New offense? No problem. Duke’s players embracing the ‘freedom to do what you do’

Countdown to Craziness Duke Blue Devils begin basketball season with a bang

The 2018-19 Blue Devil basketball team is introduced to the fan base with a dunk filled night and pyrotechnics
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The 2018-19 Blue Devil basketball team is introduced to the fan base with a dunk filled night and pyrotechnics

Possessing three athletic freshmen standing 6-7 or 6-8, Duke is ready to unveil a new offense that allows the freedom to make the plays basketball players love to make with the ball.

Even though No. 4 Duke played three exhibitions in August during a tour of Canada, the Blue Devils were missing three injured players and had yet to fully implement the popular, free-flowing five-out motion offense.

This week, Duke has exhibition games against Virginia Union, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and Ferris State, at 4 p.m. Saturday, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Though freshman forward Cameron Reddish is playing with a fractured rib, he is practicing and is expected to be available for both games. The 6-8 Reddish missed the Canada trip with a groin injury while freshman point guard Tre Jones was out with a hip injury.

Reserve guard Alex O’Connell played three minutes in the first exhibition up north before he was hit inadvertently with an elbow in the face that caused a broken bone.

All three of the players have been back practicing since last month.

The 5-out motion offense stresses positionless basketball, spreading players all over the court away from the basket to open driving lanes and create more open shots.

The players need to be unselfish for it to work and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski likes what he sees so far.

“Overall, they are (unselfish),” Krzyzewski said. “You’d have to teach it if they weren’t. They all like to pass. More than that, they all like to win. They are OK with whoever scores. When we put them all together, they’ll be very good.”

This week appears to be that time.

Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, 71, said he's "in the best health he's been in in about 10 years" and jokes about all of the replacement body parts he's had replaced.

Jones and Reddish didn’t suit up in Canada, when Duke easily won three games against Canadian university teams.

They are projected starters along with hulking 6-7, 285-pound forward Zion Williamson and smooth 6-7, 202-pound forward R.J. Barrett

They are taking to the new offense well.

“It’s just great,” Barrett said. “You get to play. Not worried about a lot of plays, a lot of system stuff. Coach K gives you the freedom to do what you do.”

While also calling it a “great offense,” Williamson likes how it involves everyone rather than setting things up for one or two players to do all the scoring.

“It opens up the floor for everybody,” Williamson said. “Cam, R.J., Tre and whoever is out there knocking down 3s opens up driving lanes for me. When they are driving it opens up the 3-pointer for me. I feel like you can’t really sit in a zone with us. I feel like we move the ball so much we just create for each other just like the Warriors and the Celtics.”

Barrett, Reddish and Williamson all look like one-and-done players who will be in the NBA at this time next season. Williamson sees this offense as a way to be better prepared for that next step.

“When you go to the NBA, hopefully when I get that chance, you aren’t always going to be the man on your team,” Williamson said. “You are going to have to learn to play with other guys. You have to play a role. Being here, it’s like a little bit of practice. If R.J. is having a good game, get the ball to him. If Cam is having a good game, get the ball to him. If I’m having a good game, the ball will be in my hands. It’s about what I can do to help my team win in different ways so I can be more effective with NBA teams.”

Junior big men Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier have played two seasons in the conventional motion offense at Duke. This new system calls for them to be further away from the basket, which Bolden said has improved his off the ball movement because there is less structure.

“It’s fun not coming down and setting up a play every time,” Bolden said. “You get the rebound and running in motion. It’s fun.”

When he is on the court, the 6-11, 250-pound Bolden lines up closer to the basket than most other Duke players. He and 7-foot, 269-pound senior Antonio Vrankovic are Duke’s true post players.

The 6-10, 234-pound DeLaurier has become as comfortable on the perimeter as he would be inside. He spent the offseason working to improve his perimeter shooting.

“Day after day after day after day after day,” DeLaurier said. “That was one of the glaring weaknesses in my game, so I was pretty upset last year when teams would effectively just not guard me [on the perimeter]. So that was something I took personally, and I spent a lot of time in the gym working on my shot.”

In the 5-out motion, he’ll have plenty of 3-point opportunities. Mechanical adjustments have made his shot more consistent and the other Blue Devils have noticed.

“My teammates have done a great job of giving me the confidence to shoot the ball,” DeLaurier said. “If I’m open, they pass it to me and expect me to shoot and they think I’m going to make it. You know, that’s a huge boost for someone. When everyone else thinks you are going to make it, you think you are going to make it, too.”

Duke opens the regular season Nov. 6 against No. 2 Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Indianapolis.

This week’s two exhibition games represent important preparation for that season-opening clash.

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