Duke

Scouting the 2014-15 Duke Blue Devils

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor goes up over Central Missouri’s Sean O’Brien to score two of his 15 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Blue Devils beat the Mules 87-47 in the exhibition.
Duke’s Jahlil Okafor goes up over Central Missouri’s Sean O’Brien to score two of his 15 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Blue Devils beat the Mules 87-47 in the exhibition. cliddy@newsobserver.com

33 Points returning per game

It’s a whole new team, as the main focal points of last season’s group, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, are off to the NBA. In fact, Duke’s two top returning scorers – Quinn Cook (11.6 points per game) and Rasheed Sulaimon (9.9) – likely will begin the season coming off the bench.

Go-to guy: Jahlil Okafor. Over the summer, assistant coach Jeff Capel told Okafor he has a chance to be one of the great ones – a compliment Capel has only ever paid one other player of his: Blake Griffin.

“He has a chance to be dominant,” Capel said. “We’re going to need him to be dominant. And we’re going to push him to be dominant.”

Listening to teammates and coaches, there’s not much Okafor can’t do. He has huge hands, according to coach Mike Krzyzewski, giving him great touch around the rim. He also sees the game well, allowing him to pass out of double teams. Okafor can also hit jumpers from the elbow. On defense, the hope is that he can be a rim-protector with shot-blocking ability.

Impact rookie: Other than Okafor, there’s Justise Winslow. Krzyzewski said the closest comparable Duke player to Winslow is Corey Maggette, who spent one year at Duke before being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft. “We haven’t had a guy like him for a long time,” Krzyzewski said.

Versatility is the buzzword associated with the 6-foot-6, 225 pound freshman, who can play as a guard, wing or second big – and guard all those positions, too. Winslow can handle the ball, post up and, thanks to his strength, should get to the line consistently. But his greatest contributions will probably come defensively, where his length and, again, strength, should disrupt opponents.

Best case: Duke ends the ACC’s Final Four and Championship drought by bringing a fifth banner to Cameron. Okafor fulfills all the promise he has flashed in the preseason, becoming Duke’s first national player of the year since J.J. Redick in 2006. And last year’s defensive issues are just a bad memory.

Worst case: Like last year, the group just doesn’t jell. The youth on defense is a problem again, and the Blue Devils can’t get a stop late in games when they need them most. The youth also results in as many road losses as last season, too (five). The season ends with another surprisingly early exit from the NCAA tournament, and the speculation that Krzyzewski can’t win with the one-and-done model returns louder than ever.

X-factor: Remember when Sulaimon came to Duke as a freshmen and there was talk that he could wind up leaving early for the NBA? Obviously, his career has not played out along the best-case scenario route. And he has turned in frustrating performances this preseason, too.

“He is our best on-ball defender,” Krzyzewski said of Sulaimon. “At 6-foot-4, he’s an outstanding athlete, that’s what he does the best. So concentrate on that as your staple, as your foundation, and the other things will come.”

If Sulaimon does that and can re-discover his mojo, Duke will be better for it.

Where to attack: Until proven otherwise, make Duke’s guards stop cutters into the lane. That was a season-long problem last year. Obviously, Okafor will help defend the rim, but he is a freshman who will have to play defense at a higher level than he ever has. What if drivers get past Duke’s guards and into the lane and then kick the ball back out to open shooters? It could be problematic.

7.4 Magic number. That’s the Duke season record for average assists per game, set in 1991 by Bobby Hurley. Tyus Jones is a pass-first point guard who could threaten that mark if Duke has a dream-type season.

Schedule

Nov. 14 Presbyterian 6 p.m.
Nov. 15 Fairfield 8 p.m.
Nov. 18 Michigan State 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 Temple 9:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 Stanford/UNLV TBA
Nov. 26 Furman 5 p.m.
Nov. 30 Army 12 p.m.
Dec. 3 at Wisconsin 9:30 p.m.
Dec. 15 Elon 7 p.m.
Dec. 18 Connecticut 8 p.m.
Dec. 29 Toledo 7 p.m.
Dec. 31 Wofford 3 p.m.
Jan. 3 Boston College 4 p.m.
Jan. 7 at Wake Forest 9 p.m.
Jan. 11 at N.C. State TBA
Jan. 13 Miami 9 p.m.
Jan. 17 at Louisville 12 p.m.
Jan. 19 Pitt 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 at St. John’s 2 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 31 at Virginia TBA
Feb. 4 Georgia Tech 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 Notre Dame 1 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Florida State 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Syracuse 6 p.m.
Feb. 18 North Carolina 9 p.m.
Feb. 21 Clemson 4 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Virginia Tech 9 p.m.
Feb. 28 Syracuse TBA
March 4 Wake Forest 8 p.m.
March 7 at North Carolina TBA
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