It’s a safe bet that Brandon Ingram will be among the starting five when the Blue Devils open the season in six weeks. At 6-foot-9 he’s capable of scoring from the wing or off the bounce. He’s also capable of handling the ball, and his length will allow him to become a factor on defense both in the passing lanes and bothering shots. On this day he didn’t mix it up too much inside, and got pushed away from the paint at times. Still, with his skill set and size, it’s a safe bet he’s going to be among Duke’s top options this year. He did provide one of the plays of the day with a no-look pass to Chase Jeter for a finish.
Much like Justise Winslow before him, it’s conceivable that Ingram will start the season as a small forward, but could move to the stretch four position when Duke goes small.
In the backcourt the Blue Devils began the first scrimmage portion of practice with Derryck Thornton on the “Blue” team. Soon after Thornton moved into drills with the starters and had a few moments that stood out. Prior to practice he was spotted sitting with Coach K for an extended period reviewing practice film and similar. Unlike Tyus Jones a year ago, there’s no true point guard mentor on the roster and Thornton is going to be dealing with a sharp learning curve. Thornton did show the ability to get into the lane, but was bounced around a bit once he got into the teeth of the defense.
Freshman Luke Kennard also showed well on the afternoon. The lefty not only handled the ball confidently when asked to bring it up the court against pressure, he also knocked down several perimeter jumpers. At 6-foot-5 Kennard has a quick release and showed a willingness to let shots fly from around 20-24 feet. Don’t be surprised to see him coming off screens this year.
Inside there’s a lot to like from Chase Jeter, though he’s going to take some time to adapt to the physical nature of the college game. The Nevada product battled gamely against Plumlee and Jefferson, but it was a case of a just turned 18 year old facing off against a 22 and 23 year old duo with more than four years in the strength program. Still, Jeter didn’t shy away from contact and finished through some fouls in the five on five portion. He slowed down near the end of practice due to fatigue and prompted Coach Kryzewski to stop practice and point out that by putting the ball up softly instead of dunking, he was “having a conversation with himself instead of thinking as a team”. K also told his team they can’t play tired in those situations.
True freshman post Antonio Vrankovic appeared to be sidelined with a foot issue. He’s expected to redshirt this season.
Though not a freshman, the other scholarship newcomer is Sean Obi. The transfer from Rice is noticeably trimmer this year, and will battle inside for rebounds. He had trouble collecting a few passes from Thornton off the dribble drive (though a few were delivered behind him), but did show flashes of being able to clear out the lane and rebound. Offensively, he’s going to play most of his time below the rim, and was bothered at times by the length of players such as Jefferson and Plumlee.
THE RETURNING ROTATION
Both Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee had solid practices doing what you’d expect them to do. Jefferson was constantly talking on defense and rebounded in traffic and on the weak side. Defensively he bothered everyone from Jeter to Ingram to Obi on the inside and even flashed to the wing a few times to provide a disruptive presence. He’s also noticeably stronger than a season ago.
As for Plumlee, he moved around on both ends of the floor. Though it was just the first practice and against woefully inexperienced opposition, Plumlee did look decisive when getting the ball near the basket and had several takes to the rim. Defensively, he’s very strong and when he stays home and disciplined, was a very active presence in the paint. He’s not going to score a ton for Duke, but his experience and understanding of what the team is trying to accomplish will keep him in the rotation -likely as the starting center when the season opens. He didn’t switch from the White jersey to Blue until the very end of practice.
On the perimeter the savior of the Final Four, Grayson Allen looks much like the player who turned the tide against Wisconsin. He didn’t shoot overly well from the outside, but attacks the rim very hard and will draw a ton of fouls in doing so. Defensively he looks a bit quicker from a lateral sense and was often seen picking up the opposing ball handler in full or three-quarter court pressure. When the teams broke into the Blue versus White scrimmages, Allen was the ‘starting’ point guard alongside Matt Jones.
And speaking of Jones, the junior had what has become a typical performance for him. He defended the ball, harassed the opponent’s top player, and then hit the occasional perimeter shot - usually from the corner. Perhaps the biggest change for Jones from last season to this year is the role on offense. A season ago Coach K praised Jones’ ability to play and “not need the ball” very much. A year later and you see Jones handling the ball intermittently in the half court. Most of that occurred when paired with Allen as the starting backcourt early on.
- Coach Krzyzewski is already focusing heavily on communication. He stopped the practice several times to focus on talking and calling out assignments. He also noted that developing communication habits when the team wasn’t tired will help when fatigue sets in and the teams begin “playing tired”.
- Before practice began Coach K mentioned that he and the coaches are working to put the different players in positions that will benefit and play to their individual strengths. That it’s an on-going process with so many new guys and with the team having strengths in different areas from year to year.
- Duke worked on a lot of pressing for one practice. Both full court and three quarter situations.