Duke Basketball: The Back Up Plan


Mar 5, 2013; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski greets senior forward Ryan Kelly (34) as he comes out of the game late in the fourth quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

When Ryan Kelly went down with an ankle injury for much of last year, Duke was once again robbed of a complete season from its starting lineup. Sure, that’s not a fair thing to request but all the same, it leaves one wondering what could have been. The 2011 season still lingers over most heads of Duke fans as a perpetually taunting ghost.

Going into the 2013-2014 slate, the Blue Devils roster is composed of a variety of parts to fit any situation. The key word for Duke this year is versatility as ten of the thirteen players can play multiple positions both offensively and defensively. The only ones that I leave out of that list are Quinn Cook, Josh Hairston, and Marshall Plumlee, as each one will see more than 95% of their minutes at one spot on the floor.

That versatility allows for a roster flexibility Krzyzewski hasn’t enjoyed since the turn of the millennium when Chris Carrawell, Nate James, and Shane Battier were roaming the hardwood. This flexibility allows Duke to ride through the injury waves much more easily this season. Now, obviously, if Cook or Parker go down, the team make up will shift dramatically but the point remains that they are better built to replace such talent. Last year, Duke had no one to replace what Kelly’s range, spacing, passing from the high post, or defensive awareness.

But what if Duke was to sustain a season-ending injury? How would the team adapt based on which player was seeing the medic? These salivating questions need answers no longer.

Quinn Cook – Cook is by far the toughest to replace, so naturally he just fell down writhing in pain clutching his ankle, as I type this. Just our luck. The obvious replacement is Tyler Thornton, known as a diety to some circles of Duke fans for his constant effort, incredible basketball IQ, and toughness. Now, Thornton isn’t nearly the playmaker that Cook is nor the rebounder or scorer. The offense would no longer depend on the penetrating abilities of the point but instead would likely move towards Rasheed Sulaimon as instigator. Because of this, don’t sleep on Sulaimon running the point if Cook gets injured and bringing Thornton in as a defender and spot up shooter. FYI, 97% of Thornton’s made three point field goals last year were assisted, spot up jumpers.

Tyler Thornton – It is literally breaking my heart to think of Thornton being out for the season but I must persevere. Thornton’s skills can be replaced but his leadership and intangibles are harder to duplicate. If I’m going to pick someone to step up as that leader, it would be Cook. Tyler is without a doubt the captain of this ship but it is also Cook’s team to run. Much like Charlie was obviously the captain of the Ducks but that team was going nowhere if Jessie Hall didn’t drive them.

Rasheed Sulaimon – This is one of the more difficult ones to figure out. You can go in so many directions. Move Hood to the 2, Parker to the 3, Murphy to the 4? Hood-Parker-Jefferson-Plumlee? Jones-Hood-Parker? Thornton-Hood-Parker? Hood-Ojeleye-Parker? Dawkins-Hood-Parker? My head is spinning trying to think about all the options but my odds-on favorite would be using Thornton or Dawkins as the replacement but I would love to see what Matt Jones could do with extended minutes next to Cook, Hood, and Parker. Still, Dawkins would seem to be the ideal fit as a spot up shooter to space the floor for Hood and Parker to do work in the lane.

Andre Dawkins – As an adult male, I have wept only twice: Once after the cameras showed Brian Zoubek’s father when Z made the first of two free throws in the 2010 title game’s waning seconds. And then at the end of Finding Nemo. The third time would be if Dawkins were to lose this year to injury after everything else in his basketball life. However, I think Jones is the move here. In reality, Thornton and Sulaimon would probably take on any extra minutes here but Jones offers a similar skill set for specific matchups.

Rodney Hood – Here, I think K would maintain his adapted philosophy this season and pick either Dawkins or Murphy as Hood’s replacement. From a source connected to the program, Murphy will spend his time exclusively as a 4, which would move Parker into the three to better utilize Parker’s perimeter skills. K could also go the other way and create enough space for Parker and Jefferson to go to work in a black hole as Dawkins and Sulaimon are threats to score anywhere within 25 feet. On the other hand, neither of those options replaces what Hood brings defensively or as a facilitating forward.

Jabari Parker – Also known as “Most Likely To Get Injured And Kickstart 2011 Nightmares” and “Cake eater,” Parker would most likely see his minutes go to Alex Murphy or Josh Hairston. The only other situation I can imagine is if K believes Marshall Plumlee has progressed enough, that he would move Jefferson to the PF and Plumlee would see the minutes on the low-block. Still, based on what K has intimated he’d like to do this season: playing fast with long and able defenders, I have to imagine Murphy will be getting valuable time this season were one of Hood or Parker get mauled by a lemur in the Duke forest.

Amile Jefferson – With Jefferson beefing up for the ACC grind of playing down in the post, it is unlikely we would see him replaced with anyone other than Jiggy or Plumlee. Hairston is probably ahead of Plumlee due to his health and ball denial in the post (Still having flashbacks to how he abused Nerlens Noel that way) but the truth is Marshall is more well suited to replace Amile if Plumlee himself can get healthy. If the new measurements are to be believed, a 7-0 260 pound work horse would be entirely valuable and useful. Unfortunately, it’s still a complete guessing game as to what Plumlee’s skill level actually is.

If any one else were to get injured, we’d more than likely only see a small lineup change if any. I wouldn’t expect Semi Ojeleye or Matt Jones to get significant minutes this year unless they come in and out work the others. They are incredibly gifted and talented players but this roster is a bit too congested for them. Next year, they could shine as 20+ minute starters or role players.

Until then, cross your fingers and be thankful Hood’s injury is only minor and happened during the summer. Also, someone order a plastic bubble for Quinn Cook to go to class and practice in.