Even during its late-season run to an ACC championship in 2017, Duke sorely missed a post scoring presence, a problem that seemed destined to recur after Amile Jefferson’s graduation.
But with consensus No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III’s commitment, it may have solved that problem—and established itself as a national championship favorite.
Bagley announced his decision to come to Durham on ESPN’s SportsCenter Monday night, electing to play for the Blue Devils instead of Southern California and UCLA. The high school junior will need to be permitted by the NCAA to reclassify and play this season, but if Bagley is cleared to join head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 2017-18 squad, he could give Duke one of its strongest teams in recent memory.
Why are recruiting analysts and NBA scouts alike so high on Bagley?
His combination of athleticism, shooting range and size figures to make him a formidable offensive threat, presenting serious matchup problems for opposing teams attempting to guard him. He is strong and tough enough around the basket to finish and has the agility and moves to create off the dribble from anywhere on the court.
But Bagley can also shoot from outside the paint and could develop into a legitimate 3-point threat. The Phoenix native is an elite rebounder as well, pulling in nearly 50 percent more rebounds than any other player in 20 games in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
His defense leaves a little to be desired, but his offense could make Duke more balanced than it has been in recent years. Sharing time with second-year center Marques Bolden and elite forward recruit Wendell Carter Jr. down low, Bagley will likely provide more scoring than the Blue Devils got from Jefferson.
Paired with Trevon Duval—the best point guard in this year's recruiting class—No. 7 overall recruit Gary Trent Jr. and senior Grayson Allen, Bagley could force defenses to collapse on him inside, leaving better opportunities for guards on the 3-point line.
In recent years in Krzyzewski’s system, it has generally taken longer for big men to develop, à la Bolden, Chase Jeter and Harry Giles.
But Bagley is thought to be as prepared for the college game as Jahlil Okafor, Duke’s No. 1 threat from the start of the 2014-15 season, and has been compared to Kentucky's Anthony Davis, who led the Wildcats to the 2012 national championship before starting an All-Star career with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Certainly, with seven freshmen on the roster for just the second time this millennium and Bagley’s late reclassification, it will take some time for the team to develop as a group. Last season, when coupled with injuries and tripping scandals, those growing pains proved to be a major obstacle in the early going.
But with four five-star recruits and two four-stars, this team is arguably even more talented than last year’s squad that won the ACC championship, and if it undergoes a bout of freshman-itis early on, the seasoned Allen will be there to provide a veteran presence.
If Bagley hones his defense, lives up to his offensive promise and helps facilitate a cohesive roster, Duke could be in for a special season.