Could Duke Be Cooking Up A Better 2012?

Justin McTeer offers an opinion on this year's Blue Devils being better than last year's

We've officially reached that point in the offseason where more fans have moved on to thinking about the next year versus lamenting the underwhelming end to the previous one.

This hasn't been an easy season from which to move on, however.

Not only do we Duke fans have to endure the sting of "what could have been" in the 2010-11 season had some things gone differently, we've had to let go of "what could be" with Kyrie Irving declaring for the draft while virtually every other star freshman in the nation seems to be coming back to college for the first time in decades.

Since when does Duke's star freshman declare for the draft while Texas' star freshmen stays in school? Let the alternate realities argument begin!

In all seriousness, Irving will be missed. No doubt he would have been Duke's star next season and a top contender for National Player of the Year.

Normally, the sting from Irving's departure would stretch well into the following season. But the addition of Quinn Cook to Duke's roster next year might just keep that from happening. In fact (as strange as it may sound), Cook has the potential to better fill Duke's needs at the point guard position next season than Irving.

Now back up for a moment. Put down the pitchfork and the torch.

I'm not saying that Cook is better than Irving—he's not. I'm not saying that Cook would start over Irving if the two were on the same roster—he would not.

I am simply serving as food for thought is the fact that while Cook is not on par with Irving as an individual player, his game has the ability to make those around him more successful than Irving's.

For the fans who haven't seen Cook play, he is a fantastic point guard. While not the most athletic point guard in the 2011 class, he is arguably the best all-around player at the position. He is quick enough to get past defenders, crafty enough to get his shot off while closely guarded (and he is a very good shooter), and cerebral enough to see open looks for other players the vast majority of point guards simply do not see.

In short, he's a pass-first point guard with excellent court vision who just so happens to be a solid scorer. Excited?

Cook has the ability to do something that a Duke point guard hasn't done in a long time—create for others more than he creates for himself.

Nolan Smith and Irving were score-first guards. That's not a knock to them, it's simply who they are as players.

If either got into the lane, the chances of them taking a shot were far greater than the chances of them looking to dish to a teammate. Rightfully so—they are great scorers.

Cook is a different player. He'll penetrate plenty, but the result will often be different.

Guys like Mason and Miles Plumlee will get more looks close to the basket off of penetrating drives and dishes than they have previously. Serioulsy, how often did that happen last season?

For all of the frustration sent the Plumlee brothers' way, they have never had a point guard with a knack for getting post players the ball at the right moment in the right places. Instead, they've been relegated to either trying to create for themselves in an offense not built around post scoring or becoming the recipient of the occasional wide open alley-oop.

Cook is the kind of player who can give the Plumlees the breakout season fans have been waiting for. Not only can he get in the lane and draw attention from defenders because of his scoring ability (Irving and Smith could do that in bunches), he can do so while seeing the perfect opportunity to distribute the ball. He has that kind of vision and timing.

It won't just be the Plumlees benefiting from Cook's passing prowess, but everyone on the court. All we have to do is look a few miles down the road to see what happens when you give a fantastic passer the ball and surround him with offensive weapons—the results are generally good.

As a fan, I'd love nothing more than for Irving to change his mind and come back to Duke. He would be fun to watch.

But if Irving were in Durham next year, there's not much of a question what the team dynamic would be on offense—Irving and Austin Rivers scoring a lot of points, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins hitting some threes, etc. Honestly, the offense would look a lot like last year when Irving was injured. Simply give Irving and Rivers the number of shots that Smith and Singler were taking and everything else pretty much stays the same.

With Cook, there's the chance the offense could evolve into a much more complete package by the time February rolls around. More players will get involved and more guys will get looks they simply haven't seen in the last few years.

I'm not saying Duke will be better with Cook instead of Irving next season. I'm simply saying they could be better.

Again, put the pitchfork down.


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