Throughout the recruiting process, Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor were seen as the big fish Duke was trying to reel in for the 2014-15 season. And that was true.
But the latecomer to the package deal, Justise Winslow, might prove equally as important.
It’s hard to find a valid comparison for the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Winslow, just because he can do so many different things for Duke, which opens its season at 6 p.m. Friday against Presbyterian. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has pointed to Corey Maggette, a one-and-done Duke player who was drafted 13th overall in 1999. Quinn Cook pointed to former middle school and high school teammate Victor Oladipo, the 2nd pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Winslow is the favorite to be Duke’s best defender – a piece that last year’s team sorely missed.
“He uses his length when he wants to,” Cook said. “It makes it hard for guys to catch the ball on the wing. He’s a good on-ball defender.”
While some freshmen show up on campus and immediately figure out they need to get stronger, that’s not an issue for Winslow, who is physically gifted beyond his years. And that strength could be the key to his offensive game, too.
Through Duke’s two exhibition games, Winslow leads Duke in scoring (averaging 18 points) and has attempted 11 free throws, second only to center Jahlil Okafor’s 14. With his ability to play on the wing or as a second big, Winslow’s offensive versatility is infinite – as Krzyzewski said at media day, “It ends up that you’re doing a bunch around him.”
“He has been attacking the rim unbelievably lately, getting to the free throw line,” Amile Jefferson said. “He has been running in transition, he has been rebounding, so, for us, he has been doing a little bit of everything. That’s really good for our unit because it gives us a different feel and a guy that’s really impossible to guard.
“We post him, we run him off of double screens where he is shooting 3s, he drives, he brings the ball up sometimes,” Jefferson added. “And on defense, he’s just contesting. It’s unbelievable.”
It’s hard to predict who will score the most points for Duke – if teams opt to guard Okafor one-on-one, his numbers will be eye-popping. But if he faces a steady diet of double teams, Winslow could be the primary beneficiary.
Winslow’s ability to impact the defensive end, though, is dependent on no one else. And if he can be the lockdown defender Duke has been missing, then he will be as vital as anyone else on the floor.