Since we are all dealing with the absence of our beloved Duke basketball in our own way, and need something to pass the time, let's compare three players we all hope to see next year with three players the years will never forget.
With nothing left to do but look back on what might have been and forward to what might be, I figured I would ponder and reminisce, but about three players that Duke basketball would love to see in Blue Devil uniforms next season. The crazy part will be in the comparisons I make with these would-be sophomore stars and a few who have their jerseys hanging from the rafters.
No, I'm not a crack-pot, on crack, or cracked up. I'm just bored and feel like writing about what Duke basketball might look like in November with these players on the roster, even though none of them plan on staying long enough for their own numbers to be hanging high in hallowed heroism. I told you I was bored.
I want to compare Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley, and Matthew Hurt with three of the greatest to ever wear the Duke basketball blue and white — and black, dark blue, and grey, which I think is my new personal favorite. Besides just passing the time, I should probably get these in before any more departures hit the Duke basketball program. I feel each would be better served taking that next step next year as a Devil, with one solid season under each of their belts.
The thing about comparisons with players from today with those of the past is we tend to think about the finished product from those Duke basketball all-timers and not what they were like during their freshman seasons. Five-stars today want to jump to the league so fast and understandably so with the overwhelming financial incentive.
But a lot of professional players are willing to gamble on themselves in the short term to increase their long-term outlooks. With increased and/or breakout performances next season on the biggest stage in college hoops, these three Duke basketball stars in the making could also be making a lot more scratch when they do enter the professional ranks.
Plus, as a fan, I want to see them all return and help lead next year's Duke basketball team to the NCAA Tournament and the chance at No. 6 that we all missed out on this year. With that, on to the most likely to stay, and the least shocking comparison...
Wendell Moore and Shane Battier
Calm down, Wendell. It's really not that shocking. Both of you are known first and foremost for your hardnosed diligence to working on the defensive end. While Shane Battier may have been the best team defender in the history of Duke basketball — sorry, Shelden Williams — Wendell Moore may be a better man-on-man individual stopper and certainly is quicker and more athletic — sorry, Shane.
The offensive side of the ball was a work in progress for both their freshman years. They each averaged about 7.5 points per game, Moore a tenth less and Battier a tenth more, although Battier shot more efficiently at 54 percent to Moore's 42 percent. The difference is most likely seen in how they played their games, especially as first-year players.
Battier did most of his work on the inside and had averages of 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.5 blocks, which showed how effective he was at doing the dirty work at such a young age. Battier was one of the smartest players Coach K has ever had in his Duke basketball program. His ability to do the little things and affect the game in limited minutes showed his IQ, unselfishness, and team-first mentality.
Battier stuffed the stat sheets on his way to All-ACC Freshman Team honors, and we all know how prestigious his Duke basketball career turned out to be. I could list the close calls, but as this college hoops lockout has shown us with all the old Devil games re-airing, almost every player in Duke basketball's long and storied history under Coach K has had at least one of them if not more. The what-could-have-been's are probably better than the histories of 90 percent of teams out there. And that may be conservative.
Although Moore didn't join his Duke basketball mates, Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley, on the All-ACC Freshmen Team, he won and starred in what is now Duke's biggest win of the season. His soul-crushing putback as time expired on the hopes and dreams of Tar Heel fans everywhere will live in Duke basketball lore forever and be one of the sweetest victories in the bitter rivalry. The UNC game also showed everyone the promise that Moore possesses.
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He attacked relentlessly and under control in getting to the line or finishes at the rim without settling for contested jumpers. Like Shane, Wendell shot poorly from long range, 21 percent to Battier's 17 percent, although at this point in their careers, neither relied too heavily on the 3-ball, averaging less than one attempt per game.
With his build and fiery attitude, Moore is best suited to get to the basket and also did this with 10 rebounds against the Heels, notching his only double-double on the year. Moore played more on the perimeter than Battier, and Shane was never slotted to bring the ball up the court in a point forward role. Moore averaged an assist better during his freshman campaign, and though they played a little differently, they have similar traits.
One thing Wendell could learn from the Duke basketball legend is the calm and control with which he graced Cameron. Wendell seemed to be good for a charge or two and some unforced turnovers. Like the Devil great, however, this was a product of giving it his all when he was on the court and letting everyone know it with his play. Moore has indicated he is receptive to donning Duke blue next season, and it would be a relief to us all if he did.
Let's take the shock value up a little with the next Duke basketball player to hopefully elate us with his presence on next year's squad and see which luminary he could be. He won't be because he'll never stay past next year, but I and Duke basketball fans everywhere would be happy with just the one extra year...
Cassius Stanley and Grant Hill
Yeah, Cassius, I and those Duke basketball fans everywhere I mentioned would love for your jersey number to signify a second season in the Duke basketball program. If Cassius Stanley does return to run it back in 2020-21, the Devils become significantly more dangerous.
It would be like when Grant Hill returned for his senior year and came within a Scottie Thurman game-clincher of unmatched Duke basketball immortality. I hate some of these re-airs, at least the Duke losses anyway, and feel they should be immediately destroyed for the good of our nation.
Though Hill didn't get a third title, he still did pretty well for himself and Duke basketball fans alike. Grant joined a veteran team and turned out to be the final piece as an athletic, multi-faceted wing that Duke needed to match up with an undefeated UNLV squad of seniors who had beaten the same Devil team by 30 the year before. This is the one re-air I would love to see and hope they are playing it on Final Four weekend due to its significance in basketball, and not just Duke basketball, history.
His dunk against Kansas is one of the all-time highlights from the NCAA Tournament and marked the seminal moment in the story of Duke basketball when the program shed the stigma of not being able to win the big one on the way to back-to-back titles.
Cassius will definitely not reach those heights of accomplishment, although we could all envision him reaching that famous G Hill alley-oop and throwing down one of his patented one-handed tomahawks.
Their freshman seasons were remarkably similar, although Hill upped Stanley by just a bit in everything except scoring average, 12.6 to 11.2, and FT percentage. Since Grant Hill is a Hall of Fame player, any comparisons are good ones. They both played with supreme athleticism and a calm, collected smoothness that belied the fact they hadn't played major college hoops, much less the rigorous schedules that Duke basketball usually contends with.
Both were efficient scorers and shooters, and while we don't think of Stanley as a 3-point bomber, his 86 attempts dwarf the two that Hill took his first year. The game has definitely changed. Hill was a better passer, defender, and playmaker; but again, we are talking about the best Duke basketball player ever in my opinion.
If Stanley does come back next year, he will look to take on the role that Hill did his last two seasons as an unquestioned leader and star of the Duke basketball program. Like Hill, he will need to be more aggressive and in attack mode more often. His ability to hang, gather, and make difficult shots was a bit underutilized since he shot 73 percent from the stripe but only got there 3.6 times a game.
I feel Stanley would be able to showcase himself as the go-to guy next year and become the consistent star that he showed in many flashes. The weak draft class and his age are large factors pushing him to the NBA, but the possible cancellation of a draft combine would hurt him since he couldn't wow teams in person with his exceptional athleticism.
Either way, expect the speculation to mount, and though he is not a projected lottery pick as of now, he could be if he stays in the Duke basketball program and dominates next year like it's expected he would. It worked for Grant Hill. It could work for Cassius Stanley too.
On to the last and most blasphemous comparison that I could possibly make...
Matthew Hurt and Christian Laettner
Yeah, I know. I should probably be kicked out of any Duke fan club and have my ability to write about the Blue Devils revoked for good. What do Matthew Hurt and Christian Laettner, the most haloed of the hallowed, have in common you are probably wondering? (Hopefully just wondering and not cursing.)
Was Christian Laettner the best NCAA basketball player of all time? With two UCLA centers each having won three titles, that may be a hard sell, but there has never been a more compelling player and big-shot maker in college hoops than the Duke basketball king. Those are still pretty good titles to have besides his two real ones.
That's why this makes this comparison a bit of a stretch because Laettner was a better athlete, and an underrated one at that, and defender. What truly set Laettner apart though was his instincts, confidence, and that intangible factor that only the rare possess but is too hard to describe.
It's that will and ability to rise up to whatever the occasion dictates, the mysterious "it" factor that no other player in Duke basketball history was able to harness so well. But looking back at his freshman season, Laettner wasn't the swag-filled baller and free-shooter we think of all these years later, despite him teaching Kentucky fans, young and old, the harsh realities of life are still the same from 28 years ago: Duke always wins.
As a freshman, Laettner averaged 8.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists, with a steal and almost a block, in 17 minutes per game. The shocking part is that he hit all his threes, which was only one the entire season. He was more of a driver and putback kind of player at that point in his Duke basketball career, hitting 72 percent overall from the field and 73 percent from the foul line on 3.4 attempts a game.
In fact, before his senior year, when Laettner was a crazy 56 percent from 3-point distance on 97 attempts, he shot 38 percent on only 66 attempts the previous three seasons. Hurt shot 39 percent on his 107 3-point attempts this year and 49 percent overall from the field.
Like Christian, Matthew averaged an assist, almost one block, as well as half a steal a game. Hurt pulled down one less rebound but also averaged almost another point at 9.7 per contest. He was in double figures most of the year until a late-season turn toward the bench saw him lose some of his minutes.
The lack of playing time has led to rampant speculation that Hurt is exploring a transfer, but he had a solid freshman year with some growing pains that had to be expected with his slight frame and lack of elite athleticism. The high five-star rating probably did him a little disservice as he was not a one and done player. The biggest deficiency in his game is his lack of strength and toughness, but he has a lot of room for physical growth which should help him improve in his weaker areas.
His offense is not one of those weaknesses. Hurt has a polished and varied arsenal at his disposal. He does not jump high on his shots, but he has a quick release, a nice sidestep, and a solid ball fake and drive in addition to some good post moves and spins. He shot over 57 percent on almost four 2-point attempts per game even though we think of him mostly as a standstill shooter.
I'd argue that at this point in their careers, Hurt is more in tune with his offensive capabilities than Laettner was, although Christian took a great leap forward in his second season, playing 13 more minutes and scoring 7.4 more points per contest. Hurt is fully capable of such a step forward for Duke basketball as well, and he would be well suited to continuing his career at Duke where he still saw over 20 minutes of game action per contest.
Interestingly, Hurt was the 11th most efficient player in the ACC and 15th in block percentage. In fact, when we compare him with All-ACC Freshman teammate, Cassius Stanley, Hurt was No. 2 in offensive box plus-minus, No. 6 in win share per 40 minutes, and No. 17 in offensive rebound percentage. Stanley was No. 19, No. 16, and No. 19 in those metrics, respectively, and they were the only ones in which they overlapped.
Hurt had a better season than many believe, and next year could be even better. I put that picture up there at the top of this slide because that was a Christian Laettner-type moment when Hurt flew into the lane and grabbed a rebound that seemed destined for the Seminoles.
If Hurt had the Duke basketball royalty's confidence, swagger, and instincts while sticking around for four years, he too could have his jersey hanging high in Cameron Indoor someday and retire another number in the storied history of Duke basketball.
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