New Year's Resolutions: Duke

It’s the start of a new calendar year, but the season is ready to kick into high gear in Durham with the ACC portion of the schedule beginning this weekend. We examine the Blue Devils’ rotation and offer suggestions for the each player’s New Year’s resolutions.

C Jahlil Okafor

Okafor has been dominant throughout the first 12 games of the season and may very well have the inside track for National Player of the Year honors. He leads the team in points (18.8), rebounds (8.8), blocks (18), and field goal percentage (.685). He’s doing it all in just 28.8 minutes per game, and most teams haven’t been able to figure out how to slow him down much less stop him. Whenever he gets the ball around the basket in a one on one situation there’s a fair chance he’s going to score. If double (or triple) teams come…he’s shown himself to be a terrific passing big man. Defensively he’s seemed to be a bit less consistent, but his mere presence alone has provided more rim protection than the team had all of last season.

“Whenever we’d run our motion at the end, if you don’t double Jah, it’s going to be tough,” said Krzyzewski after Okafor posted another strong stat line against Wofford. “And if you double him, he’s going to pass out.“

Resolution: Spend hours practicing free throw shooting.

For as good as Okafor has been on the offensive end of the floor, the big man is leaving a lot of points at the charity stripe. It’s not unheard of for a center to be a poor free throw shooter, but Okafor may be south of that. For the season he’s hitting just 50 percent of his attempts. As the games begin to tighten up in conference play, teams may even go to a “Hack-a-Jah” strategy and take their chances. Upping his percentage to the mid 60s would be a great start.

PF Amile Jefferson

Jefferson has been the team’s rock. He’s a versatile defender who has used his length to switch onto everyone from point guard to power forward. Offensively, he’s made his living on garbage buckets and floating to the basket whenever Okafor is double teamed.

He’s also Duke’s most aggressive rebounder and is second on the team with 8.1 boards per game despite only playing 23.1 minutes per contest. Like his starting froncourt mate, Jefferson is shooting a very high percentage from the field overall (.646), but has been a below average shooter from the free throw line (.590).

Resolution: At times when Jefferson has received the ball in the high post, at the top of the key, or anywhere in the 16-17 foot range he’s head faked as if he’s going to shoot the ball. In all those times there haven’t been more than one or two instances when the defender bit. Why? Because teams don’t fear or respect the 6-foot-9 forward’s jump shooting ability. Certainly his game isn’t that of the traditional stretch-four in the Blue Devil system, but he’s a player who can hurt you off the dribble and can keep teams honest when he’s operating at those ranges. But until he proves he’s more of a threat from there, nobody’s going to worry about sagging off to help on the inside.

SF Justise Winslow

The team’s walking highlight reel, Winslow came into college being compared to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for both the good (athleticism, motor, defensive toughness) and bad (can’t shoot) reasons. Through 12 games the Texas product has defied his critics by shooting a respectable .385 from the perimeter and has become Duke’s best defender, capable of defending the one through four positions.

A guy who was initially considered a multi-year college player, it’s hard to find many current draft boards that don’t have Winslow among the top 5-8 prospects in the country.

Resolution: Much like his classmate on the inside, Winslow is going to make a living at the free throw line throughout conference play. He’s such an explosive athlete and so quick in transition that teams almost need to foul him as he drives to the goal. The problem is that, like Okafor, Winslow has struggled at the line for extended periods this season and is only shooting 60.4 percent from the charity stripe. Given his ability to handle the ball (if teams are denying Cook or Jones), and the mismatches he creates, being able to hold teams accountable for fouling him seems like the most pressing deficit in his game.

SG Quinn Cook

Most believed Cook would be coming off the bench as the season wore on. After all, Duke has a trio of former high school All-American shooting guards on the roster. However, Cook has been the team’s best three point shooter (.403), and providing a second ball handler on the court has made it nearly impossible to either trap or press the Blue Devils.

Defensively, Cook has made a living coming up with loose balls and he’s done well against teams who have guards that are a bit bigger. And, of course, Cook has been the team’s emotional leader on the court though some time he’s had to be held in check by his head coach (the Toledo game is a good example).

Resolution: Improve his on the ball defense. Both Cook and Jones are smaller guards and both have trouble staying in front of stronger/quicker opponents. Things are inherently better than a season ago with Okafor, Jefferson, and even Winslow guarding the rim as a second line of defense, but the guards (both of them) need to do better at preventing penetration and, when necessary, clogging up the passing lanes.

PG Tyus Jones

As expected the former top five overall prospect has come in and taken the starting point role and made it his own. Mike Krzyzewski recruited Jones exclusively for more than three recruiting cycles and the Minnesota prospect was never going to simply “wait his turn” in Durham. It’s easy to see why Jones has gained such favor with his head coach through 12 games.

Jones leads the team in assists (5.5) and has a 3.7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He is also Duke’s leader in steals (22), and is second on the team in free throw shooting (86 percent). Stats aside, Jones has been at his best in the biggest games of the year.

Against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Connecticut the freshman has posted 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting 59 percent from the field, 50 percent from the perimeter, and 88 percent from the free throw line.

“He makes everybody better on the team,” said Cook of his backcourt mate.  “He’s a leader and he makes us all better.”

Resolution: Like Cook, Jones needs to make things tougher on opposing guards on the defensive send of the court. He’s struggled at times with staying in front of quicker opponents, which has allowed for easy buckets.

SG Rasheed Sulaimon

He hasn’t struggled as much as he did a season ago when he was famously relegated to the bench before ultimately registering a “DNP - Coach’s Decision”, but the consistency exhibited as a freshman on the 2012-2013 team is something he’s still looking for.

His best game of the season came against Wisconsin when he scored in a variety of ways including drives, perimeter shooting, and off of pull-up jumpers. He’s also had some extended periods of offensive anonymity, scoring a combined nine points on 4-of-18 shooting against Fairfield, Michigan State, Temple, Stanford, and Connecticut.

Resolution: Reintroduce his midrange game. When the 6-foot-5 junior drives to the goal there are times he’s almost kamikaze-ish, putting his head down and just going. When he’s most effective is when he beats his man off the dribble, but then pulls up for the 15 foot jumper.

SG Matt Jones

Started the preseason games at shooting guard and then was relegated to the bench in favor of Cook. When he’s played, he’s been designated as a perimeter defender with eyes on providing a change of pace on the end of the floor for Duke.

Offensively Jones started consistently enough, averaging 8.5 point per game off the bench in 16 minutes per game. Then he struggled against Michigan State and Temple before posting big games against Stanford and Furman (11.5 points on 67 percent shooting from the floor overall and from the perimeter).

Over the last five games, however, Jones’ shot hasn’t been working and the sophomore has recorded just 2.8 points per game on 33 percent shooting.

Resolution: Stay confident in his jumper. Jones as a quick release and came to Duke with the reputation as a legit perimeter shooter. He struggled as a freshman, but seemed to have turned the corner in the preseason. Since hitting 4-of-5 from long range against Furman, he’s gone 0-for-7 over the last five games. Duke will need Jones to find his shot again soon as more and more teams collapse on the Blue Devil post game. If Jones can extend the defense, it’ll create space for the interior game, and open lanes for the slashers.

C Marshall Plumlee

After spending his first several seasons injured in some form or fashion, Plumlee has played well enough to become a rotational player as a fourth year junior. The only issue is that he’s on the same team as Okafor, and thus his minutes are going to be somewhat limited absent foul trouble.

Still, Plumlee has accepted his role and has produced when called upon. He’s hit 10-of-13 field goals through 12 games, and has improved his free throw shooting in a major way, hitting 15-of-18 (83 percent). He’s also blocking a shot every 1.2 minutes of game time and, of course, he hit the most memorable three pointer of the season.

Going forward, however, Coach K has indicated that Plumlee could continue to gain more and more minutes, even giving Duke a really big lineup look at times.

“We’ll look at that more going forward because Marshall’s playing well. I don’t want him to just be behind Jah. Marshall’s such a good athlete that he can defend the four. He can go out and put pressure. He’s very athletic.”

Resolution: Continue improving his ability to score around the basket. If he’s going to play more alongside Okafor, Plumlee will have opportunities to score off offensive rebounds and via Okafor’s passes.

SG Grayson Allen

The least hyped of the four man freshman class, Allen has shown flashes in limited opportunities. He’s got the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers, but he’s also one of Duke’s most aggressive players off the dribble. Still, he’s clearly sitting as the ninth player in what looks to be an eight man rotation.

Resolution: Continue working hard and stay the course. His time will come.

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