Practice Notebook: Duke Hoops

Want a look from inside the Duke practice facility? TDD was on hand for the annual coaches' clinic. Here's what we saw on a player by player basis.

The Projected Starting Five:

PG- Quinn Cook: Cook spent the offseason working on his shooting stroke, and the results were clear. The shot, especially the perimeter ball, is much improved. The stroke is more compact than a year ago. Cook is learning to take control of his team as the lead guard, and he's clearly worked on dribbling with his off-hand. Today he did a great job staying connected with his opponents and teammates in the various drills. Was very vocal and positive with everyone. When there's down time, he's always talking and bringing his team together. Coach K has said the point guard is the leader, and Cook has taken that to heart. When in transition, Cook showed off his vision and has improved his passing in both timing and delivery. Unlike a season ago, he seemed patient enough to let plays develop instead of forcing the issue. There are still some consistency issues, which are to be expected for a virtual new-comer.

SG- Seth Curry: Due to a leg injury, Curry was limited in practice. When he was in action, however, he showed himself to be improved as a ball hander, and of course he still has a very sweet jump shot. When driving to the right, he uses his off hand very well to shield the defender. Being able to move back to his natural shooting guard position will be beneficial to both he and his teammates. He's the team's best shooter and with additional shooters like Kelly and Murphy, Duke will be able to stretch the floor and provide driving lanes and room to operate inside for guys like Mason Plumlee.

SF- Alex Murphy: on this day the redshirt freshman was one of the four best players on the floor along with Plumlee, Kelly, and Hood. He reminds you of Kyle Singler, though he's got big shoes to fill as Singler's motor never seemed to quit. Murphy does many good thins on the court. He competes on the glass, hustles for the loose balls, and when he spots up, he's a hungry shooter who has really worked on his footwork to set and prepare for the shot. Today he was one of the best players on the team at receiving a dribble hand-off and curling into the lane on the drive. That skill will allow him to break down defenses with his combination of ball handling, size, and athleticism. Much like Singler, Murphy will be a matchup problem at the small forward or stretch power forward position for Duke depending on the lineup. He's bigger than most small forwards and his ball handing and athleticism will cause problems for most big forwards. On this day the issue of consistency was called out by the coaches when he took a few plays off, but that was quickly rectified. When he and Kelly play a two man game, it's going to cause a lot of problems for teams. Overall the redshirt season seems to have done a lot of good for Murphy. He's much stronger and seems to have maintained all of his stamina, functional strength, and athleticism.

PF- Ryan Kelly: has really stepped up and embraced the role of a vocal leader for Duke. He's doing a lot of what made him successful last season. He shows no effect of the season ending injury suffered last year. His jumper seems to be cleaner and faster, and he appears to have added strength as well. Kelly's bread and butter is his versatility, and it has shown. When you put him in a pick and roll action or a screen and slip action, he's going to be a problem. His basketball IQ is probably tops on the team and he throw a nice high-low entry pass. It'll be interesting to see how much additional rebounding responsibility he assumes this year. On this day he was on the perimeter a lot as the team worked on pick and roll and other set plays with the point guards and Murphy.

C- Mason Plumlee: Before the event started, Coach K was going on and on about Mason. After a few minutes of practice, it was easy to see why. He's a lot stronger in his base which translated into keeping his low post position. He's incorporated a jump hook and a counter move that is smooth and without wasted motion. Sealed off his defender very well and used his hips. Really turned well into every hook with no wasted motion. Always squared up to the basket in those moves. Always. Over and over the ball went to Plumlee and he made play after play. Worked one on one with Coach Capel a lot and continued the high major production in those settings. Overall, he should be one of the best big men in the country if he continues to produce like he did on this day. Just has to believe it. The improved strength was there, but needed to fight a bit more to keep post position in the paint. Does what a lot of bigs do when coming off a cross screen in the paint to post up -- let himself get pushed just enough out of the paint to put him off a bit. Towards the end of practice he began planting himself and using the base to explode up and over his opponents.


SG- Rasheed Sulaimon: It was just his second full practice, and the Texan seemed a tad tentative at times. That'll quickly pass as he spent a lot of time with the starters in place of the limited Curry. Despite being a freshman and learning how to gel with the starting group, the attitude and drive was on full display. After every play he was interacting and vocal with his teammates. Sulaimon really seems to enjoy the idea of being on the court at Duke and that radiates. Guarded Curry for a while, which was a good test for him. Curry's craftiness and ability to use screens provided a number of lessons for the freshman including how to fight through those screens. On offense Rasheed can get into the lane, but could have been more decisive as he's progressing through the drive and deciding between shots and passing. Athletically, he's Duke's most athletic guard in 2012-2013. The more experience and practice that comes and goes, the more comfortable he'll get. It's obvious he's trying to pick up Duke's system very quickly and how it includes multiple actions and options off of one set play. As practice wore on and the reps piled up, Sulaimon got better and better. Seemed to always look to make the team play within the scope of the drills.

PG- Tyler Thornton: Thornton looks quicker than a season ago. He's also a lot leaner. Never gets in a hurry and is always patient. Changed speed fairly well and just makes the smart play every time. Cook may be quicker, but Thornton has a better understanding of spacing and makes smart and conservative passes. His shooting motion looked quicker than a season ago, and the flight of the ball seems to have much more backspin. His footwork in the defensive drills seems better, and there is no player with more hustle and heart. He's got an upperclassman's game, and is a smart, smart player.

SF - Amile Jefferson: There's a reason analysts all agreed that Duke got very lucky by landing Jefferson at the last minute in the class of 2012. His intangibles are off the charts for a freshman. Today he was the best "effort" guy on the court thanks to all the little things he does within the flow of the game. Jefferson is a very good athlete and the Duke strength and conditioning program is starting to kick in. He's stronger than he was a year ago and plays bigger than his listed 185 pounds. Did a good job coming off screens and driving into the lane. His ball handling is fairly solid and he cuts and moves crisply without the basketball. Really loved how he crashed the boards from the outside for rebounds. Because he's such a good athlete, and with his intangibles, he's going to grab minutes at the small forward and power forward positions this year. His biggest challenge will be facing off against bigger and stronger post players.

PF- Josh Hairston: Appears to have added strength from a season ago, but also seems to have improved his bounce. Contributes on the glass and can be a solid rotation guy this year. His jump shot is improved with better flight. Clearly understands his role, and isn't afraid to mix it up in the paint. The off-season conditioning allows him to better do that it seems. With the injury status and inexperience behind the two post starters, Hairston is in the mix for quality minutes as a backup at this point.

The Future:

SF- Rodney Hood: there's a lot of ways to describe what Rodney Hood brings to Duke, but the best description I have is this: The kid is a pro. Period. Athletically, he's at an elite level, and there is just an innate smoothness to his overall game. He had a dozen or more plays that elicited audible reactions from the crowd. Once you get past the elite athleticism and fluidity to his game, you'll quickly realize that Hood is a bulldog -- completely ruthless when he attacks. He is an elite driver with the ball in his hands an he's got range out to the perimeter as well. A very easy shooting motion. Overall he just made the game look easy. When he's eligible, he and Murphy (and perhaps a guy like Jabari Parker), are going to cause opposing coaches to have nightmares about the them coming off screens and curling or driving to the basket. Hood does need to be more vocal on the court. Seemed to be quite quiet on the court at times. If he can become a knock-down shooter, the sky is the limit as opponents will quickly decide to sag off him to try and limit his driving ability. Overall he is easily one of Duke's top players right now, and a year in practice and learning the system will make him every better next year. At 6'7 he plays more like a guard than a wing forward.

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