Duke Basketball: Season preview for freshman forward Joey Baker

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

Although it may not happen right away, freshman Joey Baker has the potential to be an important piece for the Duke basketball program for years to come.

One of the questions entering the 2018-19 Duke basketball season is whether head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff will choose to redshirt Joey Baker.

The freshman from Fayetteville, N.C., is the youngest player on the squad — he didn’t turn 18 until September — and was initially a member of the 2019 recruiting class until he decided to reclassify in the spring so that he could be a part of arguably the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball (Sports Illustrated highlighted Baker, Tre Jones, Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish this week by featuring them on a special digital cover).

While the decision whether or not to have the 6-foot-7, 200-pound small forward sit out a year won’t become clear until after the regular season begins — fourth-ranked Duke faces second-ranked Kentucky on Nov. 6 at 9:30 p.m. EST in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis — most are now assuming he will not.

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The reasoning behind that assumption is that Baker’s solid play in the Blue Devils’ three-game Canada Tour, Blue-White scrimmage and two exhibition games shows that he has the potential to contribute to the current squad.

Working in Baker’s favor is his ability to shoot from long range with a sweet stroke — a possible weakness for the rest of the team — and his versatile game. He has the athleticism and ball-handling skills to pose a matchup problem for bigger forwards, and he can use his height and adequate moves around the basket to overwhelm smaller wings.

In terms of a former Blue Devil to compare him to, Mike Dunleavy (a key figure in the Blue Devils’ run to the 2001 National Championship) comes to mind. However, if Baker is going to reach that level, he definitely still has some work to do on his game — plus he would need to grow another inch or two and come away with a national title before he leaves Durham.

If Baker — a four-star prospect out of high school ranked No. 41 on the 247Sports Composite who was on pace to be his high school’s salutatorian before he reclassified — is going to play right away, he will have to compete for minutes with sophomore guard Alex O’Connell and junior forward Jack White.

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But if Baker does end up redshirting or just fails to see much action this season, expect him to work his tail off to better his own game and the games of his teammates in practice. Then be on the lookout for him to get plenty of playing time next season.