Duke basketball: Who should sit if AJ Griffin starts?

Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

The fully healthy Duke basketball roster might include six worthy starters.

After recovering from an early-October knee injury quicker than the Duke basketball coaching staff anticipated, five-star freshman AJ Griffin received 18 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s 106-38 exhibition win over the visiting Winston-Salem State Rams.

Understandably, Griffin’s play was a tad tentative at times. Still, his 10 points and six rebounds suggested that the 6-foot-6, 220-pound small forward should be ready on Nov. 9 when the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils tip off the season against the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden.

Now, though, the question becomes whether Griffin will immediately earn the starting nod that most fans have long assumed he’d lock up this season. And if or when he does join the starting five, which member of the starting five against the Rams will he replace?

Present-day Duke basketball starters who could get demoted

Well, Saturday’s starting lineup consisted of sophomore guard Jeremy Roach, freshman guard Trevor Keels, junior forward Wendell Moore, freshman forward Paolo Banchero, and sophomore center Mark Williams. Of those five, it’s safe to say bonafide All-American candidates Banchero and Williams will comprise the unit’s lethal frontcourt for as long as they stay healthy.

That leaves Roach, Keels, and Moore as the top candidates to eventually begin games on the pine should AJ Griffin begin to shine too bright to ignore.

Keep in mind that one could make a valid argument for each of those three to remain a starter. Yet assuming Griffin regains all of his bounce and whatnot, it might prove unwise to have his grown-man strength, top-shelf athleticism, and noted versatility anywhere but on the floor for opening tips.

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In other words, it seems likely that Roach, Keels, or Moore will ultimately wind up in a reserve role. On that note, let’s examine each presumed consequence:

  • Eliminating Roach from the starting lineup would deprive it of its closest thing to a true point guard
  • Eliminating Keels would deprive the lineup of arguably its only deadly sharpshooter from deep
  • Eliminating Moore would deprive the bunch of significant experience as its only upperclassman and co-captain

Those three Duke basketball players ended up with somewhat similar stat lines on Saturday. Plus, they finished with the squad’s top three individual assist totals in the game. In other words, each looked capable of running the offense as a primary distributor; on the other hand, 68-point wins tend to make everyone on the winning team look incredible at every facet of the game.

Maybe there is no correct answer as to which three among Roach, Keels, Moore, and Griffin should be in the main starting lineup once the season gets underway. However, what appears clear at this point is that whichever one isn’t a starter will have a chance to become one of the nation’s most dangerous sixth men.

Or perhaps Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski will tinker with the starting five throughout the season, constantly forcing Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore, and AJ Griffin to prove their belonging.

But that might not be the approach most conducive to winning. Instead, Coach K probably ought to consider the value of continuity and establish a definitive starting five.

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And for the sake of predicting it here, we’ll say Wendell Moore will be the one to step up and embrace the sixth-man challenge.