Duke basketball: Time to worry about Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead?

Duke basketball center Dereck Lively and forward Dariq Whitehead (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball center Dereck Lively and forward Dariq Whitehead (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

Is it time to worry about Duke basketball freshmen Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead? 

The Duke basketball team surprisingly dropped two games in the month of November and its star freshmen are still adjusting to the college game, but is it time to panic yet?

Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead entered Durham as two of the most heralded freshmen in the country but both suffered preseason injuries that have seemingly stunted their development and left them struggling on a Blue Devil team which needs their production.

Lively, who has been dealing with a calf injury, put together his best game of the season on Tuesday night with 11 points and five rebounds in a victory against No. 25 Ohio State as the Blue Devils need much more positive showings from him going forward.

The 7-foot-1 five-star freshman has not played more than 23 minutes in a game this season and has not been on the floor in the closing minutes of tight games like in Duke’s victories over Xavier and the Buckeyes.

ALSO READ: Duke superstar shines in front of royalty

Lively is only posting 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest this season.

Dereck Lively also had not made a field goal that was not a dunk prior to Tuesday and is constantly getting into foul trouble since returning to the court on November 11, missing one regular season game.

Duke rarely runs post-ups for him in the paint and after showcasing his shooting abilities at the high school level Lively has only attempted two 3-pointers on the season, missing both.

It’s clear that the top high school recruit is at his best when he can run the floor in transition and that’s good for the Blue Devils since his ability to alter shots at the rim creates opportunities for the Duke offense to cash in at the other end of the floor.

Dariq Whitehead holds key to Duke basketball success

The situation surrounding Dariq Whitehead is a little different from Dereck Lively because the nature of his injury.

Whitehead suffered a broken foot in late August that required surgery and his rehabilitation period was much longer than Lively and the freshman wing is still trying to get his rhythm back on the court.

The 6-foot-6 forward is likely the best professional prospect on the Blue Devil roster and has yet to play more than 17 minutes in a game, but you can see the untapped potential he has in flashes.

Duke’s struggling offense could be pointed to the fact that Whitehead is playing catchup to try and learn the system and the Blue Devils have very limited options to try and create their own shot in the half-court.

Whitehead missed three games because of his injury and has come off the bench since getting cleared to play, but the Newark, New Jersey native is averaging just 5.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.2 assists per game while connecting on 30.8-percent of his shots from the floor.

Dariq Whitehead’s injury and return to the court could draw some comparisons to what Jayson Tatum went through during his freshman season at Duke, however Tatum was further along in his development at this stage in his career than Whitehead and the current NBA MVP frontrunner did not return until early-December of his only season with the Duke basketball program.

Head coach Jon Scheyer said that from the time Whitehead was cleared to return to the end of the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament the team only had one full practice and he needs more reps on the court to get comfortable and get his legs back underneath him.

There’s no need to panic yet on Dereck Lively or Dariq Whitehead but the time period between December 11 and December 30 will be vital for the two freshmen to try and get caught up to speed in practices and enter the new calendar year with no limitations.

No. 17 Duke (7-2) opens conference play on Saturday afternoon (4:00p.m., ACC Network) inside Cameron Indoor Stadium against Boston College (5-3).