ACC Football is wrapping up soon, so it’s time to be honest, do we really care? Sure, Duke is having its best year since the Steve Spurrier era, but come on now, we want to talk basketball.
The 2009-2010 tip off is just around the corner and emotionally I’m bouncing around like a Terps fan strung up on Methadone.
I could go get help. Maybe pop a Prozac, meditate, gorge on Hot Pockets…or I can spend my valuable time looking at the 2009-2010 season and share some of my amazing thoughts with you.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER
The summer started off bad…that’s the only way to say it without punching something hard. First, Gerald Henderson said goodbye to college and headed to Charlotte to become a millionaire. While I, like so many Dukies, had hoped he’d give college one more try, I knew he was going and I can’t blame him. His draft position was not going to improve (especially when you consider the players who will be available in next year’s draft).
Losing Henderson sucked (to put it bluntly), but it wasn’t devastating, as long as we had Elliot Williams in the back court…oh wait, scratch that. Mr. Williams transferred, sending a shiver down this old man’s spine as I envisioned a Duke backfield with only two guards (zero true point guards). I wondered, could we check to be sure that Wojo didn’t have any eligibility left?
Yet, when all seemed lost, God delivered us a Dawkins…an Andre Dawkins. Seeing that the Devils were in need of his services now, he wrapped up school a bit early and just like that, became the most important freshman in Cameron since J.J. Redick. His adjustment to the college game will decide Duke’s fate this season. Yes, he’s that important.
That wasn’t it though. The summer was just getting warmed up.
COACH K GOES U.S.A.
Despite taking gold home in the 2008 Olympics, Coach K decided to give it another go. Obviously this is good news or bad news, depending on what side of the fence you’re sitting on. Do you believe coaching the U.S. Basketball team has hurt Duke, particularly in recruiting? Or do you believe coaching the likes of Bryant and James will help attract young high school stars to Duke? For now, I’m sitting on the latter’s side.
SPEAKING OF RECRUITING
Duke welcomes three new freshman and let’s not kid ourselves, the trio may be the most important freshman class in a while. All three will be asked to step in NOW and play important rolls. Mason Plumlee, younger brother to Miles, will be handed the starting job at center. Unlike his brother last year, Mason will be expected to be there all season long.
Andre Dawkins won’t start, but like we said already, he will get heavy minutes off the bench, rotating with Scheyer and Nolan Smith…a very dangerous, but extremely thin back court. One injury can derail this season faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career.
Finally, we have Ryan Kelly. He’s a big man with awesome range (winning the McDonald’s three-point contest). However, he cannot, I repeat cannot become another Taylor King (read below and I’ll explain). He’ll get good minutes on the court, but he can’t just be a space eater and a time waster. Duke needs threats. It cannot allow itself to become another three-headed monster like last season.
THE NEW LOOK DUKE
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the Blue Devil’s 2009-2010 lineup. More to the point, this will be the tallest lineup you’ve ever seen at Duke. Duke’s starting five will consist of (6’2) Smith, (6’5) Scheyer, (6’8) Singler, (6’10) Miles Plumlee and (6’11) Mason Plumlee.
Going to the bench will only make the team taller. Duke’s basic rotation will consist of (6’4) Dawkins, (6’8) Thomas, (7’1) Zoubek and (6’10) Kelly.
There are two things I can guarantee you about this season. This won’t be a running team. With no guard options on the bench (besides Dawkins) and with six of your top nine guys standing taller than a Ford Explorer, there will be little run-n-shoot this season. Duke’s offense will be about discipline and patience.
On the defensive end, Duke will have to, HAVE TO, become a zone team. Last year, quick guards again exposed Duke’s greatest flaw (speed on the outside). While Dawkins has the potential to defend like Elliot Williams, Duke did nothing to address this problem during the off-season. With so many trees now playing the paint, it just makes sense for Duke to use it’s length to its advantage and switch to zone.
If you’re a Duke opponent and you want to throw up three’s, go ahead and try to shoot them over our big guys. You want to drive to the lane? Good luck maneuvering through the forest. I’m not suggesting the Devils need to morph into the Syracuse Orange, but it’s hard to see this team winning against elite talent, playing only man-to-man.
Sorry, but we can’t escape any season preview without mentioning the strange oddity that is, the amount of white players on Duke’s roster this season. For whatever reason, Duke’s rotation will feature six whitey’s, including four starters. You thought the hate was bad before, oh boy.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RECRUITING
Let’s talk about the future…have you seen Duke’s 2010 class so far? Duke has produced the 7th best class (according to Scout), that includes (PG) Kyrie Irving, (PG) Tyler Thornton and (PF) Josh Hairston.
Both Hairston and Thornton are great gets for Duke, but nailing down Irving was huge. He’s the second best point guard (according to Scout) and will finally give Duke that lighting quick ball handler its been missing since Jay Williams departed. He will start the moment he walks on campus. Also, don’t forget about Seth Curry. He’s a scoring machine, who may be better than his brother, when he steps out on to Coach K floor next season.
However, the biggest story out of recruiting hasn’t happened yet, but it should be soon. I’m talking about Harrison Barnes, the No 1 rated small forward. He’s a tremendous athlete, who can put it up from anywhere. His mid-range shot would make many NBA players blush.
He’s been on Duke’s radar for over two years and he’s made plenty of stops on campus. Right now, he’s considering the Devils along with Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA, Iowa State and Carolina (who jumped on the bandwagon late, but you can never count out Roy Williams).
The simple fact is this, even with the departures after this year of Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek, if Duke can land Barnes and then convince Singler that nothing beats being a senior in college, Duke will be the pre-season No 1 with a rotation of…Irving, Smith, Dawkins, Curry and Thornton in the backfield, with Singler, Barnes, Hairston, Kelly and two Plumlee’s in the front court. That my son, is a dangerous 11-man rotation.
Anyhow, one thing we loathe around here is predictions. I can’t do them, I’m never right, it’s a pointless endeavor, but what I can do is give you what I deem to be the “best case scenario” and the “worst case scenario” for each player that will be in Duke’s rotation this coming season.
JON SCHEYER, GUARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - He doesn’t play the point the whole game, but instead rotates with an improved Nolan Smith. When he does run the show, he’ll be a steady, calm balm handler, who keeps the turnovers to a minimum (he turned it over just 15 times in Duke’s last nine games prior to the tournament). His size advantage over other guards will continue to afford him open looks behind the arc and he’ll hit over 40% from beyond the three-point stripe for the first time in his career. Remember, after taking over point guard duties, he hit 36-78 from downtown (That’s 46% for you Carolina grads).
WORST CASE SCENARIO – While he’ll be down-right scary against inferior opponents and inexperienced point guards, come tournament time, his lack of natural quickness will be exposed by smaller, quicker elite guards like Sherron Collins, Kalin Lucas, Nic Wise, John Wall or Kemba Walker. His inability to push the ball down the court quickly, i.e. Ty Lawson, who just scored three baskets as I wrote this sentence) will make it tough for Duke to overcome deficits late in games. With only three scholarship guards on the roster, Scheyer is forced to play 35+ minutes a game in a brutal ACC schedule, which means he will have nothing left in the tank come tournament time.
NOLAN SMITH, GUARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - Like Gerald Henderson before him, after struggling with injuries and confidence his first two years, Nolan Smith comes out relaxed and confident, like he did after returning from the concussion last year (he hit 13-26 shots after the BC game, his first game back). With no one asking him to lead the offense, he actually does just that, holding down the point for 15 or so minutes per game, picking up the pace like a taller Chris Duhon, thus allowing Duke to run. His assist-to-turnover rate doubles to 2:1 as he begins to assert himself, driving and dishing in the lane, scoring about 12ppg, shooting a respectable low-40′s.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Smith never develops as a point guard and continues his spot at the shooting guard. He struggles to finish close to the basket and never develops the mid-range shot that made Henderson so effective. He suddenly starts planting himself on the three-point line, but with no Henderson to drive and dish, a defender will always be in his face, forcing him to move. He still knocks in about 12ppg, but at a lower percentage, while still producing a pathetic 1:1 assist to turnover rate.
ANDRE DAWKINS, GUARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - If Coach K could pull out of his ass a Gerald Henderson clone, with better range, then Dawkins is what would surface from behind Coach K. In fact, as a freshman, Dawkins will be better than Henderson. Remember, Gerald was suffering through undiagnosed asthma and could barely play 15-minutes a game his freshman year. Dawkins will come off the bench, but with a three-man rotation, he will play 20+ minutes a game. His shooting range will make people forget about Taylor King, while his ability to get to the basket will leave Singler/Scheyer/Smith/Kelly open for wide-open threes. Best yet, thanks to spending the whole summer working on it, he comes in with a surprisingly solid mid-range number. Most importantly though, his athleticism will remind folks of Elliot Williams at the defensive end. Coach K will lock Dawkins onto the opponent’s best guard and let Andre does his thing.
WORST CASE SCENARIO – Dawkins plays like a freshman. He looks intimidated and unsure, often driving to the lane, forcing up bad shots instead of unloading passes to open players. His shot will stop falling come ACC time, like they always do for freshman, and Coach K will lose patience and reduces his minutes, thus overworking Scheyer and Smith. Defensively, he’s not ready to face the top guards in the ACC, playing D with his hands, not his feet and often finds himself in foul trouble. Worse yet, because he didn’t have a full summer of training in the gym, he hits that freshman wall in early March, just in time for Duke to stumble late again.
KYLE SINGLER – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - After being a solid ACC player his first two seasons, despite playing out of position, Singler dominates as he moves to his natural position at small forward. At 6’8, he’ll be bigger than most other small forwards, which will allow him to have open looks from three or even better, take them down low, where he’ll have little problem dominating against a smaller foe. He’ll lead the team in scoring at over 20ppg. However, because he has a knack for attacking the glass, he’ll still grab around eight boards a game, adding four assists per game to lead the team. He’ll win ACC player of the year, just beating out Derrick Favors, Trevor Booker, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Singler still has a solid year and leads Duke in scoring and rebound, but struggles to take over his new r0le as the go-to guy. With the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Singler is not able to produce the game winning shot. While he gets his points no matter what, on the defensive end, Singler finds the smaller forwards/guards he’s facing too quick and is unable to keep them out of the lane. Plus, teams will try to go smaller with three guards. Coach K will will be too stubborn to switch from man-t0-man to zone, forcing Singler to tire himself out, chasing shooting guards from one side of the court to the other all game long.
MASON PLUMLEE – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - He’s confident, dare I say cocky and he’ll quickly establish himself as the most important Duke freshman big man since Sheldon Williams. He’ll be a nightmare for opposing defenders with his ability to move his feet and drive. He’ll play with his back to the basket against smaller, less powerful center/forwards, while stepping outside against the more elite big men, forcing them to play man-on-man outside their comfy zone. He’ll produce around 10 points a game, shooting over 50%, grabbing roughly six boards. While he’s still a bit too skinny, a solid rotation of the two Plumlee’s, plus Thomas and Zoubek, should keep him fresh for a solid post-season run, thus avoiding the mid-March freshman wall.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Size will matter. While Mason has the length, he still needs bulk. He’s listed at around 230, but I’d double check that scale. While he’ll show flashes of what will be, once in the ACC, Plumlee will be a twig in a red wood forest. Bigger, stronger center/forwards will bounce him around like a Pinata. With no official go-to move and fed up with the constant pounding inside, Plumlee drifts further and further away, turning himself into a stretched out guard, unwilling to mix it up in the paint. On the defensive end, he’s not strong enough to handle the big boys and he’ll be watching too much of the games from the pin.
MILES PLUMLEE – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - After a year on campus, Miles has bulked up to around 245, allowing him to assert himself in the middle. However, because he literally is the fifth-scoring option, he’s asked just to rebound any ball that has air in it and defending, defending, defending. It will be Miles’ defender who will more often than not be called upon to double down on brother Mason and up top with Singler. Miles will master the art of planting himself in a comfy spot under the rim and when the double come, he’ll be open for easy lay ups.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Although he won’t be asked to be scoring machine, he still needs to have some scoring ability, but since he only took 18 shots total his freshman year, Miles still won’t have a go-to shot and will find himself forcing the action, instead of waiting for it to come to him. Defensively, while he’ll get his blocks, he’ll continue to play defense with his hands, leading to foul trouble and long stretches on the bench. Frustration will set in and entering ACC play, Coach K gives the majority of playing time to the seniors (Thomas, Zoubek).
LANCE THOMAS – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - Entering his senior season, Thomas becomes a defensive nightmare for opposing players, able to defend four different positions. Coming off the bench, he will be asked to lock down, harass and frustrate the opponent’s hot hand. While no one will mistake Thomas for a future NBA player, his intensity and passion will be a instant spark if and when Duke finds itself in a rut during a game. On the offensive end, he’ll continue to have a knack for finding the open spot for incoming passes and easy lay ups. He can even now knock down 8-10 foot shots from the side, forcing his defender to exit the paint, opening up rebounds for others.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Skinny and undisciplined, he never develops any inside presence. On offense, opponents will continue to treat him like a leper, ignoring him, thus making life tougher for everyone else. His inability to handle to rock makes the pick-n-roll pointless to run, as he can only pass, again allowing his defender to roam the lane. Defensively, the young, inexperienced Plumlee brothers will get into foul trouble, forcing Thomas to defend inside, where he will be over-matched by the bigger, stronger forwards in the ACC.
BRIAN ZOUBEK – CENTER
BEST CASE SCENARIO - He plays a solid 15-18 minutes, becoming a defensive rock in the middle, swatting away any thing round and orange that comes his way. After four years, he finally understands the concept of playing defense with your feet and avoids the stupid fouls. On offense, he’s the only true back-to-the-basket threat and rains down sky hooks from both sides. All teams can do is foul, which is great, since his free throw shooting doubled last season to 82%.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - After three years, moving his feet still looks like a foreign language, resulting in more travel calls than shots taken. For a guy who’s just three-feet short of the basket, he continues to have no nose for the ball, often getting into rebound position a step behind the opponent. His 80% free throw shooting from the year before turns out to be a fluke, as he returns to the mid 50′s range, turning him into a liability late in game.
RYAN KELLY – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - He becomes a three-point machine, raining three’s up and down the Atlantic Coast. Playing roughly 15-18 minutes per game, he masters the pick-n-roll with Scheyer, Smith and Dawkins. Unlike Lance Thomas, teams have to respect Kelly’s long distance shot, thus opening up the lane for Duke’s guards. While he won’t dominate the paint, he develops great instants for when the ball is going up, allowing him to get inside and steal some great offensive rebounds.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - He becomes Taylor King. If you watched Duke basketball two years ago, you know what I’m talking about. Kelly will turn into a one-dimensional player, becoming a tall tree planted along the three-point line. It will only be a matter of time before the opposing teams realize he’s afraid of the deep end of the pool, thus ignoring any drive to the lane. He’ll move further away from the basket looking for an open shot and suddenly his golden goose with dry up and his three-point percentage will drop into the 20′s.
OLEK CZYZ – FORWARD
BEST CASE SCENARIO - He gets 5-7 minutes of playing time as the real-life energy bunny off the bench, pulling down rebound after rebound after rebound. He’ll often only be called upon if the Blue Devil’s front court finds itself in some foul trouble. He’ll throw up a shot or two in the game, just to remind defenders he knows where the basket is.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Because of injuries or serious foul trouble, Olek is forced to play significant minutes. Despite a full season of Duke basketball under his belt, Czyz has yet to develop a outside shot and still can’t play with his back to the basket. When he’s in, Duke is suddenly playing with penalty minutes, down a man.
JORDAN DAVIDSON & CASEY PETERS – GUARDS
BEST CASE SCENARIO - These two walk on’s remain on the bench as two excellent cheerleaders. The only time they (mostly Davidson) see action is late in blowouts. Duke remains healthy and out of foul trouble, which means the walk on’s will never be called upon.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - One or both of these guys will be forced to play important minutes. With only three scholarship guards, one injury can spell doom for this team. One twisted knee or ACL tear and Jordan Davidson is playing 15 minutes a game. That would be bad.