It’s clearly way to early to make assessments on where players are only 4 months removed from Duke’s last game, a loss to Kansas in the Elite 8 and still 2 months away from Countdown to Craziness (Duke’s annual team introduction and scrimmage). We can however look at how Duke performed in their 3 Canadian exhibition games and make some notations on what needs to improve from that early abridged look. Here is a player by player analysis of the players I see possibly fitting into the rotation this season.
Zion Williamson – Williamson showed an array of skills in his 3 game debut, obviously against lesser talent but clearly the ability to dunk the basketball is a tool but not the entirety of his game. After shooting 3 or 4 from 3 point range in the first game his shooting tailed off in the subsequent games. If his jump shot from 3pt range and mid-range becomes a consistent weapon then Williamson will get many more opportunities in the lane as defenses will have to respect each of those facets of his game. In totality over 3 games Williamson shot 64.5% from the field and 33% from the 3 point line. Williamson also must become a better free throw shooter, he should see a good amount of opportunities at the free throw line and will need to convert higher than the 50% he shot in Canada. Williamson will also need to improve on his 10 to 8 assist to turnover ratio, after having 4 assists and no turnovers in the first outing. The freshmen committed 4 turnovers in each of the following games.
Cam Reddish – Health. A healthy Reddish brings the Duke perimeter game to a new level and his ability to shoot from beyond the arc, if as advertised, will be key to opening things up for other offensive sets and situation.
Tre Jones – Health. Jones could be Dukes most important player and if he can come back strong from his hip surgery and be what he’s been throughout his playing career it should boost the play of the Duke bigs. His ability to penetrate could open up easy opportunities for the Duke big men. Jones also possesses a mid-range game that is far beyond the other players on the roster. Jones could make the game much easier for his teammates if he can stay healthy.
R.J. Barrett – Barrett like his freshmen mate Williamson showed a lot of versatility on the court. He was very ball dominant and averaged 30.6 points per game in the 3 game series. After shooting only 40% in the first game, Barrett shot 50% or over in the next 2. Shot selection was a bit of an issue for the Canadian freshmen who, a few times, drove into the teeth of a collapsing defense. In a show of how coaching can benefit a player like Barrett his assist to turnover ration increased from game to game. Barrett went from 2 assists and 5 turnovers in game 1, to 3 assists and 4 turnovers in game 2 and ended on a high note of 10 assists to 3 turnovers in the finale. He, like Zion will need to increase his efficiency from beyond the arc as well as from the charity stripe. Barrett was only 28.5% effective from 3 point range, but seemed to do better when he took shots in rhythm. Foul shooting, however, was an issue in all games – Barrett only shot above 50% from the free throw line in one of the 3 games.
Joey Baker – Joey Baker only say 9 minutes of action in the first outing against Ryerson but as junior center Marques Bolden saw his floor minutes decrease, Baker picked up the extra shine on the court. Baker took advantage of the extra time and shot 5 of 11 from 3 point range in the final 3 games (45.5%). It still has been undecided as to whether Baker will redshirt this season but it was clear that perimeter wise he could help Duke in the 3 point shooting department. Defensively, Baker is still a bit of an unknown but the freshmen seems to move well laterally and his size could be an asset for this years team.
Jordan Goldwire – Goldwire truly helped his positioning on his team and after a so-so first game where he was 0-5 from the floor with only 1 assist and 2 turnovers. The sophomore seemed to get better each game he played, he seemed to learn his teammates tendencies and he also seemed to me much more comfortable with getting his own offense as well. In game 2 Goldwire shot 2-5 with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. The finale, game 3, Goldwire truly shined shooting 50% from the field, 2-3 from beyond the arc, but more importantly the freshmen dished out 5 assists to only 1 turnover. If he can continue this kind of growth during the off-season it can only bode well for Duke’s backcourt. If, and it’s always a big if, with Coach K but if he can use Goldwire to throw a different look to opponents in the backcourt without too much of a drop off Duke can become a very dangerous team. Goldwire is a staunch defender who can get into other guards and has quick hands. Being able to plug an experienced guy when need be is always a coaches dream.
Alex O’Connell – Health. O’Connell had a freak facial break trying to block a dunk but all signs point to him being ok by seasons start. The goal aside from being healthy is to be the knock down shooter he showed he could be in his limited time last year. If he can also show improvement on the defensive end it will be hard to keep him off the court. Clearly the sophomore has added a good 12-15 lbs to his frame and is filling out, hopefully this added size will aid in his ability to defend as well as finish.
Javin DeLaurier – Offensively Javin clearly has shown some improvement, cashing in on 77% of his shot opportunities. After just missing a double double in the first game, going for 8 points and 11 boards DeLaurier did not rebound especially well in the final 2 outings only grabbing 6 in the final 2 games. For DeLaurier rebounding will be his bread and butter but his offensive improvements after working in the offseason with David Robinson could be gravy for the Blue Devils. He has the potential to be a double-double guy but most importantly, as stated by Coach K are his skills for grabbing boards.
Marques Bolden – Bolden simply stated, has to do more. Finishing a 3 game stand 0-3 from the floor with 9 rebound isn’t what the coaching staff is expecting from the 6’10 junior. Offensively, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to be had and the few post passes he did receive weren’t great. If Duke is going to be successful this season they will need more from Bolden on one end of the floor or another. He’s not a player that is going to get his own shot and the guards need to do a better job of both hitting from the outside to open up the post game and also feeding Bolden so that he can actually get a quality look. For Bolden’s part, he needs to be better at demanding the ball but I’m not sure the quick up-and-down nature of the games what Duke played are a fit for his skillset. If Duke can operate some in the half court then a player like Bolden could get better looks and chances to be effective in the post.
Jack White – White may have played himself into the rotation with his showing in Canada. White showed a variety fo skills and the ability to hit the open 3. White rebounded the basketball well in each of the 3 games, averaging 6 per contest and he also average 3 assists her game. In 3 games, White had 9 assists to only 4 turnovers. If he can shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc while still doing the dirty work under the basket, he could find himself with much more time on the court than may have been projected after last season. His experience is invaluable and he has definitely made a jump from last year in terms of both his comfort in the offense as well as the speed of the game.
Antonio Vrankovic – Vrankovic is clearly much improved in a lot of areas, while he is probably not going to your day 1 starter he could very well make it a 3 headed monster at the center spot for Duke. He most definitely is an extremely hard worker and does the rebounding dirty work. Vrank also managed to score 8 points in both of the final 2 games in Canada. He also shot better from the free throw line than both Barrett and Williamson at 66%. If Vrankovic can work in finishing plays in the lane and catching the ball better off of the pass he can be a very important role player for this team. Hopefully the next few months of working with the guards will pay off and he can develop some fluidity in his game offensively. Defensively he’s big and strong and seems to have dropped weight, at least visually, from last season.