Duke basketball bully-ball might be back: The Pitfalls Edition

Duke basketball (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Duke basketball
Duke basketball (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball pitfall No. 1:  Shooting the three and the free

It’s kind of funny, but not really, to say that shooting accuracy could be a problem for Duke basketball. I think back to those early teams of the ’80s and ’90s that I grew up on, and in the majority of Duke basketball seasons since; the Duke Blue Devils were more known for how well they shot the ball and for making more free throws than their opponents even attempted.

Those days seem long over as Duke basketball hasn’t been better than No. 136 in the country in free throw percentage since 2016-17. Last season, the Blue Devils were No. 232 and a paltry No. 322 in attempts; and in the 2018-19 year with which we are drawing this comparison, they were No. 248. That group was also a dreadful No. 329 in 3-point percentage, although this year’s Devils don’t appear to be that bad…hopefully.

Even with that outlier gone, Duke basketball hasn’t been higher than No. 73 since 2016-17 when they were No. 60 in 3-point percentage with Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, and Jayson Tatum helping those numbers out. The three-ball is too important in today’s game to only be average when title hopes are on the line.

They also can’t afford to give away points from the charity stripe either, as that RJ/Zion-led squad did consistently all year. This was never so glaring as against Michigan State in the regional final, in which Duke shot 8-for-13, or 62 percent, in that one-point loss. They only shot 7-for-21 from behind the arc in that game too.

Unfortunately, Duke basketball’s returning players who expect to see significant minutes also struggled in these areas last season:

  • Jeremy Roach:  31 percent on threes and 67 percent on FTs
  • Wendell Moore:  30 percent on threes and 85 percent on FTs but only 1.9 attempts in 27.6 minutes per game
  • Mark Williams:  54 percent on FTs and no threes attempted
  • Joey Baker:  31 percent on threes and 75 percent on FTs but only 0.3 attempts in 11.5 minutes per game

Marquette transfer Theo John isn’t a 3-point shooter and has shot a career 58.2 percent on free throws. Paolo Banchero is certainly a capable shooter and most likely projects in the mid to high 70s for his trips to the stripe, but he does most of his damage inside the 3-point line. That leaves a lot of pressure on Trevor Keels to produce consistently, which is a big ask for a freshman shooting guard, even one as highly rated as him.

It also leaves a lot of bodies in the paint and behind the arc, preventing Duke basketball from having the space it will need to operate at its best this season. It will limit driving opportunities and chances for offensive rebounds as teams just sag off waiting for Banchero or other drivers while they don’t pay the price for sending Duke to the line.

This is what we saw during that 2018-19 season where less talented teams could stick around with that Duke juggernaut by daring the Blue Devils to shoot and fouling them inside. Hopefully, for Duke basketball and Banchero’s health, shooting has been a major focus for these players in the off-season because they will certainly need to prove themselves during it.