With less than three weeks now until Duke men's basketball’s season opener against Kentucky, the Blue Devils continue to tease what’s to come, posting more than six minutes of footage from Tuesday’s team scrimmage to social media. After reviewing the film, here are three key takeaways from the team’s most recent scrimmage.
Wendell doing more
A common thread in any offseason storyline for the Blue Devils seems to be the development of junior captain Wendell Moore Jr., who looks primed for a big season after a disappointing sophomore campaign. If the tape from Tuesday’s practice is any indication, the stories are real: Moore looks like a changed player, ready to shoulder more of a burden both offensively and defensively in his third season.
Moore began Tuesday’s scrimmage in a blue jersey alongside freshmen Jaylen Blakes and Paolo Banchero, and the way he interacted with both was particularly notable. Even next to a true point guard in Blakes, Moore was the clear initiator of the offense as he showed a rapport with Banchero on that end. As teams changed and the starting five eventually saw the court together, Moore still looked like a true offensive centerpiece next to the presumptive starting backcourt of Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels. Stellar ball-handling, decisive shooting and heads-up defense all seem to tell the same story—Moore is ready to do more for the Blue Devils, and that should be nothing short of reassuring to Duke fans everywhere.
With Banchero, sophomore center Mark Williams and Marquette transfer Theo John all in the fold, the Blue Devils have the potential to pack a serious punch in the paint this season. That much was clear Tuesday, as Williams looked like a defensive stalwart, Banchero seemed every bit the offensive force he is expected to be and John held his own down low against Williams.
That alone should be enough to make the Blue Devils a dangerous group, but the most enticing part about that trio is what it might be able to accomplish surrounded by Duke’s deep roster of perimeter shooters. Blakes and Moore stood out from beyond the arc Tuesday, but there are plenty of other guys—namely Joey Baker, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin—who can also open things up for paint scoring.
Defense shaping up
On the surface, it’s easy to look at Tuesday’s film and feel like Banchero and Moore are the only two players heavily involved. The ball moves primarily through one or both of them on most half-court possessions and the rest of the starting lineup—Roach, Keels and Williams—blends into the background a little too well.
Look a little deeper, however, and you will find that each player already has the beginnings of a role within this latest Duke team. Roach, Keels and Williams stand out on the defensive end, and while they may not yet share the same offensive load as Banchero or Moore, the team’s ceiling is considerably higher because of their defensive potential.
There is only one ball, and for Duke, that may be a double-edged sword. Every starter, while offensively gifted in their own way, will have to find their role on that side of the ball. On the flip side, opposing teams will only have one ball with which to attack what is shaping up to be a formidable defensive unit. For as dangerous as they are in the half-court, if the Blue Devils reach their potential, it’s their defense that could be their calling card.
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