Duke returns Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon, who will be captains, Casey Sanders, Dahntay Jones, Nick Horvath, Daniel Ewing, and Andre Buckner. Dunleavy, Duhon, Jones, and Ewing will be hard to push out of the lineup. For Sanders, it's his last chance to reach his potential in college. Buckner could make a role as a backup point if he excels and can deal well with his asthma, which we heard this past season he has to deal with. Obviously it can't be too severe if he's playing college ball, but it's there.
The obvious differences will be at point guard and at center, where Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer will be leaving big holes, but filling them may not be as difficult in some ways as it seems now.
One of the things Boozer never got credit for was discipline. It takes a lot to become that fundamentally sound. But it was never as impressive on defense as it was on offense. For Shelden Williams, it's the reverse: he gets props for shotblocking, strength, and rebounding, but his offensive skills are not as developed as Boozer's are. But he's strong enough and athletic enough to defend inside where Boozer wasn't always at his best.
We would expect Williams to start, and the balance of post time to go to either Michael Thompson or Casey Sanders. In Thompson's case, he has improved dramatically his senior year. We haven't seen him much - only in the All-Star games - but there's something in the way he moves that reminds us faintly of Greg Newton. We expect he'll be a better player than Newton, and earlier, too. He's big and strong and can score and rebound and, we think, play some defense as well. If Sanders steps up and demands time, so much the better. He's certainly capable.
Strictly speaking, Jason Williams didn't play point, he played what you might call dominant guard. When he wanted the game, it was his toy. That won't be there next year, but there will be plenty of interesting alternatives.
Chris Duhon is likely to come into his own at the point. He had convinced a lot of summer observers that he was a better point guard than Williams after his freshman year. He's been better at keeping the ball and running the team for some time already. Assuming he qualifies, Dockery will be able to provide similar qualities and stellar defensive pressure, and Duhon will never have to pace himself.
Daniel Ewing will likely start at the other guard spot, after periodic stretches of absolute brilliance as a freshman.
For a lot of people J.J. Redick has been a revelation. He has a few immediate salient effects for Duke. First, he makes zones almost a relic. No one will zone this kid, because he's in a shooting zone that is freaky. He's also a better athlete than most people realized. Second, he opens the court up for slashes by Duhon, Jones, and Ewing, which means passes - and free throws - for Williams, Thompson, Dunleavy, and really anyone in the vicinity.
For Dunleavy, the new guys mean he's unchained from the post, and can do whatever he wants. Literally. Coach K has given him the green light to do whatever he thinks is useful.
Shavlik Randolph is likely to be Dunleavy's understudy this year, and what a break for that kid. The NBA at this point was a significant stretch, but playing behind Dunleavy for a year is a dream. The guy really knows the game, and Shavlik will learn a huge amount from him - and probably vice-versa, for that matter.
In the same vein, Nick Horvath, whose improvement last season was largely understated because he was used to play post defense, nonetheless improved. He'll be allowed to play to his strengths more since the team's weakness is no longer in the post. He's a smart, capable player who can shoot well and pass extremely well. This season was invaluable for Nick because he toughened up. He'll be in position to really capitalize on his experience.
The guy whose role may change the most is Dahntay Jones. He could be used as a Billy King sort of queen, a defensive chess piece that scares the crap out of everyone. He could also become a dominant offensive performer. Having a guy who can be used so many different ways is a huge luxury. Incidentally, one of the ways he'll be invaluable is in practice, as he'll force J.J. Redick to adapt to the college game in a very big hurry.
Most importantly, though, this team will likely find it's image in the games of Duhon and Dunleavy. Both guys defer a lot, probably too much, but both have shown a willingness to take over games at times. They'll have to mold this team's psyche, but the defensive talent is there to be a special team, and the three point shooters - Dunleavy, Duhon, Ewing, Redick, Randolph, Horvath - will make defending Duke very hard. Our early guess is that the team will coalesce around defense, and that three point shooting will be lethal. Williams and Boozer will be missed, particularly early, but the internal competition and steel the team, and there are a number of guys who could step up at a key situation for Duke next year. It should be a rich, fun team to watch.