The Blue Devils' offseason has already been busy, with point guard Derryck Thornton transferring from Duke after one year and Durham buzzing about whether the Blue Devils will add Marques Bolden for next year. The Chronicle's men's basketball beat writers take a look at these storylines and Duke's outlook for the upcoming season.
Five-star center Marques Bolden is still deciding between Duke and Kentucky, with an announcement possibly coming within the next few days. If he chooses to come to Durham, what do you expect his role to be for the Blue Devils next season?
Ryan Hoerger: If the Blue Devils are fortunate enough to land Bolden, it's no secret that they'll have quite the intimidating frontcourt next season, a complete turnaround from the roster that finished the 2015-16 campaign in Anaheim, Calif. Bolden has size and knows how to use it with his back to the basket, with a fluid series of post moves in his arsenal. With top-ranked freshman Harry Giles and veteran Amile Jefferson also on the block, Duke would have the opportunity to play two of those three at once, rather than be forced to go small with essentially four perimeter players like we saw after Jefferson's injury last season. I think the coaching staff may well ease Giles back into things as he continues to recover from his ACL tear, which would give Bolden an early opportunity to prove himself and carve out a niche, if he decides to commit to Duke. We heaped similar praise on big man Chase Jeter as he prepared for his freshman year, so it's no guarantee that a top-three center prospect is a lock to make an immediate impact, but Bolden does look to be a fairly polished product as we await his decision.
Brian Pollack: As Ryan mentioned, If Bolden decides to don Duke blue, he'll join a very crowded Blue Devil frontcourt next season alongside Jefferson, Giles, Jeter and swingman Jayson Tatum. Bolden is the No. 20 recruit in the country and at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, he certainly has a size advantage in the paint against his potential teammates. However, Bolden's all-around game is not as developed as his more highly-touted classmates Giles and Tatum, and I think Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is going to want to phase him in behind the veteran presence of Jefferson down low at the beginning of the year. Bolden will get his minutes and could find a bigger role as the Blue Devils' go-to back-to-the basket threat, but I don't expect him to be a superstar in year one.
Jack Dolgin: Just as was the case for Brandon Ingram this year, Bolden would have to prove himself, especially with the likely return of Jefferson and the addition of Giles in the frontcourt. I think he would ultimately earn a starting role, potentially leaving Jefferson on the bench to start games.
Meredith Cash: Bolden should have the skill set and the size to make a significant impact right off the bat for the Blue Devils should he choose to come to Durham in the fall. With the departure of Marshall Plumlee, Duke does not have a solid low-post option at center, so Bolden would likely fill that void.
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Sameer Pandhare: With Bolden's size and skill in the post, he will serve as a de facto center on a team with a lot of forwards. Although he doesn't bring much to the defensive end, the five-star recruit would definitely be valued as a rebounder in the post and is certainly an upgrade on Jeter from a physicality standpoint. Bolden probably would not receive as many minutes at Duke as he would at Kentucky, which is something that may be holding up his decision.
Derryck Thornton announced he was transferring from Duke a couple weeks ago—how much will his departure hurt next year's team?
RH: It's unfortunate for Thornton that things didn't work out for him in Durham after he chose to forego his senior year of high school to commit to the Blue Devils, but I don't see his departure having too much of a negative effect on Duke's 2016-17 season. That's nothing against Thornton—who had flashes of brilliance as a freshman and was a solid defender in the point-guard heavy ACC—but more a reflection of the strength of the incoming freshman class, Bolden or no Bolden. Duke's season changed dramatically once Jefferson went down, and a lack of both depth and frontcourt scoring put limits on how far the Blue Devils could go.
Both those areas are now addressed—Giles and Jefferson (and potentially Bolden) are scoring threats on the block, and the return of Grayson Allen means Duke brings back three starters with Matt Jones and Luke Kennard, plus the additions of Tatum and combo guard Frank Jackson. Krzyzewski historically doesn't go too deep with his bench, and many expect Jackson to make an immediate impact, one possible reason for Thornton's departure. But one note of caution for a Duke team many expect to be national title contenders is that most of the recent NCAA champions played two point guards at the same time—Louisville had Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Connecticut had Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, Duke had Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook and Villanova had Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson. With Thornton out of the picture, Jackson is the closest thing the Blue Devils have to a true point guard, meaning Jones, Allen and Kennard will have to serve as secondary ball-handlers at times.
BP: For the first time in a few years, the Blue Devils have some depth—barring injuries, of course—and should be able to withstand the loss of Thornton in the backcourt. Allen and Matt Jones return as well-established players, Luke Kennard is still available as a dynamic scoring weapon off the bench and Jackson will look to slide into Thornton's spot at the point. There are still questions as to whether Jackson is better off as a traditional floor general or playing off the ball, but even if it's the latter, Krzyzewski showed this year that he is just fine with Allen or Jones initiating the offense. Thornton's absence may be felt most on the defensive end of the floor—where he was Duke's top on-ball defender last season—but overall, the Blue Devils should be able to move forward without any major speed bumps.
JD: It would be easy to diminish the importance of Thornton's departure due to the strong backcourt Ryan and Brian described and his lack of production down the stretch of his freshman campaign. But Thornton played through fatigue and injuries throughout the year and has a lot of potential. I see the consequences for next year's team as insignificant, but Duke could miss him dearly two or three years down the road, especially if Jackson bolts for the NBA after one season.
MC: Thornton's youth definitely showed throughout his only year in Durham, but there is no doubt that the young freshman had a lot of raw skill and even more room for growth. Though the Blue Devils will feel his loss, they will return Jones, Allen and Kennard and add Jackson to bolster an already crowded backcourt. Thornton would have been the only true point guard returning, but Duke should have plenty of ball handlers that will be very capable floor generals.
SP: His departure will not hurt much at all. Thornton filled a void at the point guard position this season, but didn't always appear in sync with his teammates and struggled to adjust to the college game. Heading into next season, Thornton was likely going to have to battle Allen, Kennard and Jackson for playing time, and all seem to have a more defined skill set than him. From an emotional or leadership standpoint, the Blue Devils really aren't losing much, since Thornton was slow catching up to his teammates after spending last summer finishing schoolwork to graduate high school early. Of course, we could all end up clamoring for Thornton to come back if an injury hits the Duke backcourt early in the season.
What's your projected starting five for next year if Harry Giles is fully recovered from his torn ACL? Who will have a bigger role if Giles has to miss time early on?
RH: With Giles healthy, I think Duke's starting lineup to start the season will consist of Allen, Jones, Tatum, Giles and Jefferson. Thornton finished the season on the bench—a sign Krzyzewski is comfortable with Allen or Jones running things up top—and Kennard provides an excellent scoring threat when subbed in as the sixth man. I think Jackson is skilled enough to start right away, but will be worked into the starting five over time. If the coaching staff eases Giles back into game action, I think Jackson fills in and shifts Tatum to the power forward slot similar to Justise Winslow or Ingram in the last two years, but more will fall on the shoulders of Jeter to make plays down low.
BP: Like Ryan, I think it will be Allen, Jones, Tatum, Giles and Jefferson on opening night, assuming Giles is healthy. I could easily see Jackson impressing in preseason camp and forcing Jones to the bench, but in the end, I think Krzyzewski will defer to his senior captain and choose to wait until Jackson hits his stride to potentially insert him into the starting lineup mid-season. With Giles limited by injuries, I think Duke shifts Tatum to the four and goes with a three-guard lineup like it did for much of this season, with Jackson joining Allen and Jones in the starting backcourt. Bolden—if he commits—will have to really step up in this scenario to give the Blue Devils another big body down low, and I think he's the one who would see the biggest minutes bump if Giles is hampered for any extended period of time.
JD: Again, this depends on Bolden’s decision and what point in the season we’re talking about. With Giles healthy and Bolden at Duke, both would start by the middle of the year, with Jackson, Allen and Tatum also starting. At the beginning, expect Jefferson to earn a starting spot over Bolden. Without Giles or Bolden, Jefferson, Jackson, Allen, Tatum and Jeter would start to open the season.
MC: I'm with Ryan and Brian on the lineup if Giles is healthy—it will be Jones, Allen, Tatum, Giles and Jefferson. If Giles has to miss time early on, Jeter will have to take on a larger role in the same way he did toward the end of this past season when the starting frontcourt got into foul trouble. Sean Obi could also contribute to the Blue Devil effort in the paint, though he has yet to be battle tested in the same way Jeter has. If Bolden chooses to play at Duke, he would certainly contend for a starting spot regardless of Giles' condition, but especially if he's still recovering.
SP: If Harry Giles is fully recovered and absolutely ready to go—not that I expect him to be—he would certainly get a starting nod alongside Jefferson, Allen, Tatum and Jackson. Although Krzyzewski has a tendency to start his veterans, there is simply no case that Jones should start in front of Tatum, given what we've seen from the high school senior and the struggles Jones had this year. The top two recruits in the country also generally don't come off the bench. If Giles starts the season with his minutes limited, Jones will play a bigger role and possibly slide into the starting lineup.