Duke basketball: Jalen Johnson injury could be blessing in disguise

Duke basketball (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

This season’s first Duke basketball injury should not be entirely bad news.

Death, taxes, and a foot injury to a Duke basketball big. Yes, some things in life are certain. And certainty has reared its ugly head in the form of Jalen Johnson’s foot.

The team announced last night that the freshman forward joined the long line of Dukies to come down with foot injuries over the years. That’s sad news for the 6-foot-9 Milwaukee native, whom head coach Mike Krzyzewski was counting on to be the focal point of this year’s offense.

Johnson got off to a scorching start to the 2020-21 campaign, going for 19 points and 19 rebounds against Coppin State, but has since regressed a tad in the past three games. However, he is still averaging a moderate 11.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for the season, yet he seems a bit more hesitant and is displaying poorer shot selection.

Coach K will undoubtedly hope to get Johnson back sooner rather than later as the Blue Devils will need him to make any kind of noise come tournament time. In the meantime, though, this misfortune can turn into an opportunity for a few other players.

Duke basketball players who might benefit from Jalen Johnson’s absence

Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt will have to continue his role as the lead scorer, but it will truly be a team effort to cover the slack for the missing frontcourt member when Duke faces Notre Dame at 9 p.m. Wednesday — and potentially in more games to follow.

Freshman guard DJ Steward will have to trust his shot and keep firing from beyond the arc, which will hopefully improve his 35.0 percent average.

It’s more than likely that the small-ball lineup will be scrapped for now. Duke will probably return to a traditional 1-5 lineup with Mark Williams manning the post. The freshman center will be the main benefactor of any Johnson absence, being that he is the only other rim protector Coach K seems to trust.

Williams is averaging only 7.5 minutes a game, but we should expect to see those numbers increase, barring any unforeseen complications with his lingering knee tendinitis. The 7-footer is unfortunately short on experience and muscle bulk, however, and will need help from his frontcourt mates.

Patrick Tapé is another frontcourt player who should see an uptick in action with Jalen Johnson’s injury. The 6-foot-9 grad transfer doesn’t seem to be the most explosive on the offensive end, but he is experienced and should be able to eat up some minutes.

Other than Tapé and Williams, freshman forward Henry Coleman has the most to gain from the injury to Jalen Johnson. Like Tapé, Coleman is averaging only three minutes a game, and this unfortunate scenario seems to be a way for him to work his way into the permanent rotation.

The coaches were high on the 6-foot-7 Coleman during the summer workouts but have seemed to decide he isn’t ready for the spotlight just yet. Some vicious rebounds and a few low post buckets could go a long way to change that opinion.

We here at Ball Durham are quite high on Coleman, in particular, but the potential is there for any of the previously mentioned gentlemen — not to mention freshman forward Jaemyn Brakefield — to pick up the slack until Johnson is ready to return.

The biggest hurdle with Jalen Johnson out of commission is going to be a mental one. Johnson brought a great deal of energy to the floor, and it’s going to be up to the team as a whole to replicate that energy and keep Duke basketball afloat if the Blue Devils are going to survive this latest injury.

Learning how to bring that energy, combined with needed game experience to some younger players, should provide growth to the Blue Devils in a year where growth in any form seems to be hard to come by.

Related Story. Duke's best starting five without Jalen Johnson. light

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball news and views.