During the first seven minutes against Virginia Tech, Duke hit seven 3s. They weren’t of the fade-away, shoot over a hand in the face-type variety. They were clean, open looks.
Those shots this past Saturday didn’t appear because the Hokies were playing terrible defense. Rather, it was because Duke’s guards did a great job of seeing high-potential passes. All seven 3s were proceeded by assists.
“The more we play with each other, the more we know where each other is going to be,” sophomore Grayson Allen said.
The No. 9 Blue Devils (14-2, 3-0 ACC) already have the second-most efficient offense in the country, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy (trailing just North Carolina). The idea that it could keep improving must be daunting to opponents. Duke will next attempt to take its offensive show on the road to Clemson (10-6, 3-1) Wednesday night. And with the Tigers’ size advantage, a flurry of 3s would be ideal.
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Allen, Brandon Ingram and Matt Jones all connected in that opening sequence against Virginia Tech. And Derryck Thornton, Luke Kennard, Jones and Allen all had assists. The improved on-court chemistry hasn’t happened by accident, but instead through lots of hours of study.
“All the guards, we watch tape together, and we see we still miss three, four, five kicks a game,” Allen said. “We just keep limiting that and just keep getting better at moving the ball.”
All of Duke’s guards can drive, with Allen and Ingram as particularly effective options. As the defensive collapses into the lane, the Blue Devils have the vision to spot the open man behind the arc. Kennard has improved dramatically in this respect. And that makes sense – as a freshman who was a volume shooter in high school, his court vision was the most raw.
Before Duke’s winter break, Kennard had eight assists in 11 games (averaging 21.6 minutes per game). Since then (and since forward Amile Jefferson broke his foot), Kennard has 11 assists in five games (averaging 26.8 minutes).
“You’re coming from high school ball, where if he drives, he’s going to score,” Allen said of Kennard. “Now he’s transitioning into a game where he drives, he has his head up, he’s reading the help-side defense. You’re not going to see that right away, so that’s coming with his experience and his playing time on the court. He’s learning really fast, and he’s getting a lot better.”
And as Duke’s guards are whipping the ball around, it’s easier for Marshall Plumlee to get free behind the defense, creating open dunks at the basket. The Blue Devils may have never intended to play with four guards and a center, but after a few weeks of practice, that combination has proven advantageous.
Duke won’t always knock down open shots at the rate it did against Virginia Tech. But on those nights when the looks are clean and the Blue Devils are hitting, any opponent can get buried quickly.
“When you start out hitting threes like that boom, boom, boom that can knock you back,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Then they were playing from behind and we tried to speed things up offensively.”
All the size in the world can’t keep up when it’s raining 3s.