Duke's endgame plan to change

Staff writerOctober 28, 2009 

When Duke needed a basket in the closing minutes of a close game last season, there was no secret where the ball was going.

Duke's players knew it. Opponents knew it. Fans knew it.

Gerald Henderson was going to get the ball on the wing with an opportunity to drive off a ball screen. He was athletic enough to get to the rim when he saw even a crack of daylight.

He was a rare college player who can hit a pull-up, mid-range jumper. He won a lot of games for the Blue Devils as they finished 30-7 with an ACC Tournament championship and a berth in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

"We tried to put the ball in his hands as much as possible in tough situations, and he responded," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.  

Now the Blue Devils have to come up with a different plan because Henderson left school after his junior season and was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats. Duke doesn't have a player who's capable of scoring off the dribble as proficiently as Henderson did.

So now Duke will rely on three players rather than one on critical possessions. Senior Jon Scheyer and juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith all will have opportunities to make winning plays late in games, but they will have to do it off the pass rather than the dribble.

"Now I think we can put the ball in the hands of three guys on the perimeter," Krzyzewski said. "We have more guys who are capable of doing that." 

As N.C. State fans familiar with the Herb Sendek regime can attest, relying on a passing game and motion offense in a one-shot situation at the end of the game can be a dicey proposition. The dribble is a surest way to get your best player the best shot at the end of a close game.

There's a reason the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan and the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant have won so many NBA championships. Those teams could count on highly skilled playmakers to create shots on their own in pressure situations.

Duke doesn't have a player in that mold. But Singler is the preseason ACC player of the year. Scheyer is as steady and heady as any guard in the ACC and Smith seems to be improving rapidly.

Even without Henderson on the floor, Duke will have more and better options than most of its opponents as the clock wanes in its tight games. 

 

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