Feb 16, 2012; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins (20) reacts to a call by the officials in their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke beat North Carolina State 78-73. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Duke Basketball: A Way Too Early Look at the 2013-14 Starting Lineup

Wondering what the Blue Devils starting-five will look like next year? So do we. Let’s explore it together.

We are a good seven months away from the opening tip-off of the 2013-14 NCAA basketball season, but that won’t stop most fans from looking ahead at what their team might look like when that day does come. Obviously, things could change between now and then: transfers to Duke, transfers from Duke, a freshman being better than expected, a freshman being worse than expected, a returning player making vast improvement, etc…

One must always account for variable change, but only wizards can account for seven months of it. I am not a wizard, much to my dismay, so I can only go off the information I have at hand. With Duke losing three starters this year, the rotation will certainly look entirely different in a few months.

What exactly can we expect our starting lineup to look like? Well, here is my best shot at predicting it:

Point Guard – Quinn Cook (Junior)

Cook is the only player I can confidently, and without hesitation, say will be in the starting lineup. He transformed himself into one of the nation’s better point guards over the course of the year, and he could develop into a NPOY candidate next season if he continues to make progress.

A solid guard all-around, Cook put up 4.7 WS in his sophomore campaign, including 1.9 DWS. He brings to the table the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, and his improved ability to shoot the 3-pointer has made him even more difficult to guard. Even scarier, he is still learning how to be a point guard, and his third season in the Duke offense, along with a seemingly more explosive offense next year, could lift Cook’s game to another level.

Shooting Guard – Rasheed Sulaimon (Sophomore)

Sulaimon lost his starting job late in the season after a string of inconsistent performances, but he regained with a strong showing in the postseason, including a 21-point performance against Creighton in the Round of 32.

‘Sheed flashed signs of brilliance at numerous points during the season, but his lack of experience caused him plenty of struggles. With an entire year and an entire offseason under his belt, I expect Sulaimon to mature and toughen up, in the way that Cook did this past year, and become an improved, all-around stud in the sophomore campaign.

He has the potential to be one of the nation’s better shooting guards, and I look forward to seeing how he looks in a few months.

Shooting Guard – Andre Dawkins (RS Senior)

Coach K has shown willingness in the past to run a small, three-guard lineup, so I don’t see why that would change this year, especially with the talented guard play the 2013-14 Blue Devils will have. Dawkins returns from his year off as the most experienced player on the team, and I’m guessing he still has his ability to shoot the living crap out of the ball from beyond the arc.

Dawkins could very well find himself as the team’s sixth-man, with Hood or Parker taking over a Small Forward role, but for now we’ll keep him here. With him being out for over a year, he really is the biggest wild card in next year’s team in my eye. I’m sure he’ll be able to shoot, but we have no idea how the rest of his game has developed.

Forward – Jabari Parker (Freshman)

Duke hasn’t been shy about immediately plugging star recruits into the stating lineup, and Parker should be no exception.Despite being only 6’8, his athleticism more than makes up for his size, and Duke had no problem trotting out 6’7 Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson in the 4-spot. Considering Parker is infinitely more talented than Hairston, I’d imagine Duke will have no issues inserting him into the role.

Hopefully, Parker, in terms of his impact as a freshman, is a little more Kyrie Irving (without the injury) and a little less Austin Rivers. He has been described as a mature and selfless player by just about every scouting report I’ve come across, though, so he should be fine.

Forward – Marshall Plumlee/Rodney Hood/Amile Jefferson

The four and five spots in the lineup seem to just be a jumbled mess, in a good way. The Blue Devils have plenty of guys to fill both roles, but I feel Parker will ultimately receive roughly 30-35 minutes of playing time a game, leaving the final spot open to a possible rotation of a mix of Hood, Plumlee, Jefferson and Hairston. First, let’s get my reasoning with Plumlee out of the way.

Fact: you can’t have a Duke team without a Plumlee in the starting lineup.

This spot could vary from team to team, with Hood or Jefferson grabbing a start against smaller teams, but I’d like to see Marshall Plumlee start out every game, even if he only picks up 15 to 25 minutes per contest. He will be Duke’s only source of size next year, with Jefferson, Hood, Parker and Hairston all standing under 6’9, so his progression from this year to next year will be vital.

Upping his conditioning this offseason and developing himself as a plus-rebounder will be crucial. Duke has enough offensive firepower from their other four positions and all along the bench. What they don’t have is someone who can be a big body in the paint and a force on the boards, and that is where Marshall comes in.

Like I said, he may not be able to give Duke a ton of minutes, but whether or not he is capable of giving them good ones will be vital.

Rodney Hood, the Mississippi State transfer, put together an impressive freshman campaign for the Bulldogs before transferring to Duke last year. With a year of doing nothing but attending class and learning the system under his belt, he should be able to hop right into the rotation or the starting lineup next year, similar to how Seth Curry did when he transferred over. We don’t know anything about Rodney Hood the Blue Devil, but Rodney Hood the Bulldog was pretty darn good last year (3.0 WS, 15.5 PER), and he should be even better next year.

Amile Jefferson was one of my favorite players on this year’s team despite Coach K’s refusal to give him minutes over Josh Hairston. He hustles, he rebounds, he is scrappy, and he does all the little things you want a role player to do. Jefferson has a ton of potential, and I fully expect him to improve over this offseason and finally surpass Hairston in the rotation next season.

Josh Hairston hasn’t exactly been the most valuable player so far in his college career and I can’t say I am in favor of him receiving a ton of minutes at this point. This isn’t me being a jerk, either. Last year, he logged 0.9 WS in 444 minutes, a disastrous total, and a PER of of 6.7, which puts him in the territory of really bad to awful. If he turns it around, I will be ecstatic and come out and say I was wrong about him, but for now I am skeptical of the soon-to-be senior power forward. I have him included here, however, because Coach K seems to love him and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gives him the first shot at the starting role.

Sixth Man – Tyler Thornton (Senior)

Thornton is a do-a-little-bit-of-everything type player, and he has made a habit out of coming up with a plethora of little yet crucial plays in close games. He will never be a star by any means, but Coach K loves his non-stop hustle and so do I.

What does your way too early starting lineup look like? Remember, there are no wrong answers, and we have a whole seven months to discuss this. Nothing is that far-fetched at this point. Sound off in the comments or shoot me a tweet (@BallDurham) and let your opinion be known!

Go Blue Devils.

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