Predicting Duke basketball’s top scorer next season

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

Yes, it’s too early to even know exactly how the Duke basketball roster will shake out for next season, yet it’s never too early to make any type of subject-to-change prediction.

No need to sugarcoat it: the chance of Vernon Carey Jr., Tre Jones, or Cassius Stanley returning next season is slim to none. With that in mind and after viewing a senior-year mixtape for Whitney Young (Ill.) five-star combo guard DJ Steward — we’ll get to that in a minute — it’s easy to convince oneself that the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Duke basketball signee out of Chicago will be the go-to scorer in Durham.

Sure, at No. 11, Nicolet (Wis.) small forward Jalen Johnson ranks highest among Mike Krzyzewski‘s six-deep class on the 247Sports 2020 Composite (Steward sits No. 24). But the 6-foot-8, 215-pound five-star looks like more of a nightly triple-double threat than a supernatural scoring machine.

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And arriving with a No. 21 composite ranking, Paul VI Catholic (Va.) point guard Jeremy Roach in all likelihood will start from Day One, assuming Jones is indeed NBA-bound. However, in terms of playing style, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound five-star looks more like an authentic floor general in the mold of a Jones brother than a guy always looking for his own shot first.

As for the other three incoming Duke basketball freshmen, though all are four-stars on the edge of a fifth star and each should see considerable playing time considering the expected lack of post presences, it would be a shock if Huntington Prep (W.Va.) power forward Jaemyn Brakefield, Trinity Episcopal (Va.) power forward Henry Coleman, or IMG Academy (Fla.) center Mark Williams led the Blue Devils in points per game.

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What we can forecast with the most certainty is an absence of a bucket-getting bruiser down low like Carey Jr.

So what about the returning players? To begin with, assuming every current underclassman outside of Carey Jr., Jones, and Stanley come back, there’s not much evidence to support that Joey Baker, Jordan Goldwire, or Alex O’Connell has the offensive firepower to seize Duke’s season-scoring title.

Meanwhile, Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt — not out of the question after combining for roughly 17 points per game this past season — would need to revamp their attacks to individually average 15-plus points next season.

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That brings us back to Steward. First, take a moment to watch the YouTube video that Illinois HS Hoops Stars put out on Monday:

While we’re in highlight mode, we might as well take a look at a couple of recent ones from his single-game performances. Here’s one that SportsHipHop unveiled last week, highlighting his “cannon”:

Finally, here’s one BallislifeMidwest compiled from Steward’s final prep game, a 68-54 win over rival Simeon in the Class 4A sectional semifinals, in which he dropped a game-high 23 points (like most of the hoops world, the remainder of the games will not happen due to coronavirus concerns):

Steward is a McDonald’s All-American (though the renowned showcase also won’t go on as planned) with the speed, handles, dazzle, determination, and stroke to become a Duke basketball household name right away.

But just how many points will he score as a freshman to lead the way?

Well, let’s say 16.0 per game (for kicks, we’ll say Johnson comes in a close second at 15.5). Multiply that times 40 — because early predictions here at Ball Durham, naturally, are that the Blue Devils are going to deliver the magic — and that gives 640.

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Yes, that total would bump Brandon Ingram from No. 6 on the all-time list of points in a season by Duke basketball rookies. Yet given the video evidence, Steward’s meteoric rise the past year, and what should be a wide-open race to be the next squad’s top-scoring Blue Devil, that’s not far-fetched at all.

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