Duke basketball: Where Joey Baker fits in the rotation

Will Joey Baker see significantly more minutes this Duke basketball season?

Joey Baker is now a junior, and Duke basketball is anticipating a breakout year. Baker was unable to carve out consistent minutes and be a constant in the rotation a year ago. In the minutes he was given, though, he put together some nice performances.

While Baker is undoubtedly a terrific outside shooter, if the rest of his game cannot catch up to his shooting ability, he could have a hard time finding consistent minutes once again.

Baker came to Duke with little to no fanfare. He skipped his final year in high school to join the Blue Devils for the 2018-19 season and was largely overlooked as the fifth and forgotten member of a stacked freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Tre Jones, and Cam Reddish.

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Though Baker looked like a redshirt at the beginning of the season, Duke burned his redshirt after Zion Williamson went down with an injury late in the season. Burning his redshirt during the 2018-19 season may come back to haunt the Blue Devils.

Looking back, it seems like a bit of a waste. After Baker’s redshirt was removed, he appeared in just four games, played a total of 18 minutes, and made just one field goal. It is almost like Duke wasted a year of Baker’s eligibility for him to be an emergency third-string quarterback. It’s possible that Baker could be granted a fifth year of eligibility if it ever gets to that point.

Entering 2019-20, it was unclear where Joey Baker would fit into the rotation. In one exhibition game, Baker exploded for 22 points, including a 6-for-8 mark from three. Even though that game didn’t count on Duke’s record, Baker showed right away that he could light it up from outside. But his big performance wasn’t enough to earn minutes in the season opener against Kansas.

He made his first real impression in a late-November matchup with Winthrop. Duke struggled to get going offensively that game after losing the previous game at home to Stephen F. Austin on a last-second layup. Baker gave Duke a huge jolt in that game, knocking down four 3-pointers and totaling 16 points to help the Blue Devils pull away and avoid another upset loss at home.

Joey Baker then followed up that performance with an 11-point outing on 5-for-6 shooting, on the road at Michigan State. A couple of weeks later, Baker had his best game as a Duke basketball player, dropping 22 points and knocked down five 3-pointers in just 18 minutes of play against Wofford.

At that point, Baker was proving to be a deadly outside shooter on a team that didn’t shoot the ball very well. It seemed like he had done enough to earn consistent minutes in the regular rotation.

That, however, was not the case. Baker’s minutes and offensive production didn’t really last. He did make some key plays on the road against Boston College to help Duke avoid a bad loss. Other than that game, though, Baker scored double-digits just one time, and that came during a blowout win against Wake Forest. He also played double-digit minutes only once in the final seven games.

The Duke basketball junior must bring more to the table than his hot hand

The issue with Baker a year ago was that when his shot wasn’t falling, he wasn’t able to offer much else. Baker hustles hard and gets after it on defense but at times wasn’t always disciplined, leading to quick fouls. He also didn’t have the ballhandling and playmaking ability to create his own shot or create shots for others.

Everyone knows that Joey Baker can shoot. And opposing teams caught on quickly. Once ACC play started, Baker’s minutes dropped because he was too predictable. Opposing teams knew he wanted to shoot the 3-ball and wasn’t really a threat to put the ball on the deck.

Baker attempted just 12 foul shot the entire year (although he did make 11 of them). He was also a liability on the defensive end. He gave good effort but just didn’t have the speed or quickness to defend smaller guards or the size and athleticism to defend post players.

If Baker can mold into a solid wing defender, he should see an increase in minutes. With positionless basketball, the new norm, having good wing defenders is almost more important than having good rim protectors.’

Baker is not a phenomenal athlete, but he is a capable athlete. Pair that with his 6-foot-7 frame, long arms, and high effort level, and Baker has the potential to be an excellent wing defender this Duke basketball season.

Offensively, Baker will have to be more aggressive. If it wasn’t a catch and shoot, it was a catch, pump fake, step to the side, and then shoot for Baker a year ago. He will have to show defenses that he’s both willing and able to attack the basket and finish around the rim. If he can also become a good shooter off pin-downs and curls, he’ll be much more of a threat in Duke’s offense.

What I loved about watching Joey Baker a year ago was the energy he brought every time he stepped on the court. Baker always played hard, sometimes a little too hard. He definitely seems like a team player, a guy willing to do whatever it takes to win. He has no problem sacrificing his body to take a charge or dive on the floor for a loose ball.

Baker quickly became a Cameron Crazies favorite and would always draw a strong response from the fans every time he was brought in the game.

Unfortunately for Baker, he plays a very crowded position. He hasn’t been able to find consistent minutes over the last two seasons given Duke’s talent and depth on the wing. He’ll once again be in competition for minutes with sophomore Wendell Moore plus freshmen Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield.

Baker has the advantage in terms of experience, but the question will be if he is able to provide enough all-around scoring and perimeter defense to carve out a spot in the regular rotation.

Out of all of the returning Duke basketball players, Baker has the highest ceiling. As of right now, he is probably Duke’s best 3-point shooter. He shot just below 40 percent a year ago, and I do not expect that number to fall if he is given the right opportunities.

Duke doesn’t project to be a spectacular 3-point shooting team, which could leave the door open for Joey Baker to take advantage of a deficiency within the team. Especially in today’s game, if you can shoot it, the opportunities will be there.

Having experienced players is always a plus in college basketball. Baker doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he is one of only four players on the Duke basketball roster to have played in an ACC game.

Shot-making is critical, which leads me to believe that Baker will be a big part of this year’s team. He is now an upperclassman and will have to expand his role this year. Given more opportunity, I fully expect Joey Baker to win some games for the Blue Devils this season.

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