This Duke season is a bit like a family game of Monopoly, though it will probably end up being a good deal shorter in duration.
First comes a crucial roll of the dice, determining where the tokens end up. I like to think of Duke as the boot, new pieces be damned. The freshmen are Chance cards (nobody really knows what they’re getting) and sophomore point guard Tre Jones is a Community Chest card (he’s going to be either good or game-changing). Senior captains Jack White and Javin DeLaurier are naturally the parents needed for some semblance of order.
Juniors Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire are a true mystery, but I’ve narrowed down the options to either free parking or jail. You know exactly what you’re getting into, which can be a source of solace in times of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, while free parking and jail can be vital at the right times, too much time on either space guarantees certain elimination. O’Connell and Goldwire are similarly valuable assets—one as a sharpshooter and one as a tireless defender—but they won’t win the Blue Devils a championship.
For any real shot at a title this year, Duke has to roll the dice with its freshmen, namely, guards Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley.
Ranked No. 22 and No. 32 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings, respectively, Moore and Stanley have the scoring chops to chow down on Jones’ dishes. Their offensive performance in their exhibition debut lacked consistency, but they displayed a defensive intensity nearing that of Jones.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski simply must offer talented freshman big men Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. significant minutes this season. White is 6-foot-7 and DeLaurier is a lean 6-foot-10. The Blue Devils just don't have infinite Community Chest cards. Ultimately, it will be up to Moore, Stanley, Hurt and Carey to determine the fate of Duke's season. All the freshmen need playing time to develop into a squad that could bring an NCAA championship to Durham.
The freshmen are to some extent in similar situations, but the juniors are nearly polar opposites. Goldwire can lock down the best perimeter threats in the country. On the other hand, his offensive skillset has been severely underdeveloped. Of the 44 shots he took last year, 25 were three-pointers. Just three struck nylon. O’Connell shoots the ball beautifully—his 37.5 percent conversion rate from long range last season was the best on the team. That is contrasted by his 1.8 defensive box plus-minus, the worst among Duke players with 20 minutes of total court time. The Blue Devils can’t afford either of those holes in their games.
O’Connell and Goldwire are skilled Division I athletes, but neither of them has the NBA potential of any of this year’s crop of freshmen. The junior pals should feature in situations suited to their specialties. If Krzyzewski needs a stop, he’ll call Goldwire’s name. If the Blue Devils find themselves down three in the waning seconds of a game, O’Connell is the man for the job. Other than that, small to medium doses of each will suffice.
Krzyzewski may be tempted to stick with his veterans throughout the season, but that decision could come back to bite him come March. If Duke finds itself up against a program that has properly developed its assets, it just might find itself declaring bankruptcy.
Do not pass Go, do not collect a sixth national title.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.
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