Duke Basketball: Jack White as starter could stave off stagnant starts

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

Overcoming slow starts is simple when facing Ivy League opponents, but with tougher competition on the slate, the Duke basketball starting five should include the captain who is currently serving as the spark off the bench.

Duke basketball junior Jack White has no shortage of energy. No shortage of consistency. No shortage of instances when he has helped to reverse a sluggish opening stretch.

And there seems to be no convincing reason — even the implication that he is too short to play center — that the Blue Devils should have to wait in future games for a boost from the hustling Aussie who seems to have better basketball instincts than the only two non-freshmen starters thus far: juniors Marques Bolden (started the first nine games) and Javin DeLaurier (started the last two).

Games could just start with that “no worries, mate” mentality. No need to wait for it.

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Against Princeton on Tuesday night — a game No. 2 Duke went on to win, 101-50, to improve to 10-1 on the season — the freshmen Blue Devils were ice-cold from beyond the arc to start, missing seven straight out of the gate. They trailed the Tigers, 13-5, six minutes in.

Enter White.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pounder hit the team’s first 3-pointer of the night halfway through the first half. He finished 2-for-2 from downtown, bumping his percentage for the season to 35.7, the third-best mark on the team, trailing only sophomore guard Alex O’Connell (38.7) and freshman forward Cam Reddish (36.6).

However, as he has shown time and again this season while helping to bail his team out of several less-than-ideal starts, his contributions certainly aren’t limited to shooting.

By the time White completed his first stretch on the floor against the Tigers — he subbed out with five minutes to play in the first half  — Duke led, 21-18. And a significant part of the reason that the team went on a 16-5 run while White was in the game was exactly that:

White was in the game.

And while in the game, as usual, he was playing harassing defense — he finished the contest with two blocks and two steals.

He also dished out four assists and snagged four rebounds; he is now third on the squad in rebounding average (7.0) while playing fewer minutes than the two guys ahead of him on that list (freshmen Zion Williamson, who is averaging 9.1, and R.J. Barrett, who is averaging 7.1).

His rebounding prowess suggests that despite being several inches shorter than both Bolden and DeLaurier, he is just as effective — if not more — at holding down the center position for the Blue Devils.

And as predicted here at Ball Durham back in September well before the season began, numbers don’t fully explain what the co-captain provides this squad.

ALSO READ: Three reasons why Jack White will be Blue Devils’ hidden gem

If White is on the floor to start games in place of Bolden or DeLaurier, Duke could better force a frenetic pace against teams that try to slow down the tempo. That would definitely come in handy against the likes of Virginia or Texas Tech, the Blue Devils’ opponent on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Madison Square Garden (on ESPN2).

Not only does White always seem to be making something happen on the defensive end to help spark fastbreak opportunities, but he can also handle the ball on the perimeter or in transition better than Bolden and DeLaurier.

In addition, he is more athletic and aggressive than Bolden. And he appears to have better coordination, better court awareness, and a better knack for making the right play than DeLaurier.

White is averaging more minutes than his fellow juniors. His 24.1 minutes per game is tied with Reddish for fourth on the team.

So if he’s playing starter’s minutes already and his smaller frame doesn’t keep him from guarding bigger guys and being a skilled rebounder — his habit of securing the ball with both of his strong hands plays a huge role in that — then he should probably be joining the four freshmen phenoms in the starting five.

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And finishing close games.