Eight Games; One LineupIt’s interesting to point out that the only lineup change occurred in the preseason when sophomore scoring guard Matt Jones joined Jahlil Okafor, Amile Jefferson, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones as the first five for Duke. However, in the opener, head coach Mike Krzyzewski elected to add some more experience and a second point guard to the lineup with the substitution of senior Quinn Cook.
The move has worked well as Cook as responded to the promotion (albeit back to a spot he occupied last season) by averaging 15.3 points while shooting 44.2 percent from the perimeter and 92.9 percent from the charity stripe as the team’s starting scoring guard. When Jones has gone out of the game, Cook has assumed the role of point guard where he’s posted a 3.6-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Off the court, those around the team have raved about Cook’s maturity and leadership, pointing out that the senior has taken a special interest in mentoring the young players, especially Tyus Jones.
“He’ll pull me aside on the court and tell me to look for something different or to try to approach things a different way. But at the same time, he’s given me confidence by telling me to believe in myself because he knows what I can do on the court,” Jones said of Cook. “He welcomed me with open arms and it’s been really easy to adjust.”
The rotation has also been constant and defined over the course of the first month with head coach Mike Krzyzewski playing up to a 10 man rotation. However, when games are tight and on the biggest stage such as Michigan State and Wisconsin, the Blue Devils have tightened down to an eight man substitution pattern, leaving freshman Grayson Allen and sophomore Semi Ojeleye on the outside looking in.
Sharing The BasketballIt certainly helps to have a pair of point guards on the court at the same time, but the offense has thrived on sharing the ball and making the extra pass. Often, in the half court, Duke will revert to the classic Blue Devil teams of yesteryear by making the extra pass and finding the open man.
On the season the Blue Devils have handed out nearly double the number of assists of their opponents (152 to 77), and have registered a helper on 59.6 percent of made field goals. Meanwhile, opponents are assisting on just 42.5 of their made field goals. The result has been Duke shooting 54 percent from the floor as a team and 40 percent from the perimeter. It is, after all, easier to make an open shot rather than a contested one.
The catalysts for assist-a-palooza have been Jones and Cook who have combined to hand out 75 in eight games (9.4/game), but the rest of the team isn’t half bad at passing either. Rasheed Sulaimon and Justise Winslow both average more than two assists per game while Jahlil Okafor has drawn rave reviews for recognizing double teams and kicking the ball out when pressure comes.
In the aggregate Duke has posted a 2.03-to-1 assist to turnover ratio with no player who appears in the regular 10 man rotation having a negative rate. Jones leads the pack with a ridiculous 5.75-to-1 ratio.
Marshall Plumlee, Offensive SavantIt’s been a bumpy ride for the third Plumlee brother in three plus seasons in Durham. During his freshman and sophomore seasons he never started a game, and registered several DNP’s in the boxscores. When he did play, Plumlee was more likely to fill up the foul column than any other. Now, as a fourth year junior, the tallest player on the roster seems to have things somewhat figured out.
It begins with playing under control and understanding exactly what the team needs from him. Specifically, Duke wants offensive rebounds and garbage buckets on one side of the court and defensive boards mixed with the ability challenge shots on the defensive side.
In eight games the message has been received and applied. Plumlee is averaging only 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11 minutes per night, but he’s doing it in a way that’s been extremely efficient, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor and a percent 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Defensively he ranks second on the team in blocks.
And, of course, there’s always going to be this:
Amile Jefferson Is ThrivingA season ago he played out of position as the team’s starting center and acquitted himself well considering the matchup faced. During his sophomore season Jefferson averaged 6.5 points, 6.9 rebounds while shooting a team-high 64.4 percent (94-of-146) from the field. In league play he posted 7.2 boards per contest. However, he was always a power forward masquerading as a center.
That changed when Jahlil Okafor arrived on campus and allowed Jefferson to slide back to his natural position with an emphasis on rebounding on both sides of the court. In eight games he’s the team’s leading overall rebounder (8.3 per game), offensive rebounder, and defensive rebounder. Offensively, he’s once again shooting a high percentage (69.0 percent), and he’s improved as a free throw shooter though it could improve going forward (59.1 percent).
And these numbers are being posted in 23.1 minutes per game. If you extrapolate the numbers out to a per 40 minute basis, Jefferson’s stat line reads 15.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per night.
Duke Has Found Its DA season ago team scored at will against the Blue Devils. It ultimately resulted in Duke going home in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 against Mercer. Following that embarrassment, the coaching staff and players spent the summer recommitting themselves to conditioning and defense.
In eight games the team has held opponents to 40.0 percent from the floor and just 26.8 percent from the perimeter. The Blue Devils have also forced 113 turnovers (14.1/game) and own a robust +8.7/game rebounding margin.
Thought to be a liability early on, the starting backcourt of Jones and Cook are buoyed by the front court trio of Okafor, Jefferson, and Justise Winslow who allow the guards to be more aggressive with overplay defense. A year ago the guards approached the game the same way, but if they were beaten, there wasn’t much protection around the basket. That’s not the case with Okafor and Plumlee in the middle with Jefferson and Winslow occupying time at the power forward spot. With their backs covered by the post, Cook and Jones have combined for 24 of the team’s 68 steals on the season.
A Trio Of Three Point SurprisesAt 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, it’s hard to believe there’s not a place in the Blue Devil rotation for Semi Ojeleye. After all, he’s got all the tools to be a dynamite power forward thanks to his strength and athleticism. And yet, the sophomore has only appeared in six of the eight games. Why is that? The answer may partially be found in his shot selection.
For the season the big forward is shooting just 27.8 percent from the field - making five of his 18 attempts. Of those 18 attempts, a whopping 16 have been three pointers of which he’s hit four. It’s limited the Kansas product to, ironically, 3.0 points per contest. When he’s out on the perimeter, he’s not able to gather up offensive boards like Jefferson (0.5 per game), though Ojeleye has hauled in 11 defensive rebounds in just 63 minutes.
Another surprising stat from deep has been the shooting Justise Winslow, the player who came to college basketball with the reputation of being able to do everything well…aside from shooting from distance. And yet, the 6-foot-6 Houstonian ranks second on the team in three pointers attempted with 26, and third in three point percentage (38.5).
Winslow was expected to be the heart and soul of Duke’s defense thanks to his ability to guard everything from a point guard to a power forward, and he’s delivered there, but he’s also seen that versatility bleed into Duke’s offensive attack now that he’s proven he can, in fact shoot. And when he’s not defying scouting reports, he’s doing this:
Duke has also gotten a surprise - or perhaps a delayed sense of gratification - from sophomore Matt Jones. A season ago Jones couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean if he was sitting on the beach (He shot 14.3 percent for the season from long range). And that was true after he came to college with the reputation as one of the better shooters on the AAU/High School circuit.
Krzyzewski attributed Jones’ rough first season in Durham to the player attempting to force things. A season later and Jones appears to be figuring out his role and settling into same. He’s shooting 56 percent from the perimeter as the designated spot up, pressure relief valve, and his overall field goal percentage has been 61.3 percent. The only knock on Jones has been his free throw shooting (61.5 percent).
Which stats or trends have jumped out to you during Duke’s 8-0 start?