Duke Basketball: Sixth man could become clear in exhibition games

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

It appears to be clear which Duke basketball players will comprise the starting five — at least to begin the year — but who will step up as the team’s top spark off the bench?

When the Duke basketball team plays its first exhibition game tonight against Virginia Union at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium — televised on the ACC Network Extra — pay attention to which non-starter Blue Devils check in the game first.

And of all those who do enter the game — junior forward Javin DeLaurier is expected to start the contest alongside freshmen Tre Jones, R.J. BarrettCam Reddish, and Zion Williamson — be on the lookout for which one seems to contribute the most to both the box score and to the squad’s overall energy level.

That guy, whoever it may be, will likely serve as the sixth man when the season begins against Kentucky in the Champions Classic on Nov. 6.

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Although a darkhorse may present himself, there are three candidates with the best chances to fulfill the role: junior big man Marques Bolden, junior forward Jack White, and sophomore guard Alex O’Connell.

Working in his favor, Bolden probably has the most potential of the three. However, that potential has yet to equate to much across Bolden’s first two seasons in Durham, as well as the Blue Devils’ three-game Canada Tour in August and Blue-White scrimmage last Friday.

Also, the 6-foot-11, 245-pound Texas native does not possess much of a perimeter game, which could spell fewer minutes for him as head coach Mike Krzyzewski continues to teach a five-out motion offense that requires all players to have guard-like skills when they catch the ball beyond the arc (where they are expected to be for most of each possession).

So unless Bolden has been keeping secret a newfound outside jumper and nifty handles — he will also have to exhibit more of a motor on both ends of the floor — his potential alone won’t likely earn him the most minutes of any Blue Devil coming off the bench.

That brings us to the next candidate to earn the title as Duke’s sixth man: White. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Aussie has improved his shooting stroke since last season and doesn’t shy away from doing the dirty work that doesn’t always show up in the box score.

White is also probably the best option when it comes to leadership, something the freshman-laden squad will need plenty of once obstacles arise during its daunting schedule that includes 10 games against opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll — with a couple more being possible depending on how far the Blue Devils advance in the Maui Invitational starting Nov. 19.

Finally, there is O’Connell. The 6-foot-6, 180-pound Georgia native may have the slimmest frame of the bunch, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in hops and speed. And that is why, of the three candidates listed here, he may end up as the Blue Devil who earns the most minutes coming off the bench this season.

Also, don’t forget that O’Connell made nearly half of the threes he attempted last season (22 of 45) and has the strong handles that may give him a leg up on the rest in terms of contributing to the five-out motion offense.

That being said, someone not mentioned above — including freshman Joey Baker, sophomore Jordan Goldwire, redshirt junior Justin Robinson, or senior Antonio Vrankovic — could surprise Duke basketball fans by having a breakout season.

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Guess we will all just have to stay tuned — starting tonight against the reigning CIAA champs and then on Saturday at 4 p.m. when the Blue Devils host the defending Division II champion, Ferris State — to find out.