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones have the talent to take over games at their own will, while having the experience in Cook, Jefferson, and Sulaimon to keep them in check when their performance heads south. Yes, it is still early, but the Duke Blue Devils look like a complete team that has the potential to do heavy damage throughout the course of the season.

Image Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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