DURHAM — Duke is undefeated, 15-0, and ranked No. 1 in the country. But because of Ryan Kelly’s injury, the offense is undergoing a major overhaul.
Replacing Kelly isn’t as simple as inserting another player into his spot, as the Blue Devils don’t have another option with his combination of size and 3-point shooting ability.
When Duke tips off at No. 20 N.C. State at noon Saturday, it will be Quinn Cook who attempts to fill most of the offensive void.
“Coach calls plays to the personnel,” Cook said. “And he can adjust quickly.”
Last year, when Kelly was sidelined with an injury to the same foot that’s currently bothering him, the Blue Devils lost two of three games, including their first (and only) NCAA tournament game against Lehigh. Duke has reason to believe this year’s Kelly replacement plan will yield better results, and that’s largely due to Cook.
Starting with Duke’s game against Kentucky, the second game of the year, Cook took control of the offense as the undisputed point guard. He’s a point guard in the truest sense of the word, as he has the vision (and willingness) to set his teammates up with open shots.
In Duke’s ACC opener against Wake Forest, Cook posted a career-high 14 assists. It was only the third time this century that a Duke guard tallied that many in a single game.
“Having a true point guard, he’s already been setting people up and getting them easier shots,” Mason Plumlee said. “Having him there is a big plus.”
Against Clemson, Cook tallied a more modest five assists but recorded a career-high 27 points. Many of his buckets came in the paint and resulted from driving the lane and forcing the defense to come at him.
Duke will need more of that against the Wolfpack, and there’s a plan in place to make it happen.
Plumlee said the Blue Devils have practiced more high ball screens, with him coming up from the post to the perimeter since Kelly was hurt. If the defenders don’t pick up Cook off of the pick-and-roll, then he’ll just drive the lane. If they do, ideally Plumlee’s screen will leave Cook with at least one open teammate to hit with a pass.
“We’ve stayed away from ball screen stuff more this year than we have in the past,” Plumlee said. “With Quinn, that could be something that could be really good.”
Defensively, the plan is to use a committee to replace Kelly, with Josh Hairston drawing the start and matchup against C.J. Leslie, the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
After shedding some weight, a more agile Hairston is ready to embrace his opportunity.
“One thing I’m going to bring is my intensity on the defensive end and rebounding,” Hairston said.
“I’ve been working the last few days on my offensive game so I can help contribute, not be a straight scorer because we have plenty of other guys on our team that do that.”
And for Duke to win, Cook will need to facilitate that.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley