Coach K says Tre Jones ranks with Duke’s all-time defensive greats
Duke’s basketball roster isn’t quite set for next season, withJavin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden still in the NBA draft process.
Those two players aside, though, the Blue Devils have rebuilt on the fly, as they have grown accustomed to doing every spring.
Last season’s freshman stars Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish left for the NBA, as expected, after leading Duke to a 32-6 record, an ACC championship and an unsatisfying NCAA tournament run a win short of the Final Four.
Point guard Tre Jones decided to stay at Duke for his upcoming sophomore season, giving the Blue Devils an experienced floor leader to build their new roster around.
DeLaurier and Bolden, veteran forwards who split time in the starting lineup last season, could join them. Or one or both of them could come back. They have until May 29 to decide.
The now-typical top-rated recruiting class gives Duke enough incoming talent that its usual goals of winning the ACC, reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship remain realistic.
But plenty of questions need to be answered between now and the season-opening Champions Classic game with Kansas at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5.
Here’s a look at Duke’s scholarship players by class at this point:
Jack White, 6-7, forward
Justin Robinson, 6-10, forward
x-Javin DeLaurier, 6-10, forward
x-Marques Bolden, 6-11, center
Jordan Goldwire, 6-2, guard
Alex O’Connell, 6-5, guard
Tre Jones, 6-2, point guard
Joey Baker, 6-7, guard
Matthew Hurt, 6-9, forward
Wendell Moore, 6-5, guard
Vernon Carey, 6-11, center
Cassius Stanley, 6-5, shooting guard
x-has until May 29 to withdraw from NBA draft process
Projected starters...and why
Everything starts with Jones at point guard. His presence gives Duke a chance to be a top-10 team in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings for a second consecutive season.
Duke has options to surround him in the backcourt. Sophomore Joey Baker and freshmen Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley are all capable of scoring from behind the 3-point line and driving to the basket. Junior Alex O’Connell is a proven shooter but his defense isn’t always sound.
Freshman Matthew Hurt is a classic Duke stretch-4 forward, a guy who can hit 3-pointers but also can do damage in the paint off passes or offensive rebounds. He figures to be one of Duke’s top scorers.
Odds are that either Bolden or DeLaurier will return but not both. For projection purposes, let’s say DeLaurier is back for his senior year while Bolden turns professional.
DeLaurier and Carey will be Duke’s primary post players in this scenario. Carey figures to get the bulk of the minutes. DeLaurier will be a factor similar to last season when he provided depth with solid rebounding, defense and the occasional basket.
So, with five months until the first exhibition games, the starting five projects to be Jones, Baker, Moore, Hurt, Carey.
Duke’s bench figures to be a strength
Yes, yes, coach Mike Krzyzewski always whittles his rotation down to his trusted seven or eight players by the time the NCAA tournament arrives. But it won’t be an easy task on this team.
Senior Jack White was a strong player early last season before his 3-point shooting percentage cratered. His defense and rebounding were always solid and if he finds his stroke again, he’ll be hard to keep out of the rotation.
Stanley figures to get his share of starting assignments. But even coming off the bench he’ll provide scoring punch.
Last season, Krzyzewski grew to love defensive sets that included Goldwire and Jones hounding opposing ball-handlers into turnovers. That epic comeback win at Louisville, fueled by that duo’s defense, won’t be forgotten. That means Goldwire will have a role.
Will Duke be a strong defensively?
Jones’ presence means there’s a good chance. But Zion Williamson and Bolden were strong rim projectors on the back end. Without them, Carey will have to prove just as capable. He’s got the build but no one will know if he’s capable of grasping the mental part of defense -- the communication -- until he does it.
Moore, Baker and Stanley should be able to use their athleticism to get into the passing lanes for steals just as Cam Reddish did last season. Jones’ ability to pester opponents into questionable passing decisions gives those three players opportunities for live-ball steals.