Duke Basketball: Early subs and press key to future Zion dunks and wins

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball team’s bench is learning its ultimate role: giving the freshmen quick breathers while being fullcourt nuisances on defense, helping to spur Zion dunk-fests and blowout wins.

In case you haven’t noticed, dunk attempts by Zion Williamson offer the surest two points possible — the freshman sensation, who is averaging 25.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, has yet to miss one while wearing a Duke basketball jersey.

They’re also sure to go viral. Sure to boost the energy of his squad. Sure to unnerve opponents.

As a result, these emphatic displays have been and will likely continue to be the surest, simplest way to maximize the number of lopsided victories by the top-ranked Blue Devils (so far they’ve outscored their three opponents by a combined 94 points).

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Of Williamson’s 32 made baskets (he’s only had 39 attempts) during his concerning-to-other-teams-with-title-aspirations start to the season, 10 have been of the flushing variety. And 100 percent of those 10 have been vicious.

Of the 10, seven have come in transition.

And those are the ones that make Duke basketball fans feel like they’re in heaven. Those are the ones that defy gravity. Best of all, though, those are the ones that cause opposing players and rims to tremble in fear.

So how can Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski make sure the most thrilling highlight in sports at the moment happens as often as possible?

He can do so by using his bench early and often, as he did during Duke’s 84-46 home win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. By doing so, legs stay fresh enough to never stop pressing — at least until the outcome is no longer in doubt, which only required a few minutes against the Eagles.

So does anyone need to inform Coach K of this strategy?

LOL. Nope, the GOAT understands.

"“I thought we handled everything well during this game, especially in transition; we were relentless,” Duke’s 39th-year treasure said to the media after the game. “We did the three-quarter-court press, that 1-2-2, and it got them out of (their offense) a bit. Everything we did kind of worked but it only worked because we played so hard.”"

It worked, and they were able to consistently play so hard, because of guys like Jordan Goldwire, who saw his earliest action of any game this season. Although the stat line of the sophomore guard was nothing to write home about — no points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal — his pesky, ball-hawk defense proved invaluable.

"“I thought Jordan [Goldwire] did a really good job today of playing simple and putting pressure,” Coach K said. “He got a couple of loose balls from putting that pressure…He played with good energy.”"

Goldwire, as well as the rest of the bench that had its best overall performance of the season, helped take the Eagles out of their comfort zone early, setting the stage for future steals and fastbreak finishes by his stars-of-the-show freshmen teammates.

Sure, fans may have grumbled in the first half as Krzyzewski frequently subbed in for Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, and Cam Reddish — who sat out the second half with soreness just as a precaution, according to Krzyzewski.

After all, everyone in attendance, other than the Eagles, wanted to see as many highlights as possible from Zion (the 6-foot-7, 285-pound native of Spartanburg, S.C., who single-handedly justifies the insane cost of a ticket to Cameron Indoor Stadium, has now scored 76 points in 76 minutes as a Blue Devil).

But Zion’s best highlights are made possible by passionate team defense. And that passion is able to stay constant with the use of frequent substitutions, which also helps the indispensable diaper dandies from getting into foul trouble.

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As for how many of the bench players Coach K decides to use in the regular rotation as the season progresses, that will depend on their ability to understand and execute their roles. The more guys that can prove to be worthy contributors, especially on defense, the more rested the freshmen studs will stay throughout games, maximizing the height they reach on dunks and the devastating impact those dunks have on opponents.

So could the rotation include 10 or more guys?

Well, here’s how the all-time winningest college basketball coach (1,103 victories and counting) hinted at how high the number could climb and the result that using that number of guys could have:

"“So even if we were to go to 10 or 11 guys, who, even if they don’t play much, know what they’re supposed to do, then we’re going to be better.”"

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And anything better than what Duke basketball fans have witnessed so far…well, for one, that means a frightening date (Feb. 20) lies in wait for all U*NC fans.