There are pros and cons to Duke basketball having a relatively short bench.
Coming into the 2021-22 season, the Duke basketball program has just 10 players on scholarship (not counting former walk-ons Michael Savarino and Keenan Worthington).
Depth in college basketball is somewhat overrated. Having depth seems to sound better in the preseason. But once the regular season starts, only about eight or nine players are seeing meaningful minutes.
Depth has been a concern for the Duke Blue Devils in past seasons, where they had only about six guys in the regular rotation. In recent seasons, though, there’s almost been too much depth.
Mike Krzyzewski has always preferred a shorter rotation, only giving seven or eight guys consistent playing time.
Last year, Krzyzewski experimented with a ton of different lineups trying to find the best combinations. One of the problems with that is it prevents certain players from getting into the rhythm and flow. They are more likely to be subbed out if they make a mistake or play poorly, which can damage their confidence. Players need to have freedom and trust from their coaches, but it is hard to feel that if they get taken out whenever they do something wrong.
Having a shorter rotation allows players to work through their mistakes. It also benefits the team chemistry. In order to get comfortable with other players and understand how to put them in the best positions, they have to spend a lot of time on the court together. It is harder to gain that chemistry if the lineup is in constant flux. After having a deeper rotation over the last two years, it looks like Coach K is returning to a shorter rotation in his final season.
Potential Duke basketball depth issues
The main area where the Blue Devils lack depth is at point guard. It is expected that Jeremy Roach will be the starter as he returns for his sophomore season. The only other PG on the roster is freshman Jaylen Blakes out of New Jersey. The 6-foot-1 four-star was a late signee who was added to the roster in late April. I don’t see him playing a huge role as a freshman but rather being a guy who gets spot minutes here and there.
Wendell Moore is likely going to be the primary ballhandler when Roach is out of the game or playing off the ball. Moore handled a lot of the PG duties last year, especially later in the season. He brings terrific size and physicality to the position and has shown flashes of being able to efficiently operate in the pick and roll game.
Freshman Trevor Keels is more of an off-ball guard but does have playmaking ability, which means he could see some time handling PG duties.
One of the most interesting players to watch this season will be Paolo Banchero. He has shown some ability to handle the ball, make reads in ball screens, and be a facilitator. While he may be able to do it, being a PG is not putting Banchero in a position to be at his best. He could be used some as a point forward, but he will also likely shoulder a big scoring load.
I think the Blue Devils learned their lesson with how they used Jalen Johnson last year. Johnson spent a lot of time at the five-spot before leaving early and entering the 2021 NBA Draft. He was being played out of position and often found himself in foul trouble and unable to finish games. He was also having to guard bigger and stronger players.
Banchero will not have to play the five-spot for an extended time this year, which will allow him to stay out of foul trouble and from having to guard bigger and stronger players. With Mark Williams returning, and former Marquette big man Theo John, Banchero will be able to play in a more natural position.
The frontcourt is not an area of concern in regards to depth.
Theo John will help add some much-needed toughness and muscle down low, something that the Blue Devils sorely lacked last season. He also acts as a security blanket for Mark Williams, if the sophomore center finds himself in foul trouble.
The Blue Devils cannot afford a big injury as much as they could the past couple of years. But the shorter rotation should allow players to gain chemistry much quicker and make for an overall more cohesive unit.