DURHAM — On a Duke team with most of the scoring from new players, it looks like two upperclassmen will provide the glue.
As the nonconference games wind down, the contributions of junior point guard Quinn Cook can’t be ignored. And graduate student Andre Dawkins appears to be in the best position to contribute at the other backcourt spot. They have been and will be vital to the success of the No. 8 Blue Devils (8-2), who will face another test at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York against UCLA (9-1).
Entering the season, coach Mike Krzyzewski said the need for a traditional point guard would be reduced, since Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, both forwards, have the ability and would be encouraged to bring the ball up the court. So it wasn’t immediately clear what Cook’s role would look like, just that he would be an integral part.
Through 10 games, Cook is averaging a team-high 35.1 minutes per game and also leads the Blue Devils with 6.6 assists. His 14.7 points per game rank third, behind Hood and Parker, and his 2.9 rebounds per game trail Parker, Hood and Amile Jefferson. All of Cook’s averages are up from last season.
When asked what was the biggest difference from last season’s Cook, Krzyzewski said maturity.
“Last year he’s playing with three veterans. This year he is the veteran,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of like the torch has been passed. Maturity, leadership, it’s his team. He’s running his team. He’s done a very good job of that.”
During the first half of Duke’s win against Gardner-Webb, when the offense was as effective as it has been all season for long stretches (the Blue Devils averaged 2.09 points per possession through 15 minutes and 1.77 for the half), Cook recorded nine assists and made all four of his field-goalattempts for 11 points. He was directly involved in 65 percent of Duke’s 20 first-half field goals.
Cook has been a model of consistency of late – he has started a team-best 44 consecutive games, had made 23 consecutive free throws until a second-half miss, scored in double figures in the past seven games and has dished out six assists in six of Duke’s 10 games. He will draw a tough defensive assignment Thursday, guarding 6-foot-9 UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson (Cook stands 6-2 and weighs 50 pounds less than Anderson).
Dawkins has not been as consistent – he did not play against Kansas and played just 12 minutes total in the two-game trip to New York against Alabama and Arizona – but part of that can be attributed to his long layoff from basketball. He didn’t play last season, and Krzyzewski said he had back issues at the beginning of the season. Over the past two games, though, he is 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) from the field, including a 6-for-10 mark from beyond the 3-point arc. He posted season-highs in minutes (22) and points (18) Monday against Gardner-Webb.
“Andre played like he’s been practicing,” Krzyzewski said, noting that, as a graduate student, he didn’t have final exams last week like the rest of the team. “So he’s basically had over a week where he’s done and so he was able to come in extra. He and (associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski) would come in every night or late in the afternoon after our morning workouts and put in extra time, and it’s paid off.”
With Parker and Hood commanding much of the defensive attention, and Cook being an offensive factor, too, it’s easy to envision plenty of quick passes to Dawkins, waiting behind the arc, for a catch-and-shoot 3. For the season, he is shooting .532, and he is making 48.6 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“He’s an amazing weapon,” Hood said of Dawkins. “He’s a knock-down shooter, but, also, he’s a veteran guy. He’s been through this type of season, and we need him to be on the court, us from his veteran leadership.”
That quality, veteran leadership, can be supplied by Dawkins and Cook. Parker and Hood can take care of the scoring. The three-man rotation of Josh Hairston, Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee can fill in the post. And Duke will win plenty of games.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley