Nov 29, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Amile Jefferson (21) puts up a shot against the Arizona Wildcats during the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game at Madison Square Garden. Arizona won the game 72-66. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Heading into the season, there was an abundance of question marks surrounding Duke’s rotation, and how they could best utilize their plethora of talent.
One area that needed sorting out was the frontcourt, and how they would split the minutes up between Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Josh Hairston, Marshall Plumlee, and Amile Jefferson. It was a given that Parker and Hood would clog up as many minutes as necessary; they were the predetermined leaders, the guys who Duke would turn to for consistent and efficient offensive production.
The rest, however, was a bit hazy. Would Duke play small? Would Plumlee take a step forward and pick up where his brothers left off? Would Hairston, an experienced senior, command minutes and perform decently enough to maintain them?
The only thing we were sure of was that every player would have to earn their minutes, and that included Jefferson, who put together a solid freshman campaign a year ago (17.9 PER, 54.3 FG%, 1.7 WS).
Like a lot of guys, Jefferson started out the year with wildly shifting minutes, playing as little as 10 minutes in one game (vs BAMA) and as many as 26 in another (vs Kansas). The inconsistency was a result of a lot of things: opponent style of play, hot hands, Krzyzewski’s willingness to give other guys a look, and the sheer unfamiliarity with how all the new and old pieces fit together. It would be tough to hold it against Jefferson if the sophomore struggled.
And yet, through all the changes and challenges, Jefferson has been a quietly reliable source of production for Duke, posting better numbers in nearly every category from a year ago:
Stat | 2013-14 season | 2012-13 season
PPG | 6.1 | 4.9
RPG | 5.0 | 2.9
APG | 0.8 | 0.2
FG% | 70.7 | 54.3
PER | 21.5 | 17.9
ORB% | 14.4 | 12.8
DRB% | 23.5 | 13.8
TRB% | 19.1 | 13.3
AST% | 9.1 | 3.2
ORtg | 126.6 | 120.6
Yeah, we’ll attribute some of this to small samples and the far less rigorous non-conference schedule–I don’t expect the 70.7% mark from the field or the 23.5 DRB% to hold up through ACC play–but it is evident that Jefferson has made some serious strides from his freshman year to sophomore year.
Aside from the first two games of the year, he has been a monster on the boards for a Duke team that has struggled to rebound the ball. He pulled in 10 rebounds in 12 minutes against Gardner-Webb on Monday, and was one of the numerous Blue Devils who consistently out-muscled and out-hustled the UCLA Bruins on the glass in Duke’s 80-63 victory on Thursday.
Perhaps his biggest improvement has come in his court vision and ability to distribute the ball in the high post. Against UCLA, Duke finally found a way to create shots against the zone, utilizing Jefferson in the high post as a distributor. He made poor reads on a couple of occasions–including entirely overlooking Andre Dawkins as Dawkins stood wide open on the perimeter in full-on seal-clapping mode–but he turned in a very strong performance, finding open shooters and aiding the development of plays on a consistent basis. You’re never going to get a massive tally in the assist column from a power forward, and Jefferson’s mark of two assists was no exception, but he was reliable against the zone, and that was something Duke was sorely in need of.
Of course, he is far from a finished product. I would love to see him develop some sort of jumper over the next couple years, and his free throw touch could use A LOT of work. His 9-30 (30.0%) performance from the line has been brutal, and his 0-3 mark from the line during a 6-point loss to Arizona was particularly costly.
There are far worse problems to have, though, and as it stands, Jefferson is developing into a hell of a player who deserves consistent minutes. The player he currently shares minutes with, Josh Hairston, hasn’t been bad, but Jefferson has drastically outperformed him, and it really would be in Duke’s best interest to start shifting some more time over to Jefferson (As of right now: Jefferson 15.9 mpg – Hairston 14.8 mpg).
Duke fans have talked a lot about who the X-factor of the team is this season, which guy will make or break this season. While I’m not advocating Jefferson as a guy who could drag the team down with poor performance, because he isn’t, I will say that should Jefferson continue to produce at such a high level, it makes an already strong Duke squad that much more dangerous.