Duke isn’t really that good. There’s no getting around that. 

It rarely wins on the road, and it really just can’t play defense sometimes. 

But there has been an easy fix sitting right on the bench for a while. 

He might be unassuming and lanky, but he’s the only way that the Blue Devils can get out of their rut. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Alex O’Connell time. 

It was on full display Sunday night against Georgia Tech, when O’Connell finally got his first start of the season in favor of Trevon Duval. With Grayson Allen at point guard—not the player who retweeted his own flashy dunk almost immediately after losing to North Carolina—Duke’s offense ran much more smoothly. 

O’Connell only played for 22 minutes, but he was steady and collected—everything that Duval is not. His counting numbers weren’t flashy: three points and two assists. But O'Connell posted a plus-minus of 8, while Duval had by far the worst number of any Blue Devil in 25 minutes on the floor: minus-10. 

Duval has been reckless with the ball at times, which was on full display against North Carolina and Virginia, when his mindless pass at the end of the game cost the Blue Devils a chance to tie it or take the lead in the final minute. The numbers back it up: per 100 possessions, Duval has coughed the ball up more than twice as much as O’Connell, and nearly twice as much as Allen. 

And even though some might argue that Duval is a better offensive weapon, that simply isn’t true. He has struggled mightily from deep and has a much lower offensive rating than O’Connell according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's metrics, sitting at just 106.9 compared to O’Connell’s explosive 130.6 mark. For context, O’Connell’s rating is in fact the highest on the team, albeit in fewer minutes than the five starters.

O’Connell shoots it better from beyond the arc, and though he might not throw down the glitzy dunks like Duval, he also doesn’t make the maddening mistakes that Duval does. 

In the O’Connell vs. Duval debate, you also have to take Allen’s shooting woes into account. At this point, it seems unlikely that he will be able to work well with Duval and shoot consistently. He simply cannot be the force he once was if the same tired starting lineup stays constant, and defenders often do not help off him since they can usually sag off Duval as much as they want. 

With Gary Trent Jr. and O’Connell by Allen's side, Duke has three threats from deep instead of two. This will allow Allen’s trademark drive-and-kick game to work much more effectively, giving him a more diversified offensive portfolio to keep opponents on their heels. 

Allen is not a natural point guard, but he makes fewer mistakes than Duval and is a better scorer at that position. Oh yeah: and Allen won an ACC tournament at point guard last year, when the Blue Devils were on fire. Is that really worse than trotting out a guy who seems far too focused on his own highlights?

This sort of energy will translate to the defensive end, where Duke has been up and down this season. O’Connell and Allen have the fire on defense, if not the quickness, but don’t resort to the risky cherry-picking and reaching for steals that Duval goes for. 

He might snag a few, but he ends up called for a lot of fouls and missing more than he grabs, which takes him out of the play and miles from the player he was supposed to be defending.

Simply put: Duke’s offense—and defense—runs best with Allen at point guard and O’Connell and Trent by his side. 

Coach K can no longer waste crucial time for getting this team ready for March by throwing Duval back on the court to start. The freshman is capable of taking over games on rare occasions like he did against Florida State, but at this point, Duval's potential far exceeds his performance. 

It won’t make him happy to ride the pine, but he needs it to settle down and figure out his role if he wants to have any semblance of success at the next level. He is still the quickest player on the team and is capable of getting to the rim as well as any of Duke's guards, but he doesn't maximize those strengths when he has to run the offense for a whole game.

If Duval is starting, everyone but him is losing.