Duke Basketball: New type of showman will be in Durham next season

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

No Duke basketball freshman will ever match the thrilling performances of Zion Williamson, but the next Blue Devil power forward should keep fans plenty entertained with a uniquely talented display of his own.

There have been two Duke basketball players named Matt.

Both won a national championship (Matt Christensen in 2001 and Matt Jones in 2015).

Good thing another is on the way.

And no offense to Christensen or Jones, but Matt Hurt is a near lock to be the best Matt in Durham yet. However, the chances the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward becomes the third one to cut down nets as a Blue Devil may depend on how the coaches use him for however long he is in town — the best bet is one season, but two or more is not out of the question.

The optimal option is for Hurt to have a constant green light to put on a show.

Though his show won’t be of the same rim-rocking variety that made Zion Williamson quickly become a household name last season, Hurt’s net-whipping spectacles have the potential to serve as the most popular freak show across college basketball next season.

As a true stretch-four similar to former Duke great Danny Ferry but with the perimeter skills at least nearly matching former Duke wing Mike Dunleavy, Hurt could do more than just give the Blue Devils what they lacked last season: a reliable shooter from downtown. He could also ensure the starting power forward, which he is almost certain to be from the start, represents the program’s best player for the third straight year — following Zion last season and Marvin Bagley III the season before last.

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And though fellow freshman Vernon Carey Jr. is the popular pick to be the team’s leading scorer — due to the 6-foot-10, 275-pounder being the team’s lone true big man and possibly one of the program’s all-time best scoring centers — Hurt also has all the tools to assume such a title.

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With a quick flick of his wrist from all distances up to a few feet beyond the arc — often with a soft, slight fadeaway off one foot, reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki — Hurt puts a hurting on nets (to the tune of 37.1 points per game as a senior last season, topping Minnesota’s all-time scoring record in the process and finishing less than 200 points shy of amassing 4,000 career points).

Hurt, who has reiterated his deciding factor for becoming a Blue Devil was fellow Minnesota native and true point guard Tre Jones’ decision to return as a sophomore, has the greatest chance of any Blue Devil next season to catch fire at any given moment and top 30 points in any given game.

Adding to the entertainment value of his points alone, his sly grin and slight head bobbing when he’s draining buckets on one possession after another bring to mind the greatest showman of a shooter ever at Duke: J.J. Redick, who remains the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,769 points and the all-time 3-point threat with 457 makes from deep across his four college seasons.

In addition to lighting up scoreboards, Hurt’s primary strengths include his superior vision with or without the ball, his controlled ball-handling, his quick decision-making, his array of nifty passes, his ball-magnet hands, and his cool demeanor every time he steps on the court.

On the other hand, the 19-year-old, who fell to No. 11 on the final 247Sports Composite for the 2019 class after having a tough time finding his niche in all-star exhibitions in March and April, appears to have two potential weaknesses:

  1. His defense, which is hurt by his slender frame and his quickness deficiency
  2. His quiet style, which could be a detriment to his satisfying the talking requirements from his new head coach, Mike Krzyzewski

Addressing those concerns, however, could ding his strengths.

First, if he spends too much time in the weight room this summer, the accuracy of his shot could suffer as a result.

As for the problem with fixing his second potential weakness, he seems to be the type of guy who enjoys spacing out and being in his own world, which may explain why he is so often “in the zone” on the court.

In other words, Coach K may discover — if he hasn’t already — the best way to coach the new Matt in town is to avoid trying to fix what isn’t broken.

And just sit back and enjoy the show.

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