With Duke’s season officially in the books, the Blue Zone breaks down each player's season, including comparisons to their preseason projections. We previously looked at Jaylen Blakes and Bates Jones. Next up is Joey Baker:
- Year: Senior
- Height: 6-foot-6
- Position: Forward
- This year’s stat line: 4.5 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 40.5% 3PT, 11.9 MPG
- The Blue Zone’s projected stat line: 3.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 15.0 MPG
Season breakdown: Baker came into this season as the lone Blue Devil to have seen the floor in an NCAA tournament game, and his senior leadership earned the team’s vote as captain alongside junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. The Fayetteville, N.C., native looked like he was primed to bounce back from a rough junior year in 2020-21 in which he only shot 31.4% from deep and failed to eclipse three points per outing. His return to form shooting the three was shown off early in the season when he scored 11 and 12 points against Campbell and Gardner-Webb, respectively. His season-high of 32 minutes against Campbell gave him a great chance to find his stroke as Duke used him as a small-ball four. He banked in a straight-on three against Gonzaga and hit his season-high of 13 points in December against South Carolina State, but his conference season was nothing like his first half.
After starting 15-for-33 from deep in his first 10 games, the perimeter shooter just barely doubled his made threes total over the next 24 games in which he would see the floor. The conference season has its own unique demands based on better talent and challenging matchups, but the 21-year-old was easily beaten off the dribble defensively and couldn’t replicate his shooting touch in the throes of ACC play. His minutes dwindled toward the back end of the season as his contributions were overtaken by those of freshman forward AJ Griffin, who owned the perimeter and developed into a stronger slasher than Baker. He didn’t play in Duke’s home loss to North Carolina and saw the floor for no more than five minutes in each of the Blue Devils’ ACC tournament games plus the opening-round win against Cal State Fullerton, after which he didn't see action for the rest of Duke’s Final Four run.
Results relative to expectations: While Baker brought his season 3-point percentage up 9.1 percentage points from the previous year, his senior year was underwhelming. It looked as if Baker could have played a bigger role as a perimeter shooter from the jump, but the sheer talent head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in for his final season all but drowned out the forward’s place on the floor. He was by no means a bad player when he was on the floor, but he never changed the course of a game—with the exception of a late first-half run at home against Florida State—and left much to be desired defensively.
The most surprising discrepancy from our preseason outlook has to be his playing time. He notched an average of more than 11 minutes per game, but the Blue Devils' rotation just shrunk as the season went on, leaving no room for the senior Baker. It is not yet known whether he will leave Durham this offseason, but the former four-star recruit has one more year of eligibility remaining that would seem hard to pass up to again be a “super senior” leader for head coach Jon Scheyer’s first Blue Devil team.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.