Duke basketball: The Blue Devils are finally figuring it out, hopefully

Duke basketball forward Wendell Moore (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Wendell Moore (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Duke basketball
Duke basketball power forward Paolo Banchero (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

What’s up with the Duke basketball post-up?

After a month-plus of screaming at my computer and TV screens — and meaning to write an article about it, whoops — I was overjoyed to finally see Paolo Banchero down where he should spend a large portion of his time going forward: the LOW post. This should be especially true in close games during the last ten minutes, although I wouldn’t really have a problem if he camped down there even more.

At the end of games, Banchero is virtually unstoppable, either to be fouled, get a basket, or deliver an And-1. And that was never more evident, or overdue, than against Clemson.

Look at the last three possessions. On the first where Banchero established position just outside the low block, he executed a sweet spin move and scored. On the next one, he went down into the lane quickly, only to come out to the top of the key to get the ball. He did a little shimmy and launched a three that was promptly turned into a run-out dunk for Clemson that cut a four-point lead to two.

On the last possession to salt the game away, Duke cleared out the side with Mark Williams going top of the key and Banchero into the deep post. Banchero was fed by a great entry pass from Jeremy Roach, who needs the ball in his hands more to be as effective as he can be and will be explored in a later article, and scored with ease to put the Blue Devils back up by four with just ten seconds left.

This strategy has been painfully lacking in Duke’s closest games this season, including the losses. Banchero is a match-up nightmare no matter where he is on the floor. But when the game is close and Williams can draw the opposing big out from the basket to protect against the possible ball screen and roll, all that space is open to be occupied by Banchero or any other Blue Devil besides Roach.

To a man, be it: Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore, or AJ Griffin each usually has a size advantage on their opponent that they don’t ever really use in a post-up situation. They are all so strong, quick, and athletic that it would seem a basket, foul, or double team be the most likely scenario if these players were to play out of the post more often.

The benefits are obvious since Banchero, Keels, Moore, and Griffin are among Duke’s best free throw shooters, and it gets them to the bonus sooner while putting their opponents in foul trouble. If the Blue Devils utilized this strategy a little more, they could target the opposition’s guards and smaller wings in post-up mismatches.

It also opens up the floor for shooters where Duke should foray into more often considering the Blue Devils are only 12th and 176th in 3-point attempts within the ACC and nationally, but third and 36th in 3-point percentage, respectively.

Although shooting was a potential concern for Duke this season, the Blue Devils have been shooting the three better of late and should continue to hit it while it’s hot. Williams has also proven to be a good and willing passer from the top of the key in a facilitator role, though he seldom occupies it.

It’s not that Duke basketball doesn’t throw it into the low block. It’s just more often than not it is Williams or Theo John getting the ball, and neither is a polished low-post scorer. Both are better on rim runs, putbacks and alley-oops, although John has some nice spins and duck-unders. Williams is more a work in progress, but he has proven to be a capable asset on the perimeter.

Sometimes, it really is as easy as being bigger, stronger, and better. It’s just up to some of Duke basketball’s most important players and the coaching staff to put the Blue Devils in the positions to be the baddest bullies they always could be.

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