The freshman from Chicago was all over the floor for the Blue Devils on Friday. He played all five positions, and created matchup nightmares for most anyone who attempted to guard him. When he handled the ball he was able to post up smaller players. When he played 'center' for Duke, it was almost cruel to watch the opposing bigs attempt to guard him for 94 feet. In the first 15 minute scrimmage Parker finished with 16 points and six rebounds. He switched teams at intermission and then added another eight points and eight rebounds. His total stat line was 24 points (9-of-17 FG; 6-7 FT), 14 rebounds, and one block in 27 minutes. Perhaps the only troubling stat was the five fouls committed (four in the first 13 minutes). And, of course, Parker provided the play of the night:
As with any freshman, Parker is going to experience his share of ups and downs, but it was pretty easy to see why he was picked as a first team all-ACC performer despite never playing a minute in college. After he committed to Duke both Parker and his parents told TDD that the ball was going to be in his hands from day one, and that certainly proved to be true. The 6'8 forward brought the ball up a number of times, which forced the opposing post players to step out…which didn't work out well for them.
2. Amile Jefferson has improved, and may be OK in the post
A season ago the Philadelphia product produced a handful of nice performances while filling in for the injured Ryan Kelly. Using his length and being tenacious, Jefferson established himself as a reliable rebounder and finisher around the rim. But with Duke's slower pace, teams were able to pack in around the basket and the 6-foot-9, 200 pound forward was often pushed off the block by bigger, stronger players. That'll still happen this season, but not as much if Friday is any indication. Jefferson looks bigger, and much more fluid with his back to the basket. He finished the night with 16 points (8-of-12 shooting), seven rebounds, and a block. Jefferson certainly benefits from Parker and Rodney Hood stretching the defense, and with the extra space down low, he's able to find creases and angles to finish around the rim. He also showed a couple of nifty drop steps and spin moves when isolated one on one.
3. Duke could have more post depth than imagined
While Jefferson appears to have separated himself as the third starting front court player along with Parker and Hood, the coaching staff had to be smiling at the play of Semi Ojeleye and Marshall Plumlee. Ojeleye came to Duke with a reputation of being able to put up huge numbers in high school, but the level of competition left a lot to be desired. That caveat seemed to suggest the Kansas prospect would struggle to find the floor as a freshman at Duke. However, with a powerful physique and the highest vertical on the team, Coach K may have a nice change of pace if he decides to sub in Semi for Jefferson. Ojeleye made a living around the basket and flying in for rebounds. He didn't show his three point shot on the night, and he won't play the wing if he's on the court this season, but you can see all manner of potential. Similarly, Marshall Plumlee's performance (9 points, eight rebounds, and a block) was heartening. The youngest Plumlee brother was able to bother shots, to clean up rebounds, and he attacked the rim whenever the chance was there. Like Ojeleye, it is probably unlikely that he'll get a ton of minutes on a night by night basis, but the two plus Jefferson will give Duke a combination of length, power, and athleticism in the paint. Given the firepower on the perimeter…that may be enough.
4. There is a hellacious competition at SG
Much was made of Coach K's decision to almost go out of his way not to name Rasheed Sulaimon as the starter at scoring guard. The sophomore guard wasn't challenged a season ago with Duke's lack of depth on the perimeter. As K noted, Seth Curry never practiced last year, and Andre Dawkins was on a personal leave of absence. Fast forward one year and Sulaimon is now locked into a fierce battle for playing time with Dawkins and freshman Matt Jones. Just how Sulaimon reacts is anyone's guess, but on Friday he seemed to be pushing things on offense. He missed all four field goal attempts in the first scrimmage, and though he managed 16 points on the night, it was on 5-of-17 shooting. A year ago there was nobody else, this year however there's Dawkins who declared "I'm back" during his introduction sequence and then proved it over the next 30 minutes. The fifth year senior scored the game's first points on a long three pointer and looked to be a much different player on defense (read he actually seemed to bother opposing guards). Unlike Sulaimon (and Jones), however, Dawkins didn't attempt a field goal inside the perimeter. He did finish with nine points in 22 minutes. The third piece of the puzzle is the biggest surprise. Matt Jones' game continues to evolve and the Texas five star prospect seems to have a much better handle than we saw during his AAU and even his high school career. No longer considered just a shooter, Jones seemed to attack the basket at every opportunity, and showed the ability to run the point in the second scrimmage as well. Sulaimon may be the favorite to become the full-time starter, but unlike a year ago there's little margin for error.
5. There are still some concerns to address
For all the positives, this team still has some holes that will need to be filled. It will be interesting to see who this team fares against teams who can control and severely slow the pace. Also of note on Friday was the team's shooting percentages. Perhaps just a bad night, but the team shot 6-of-26 from the perimeter including a combined 3-of-14 from Jones, Sulaimon, and Dawkins. After teams grow weary from trying to run with this group, they may very well pack it in and dare Duke to attempt to beat them from the perimeter. In years past that was one of the worst things to do against Duke, but what we saw on Friday suggests there's work to do. Also…who is this team's go-to-guy? When the shot clock is winding down…how will they react? Friday didn't suggest there's anyone who is ready to step up and have the ball in his hands. Of course, there's still time for these and many other questions to be answered.