Duke

Jahlil Okafor's passing allows Duke to run triple option

There’s no secret about how Duke plans on running its offense when an opponent double-teams Jahlil Okafor in the post.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski broke down the triple-option play out of it Thursday night.

“The dive by Amile (Jefferson), being ready for the 3 by our perimeter, and the shot fake and drive, those are going to be staples of us trying to take advantage of double teams,” he said after Duke’s 66-56 win against Connecticut.

First, the dive. No, Jefferson isn’t a fullback, but the idea is similar in that he is down near the basket and is an easy first option for Okafor, just a short pass away.

If Okafor draws a double-team – and the Huskies consistently double-teamed him in the post – it’s most likely Jefferson’s man that comes to help. That leaves Jefferson open for scoring and offensive rebounding purposes.

“If he shot-faked before he shot, he would have probably had 20 points,” Krzyzewski said of Jefferson, who finished with 13 points. “He’s in a position where he is learning how to play off of a rare talent in Jah.”

Jefferson finished 3-of-8 from the field, with one of those misses turned into a putback. He also went 5-of-7 from the free throw line. On the year, Jefferson is converting 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts, tops among Duke players who average at least 11 minutes.

The next option would be for Okafor to pass the ball back out to the perimeter and then for the receiver to go right up for the shot. The Blue Devils shot well below their season average against the Huskies, hitting just 5-of-19 attempts from deep (26.3 percent). Quinn Cook, who started off the season on a hot streak, shooting 44.2 percent from 3-point range through eight games, has gone 3-for-13 (23 percent) in the games against Elon and UConn this week. As a career 36.7 percent 3-point shooter, his average will probably normalize close to that as the year continues.

It wasn’t just Cook who was cold. Tyus Jones was 2-of-6 from behind the arc and put up consecutive airballs in the second half. That’s an exception to the rule for the freshman who has consistently shined in big moments thus far (66.7 percent from deep against Michigan State and Wisconsin.) Rasheed Sulaimon (38.5 percent career 3-point shooter) also was off, going 0-for-2 from behind the arc, with five turnovers as well.

“It’s a matter of our guys needing to be ready to shoot the ball when (Jah) does hit them,” Krzyzewski said.

Or, if the defender closes fast on the 3-point shooter, there is the third option: a shot fake and drive. Sulaimon, Jones and Cook have all proven that they can get through the lane to the basket. And so can Justise Winslow. The projected top-5 NBA pick who is struggling with his jump shot – ESPN reported prior to the Connecticut game that he was connecting on just 13 percent of his 2-point jump shot attempts – has the physical strength to bully his way into the lane at will.

“He is huge for us offensively and defensively,” Krzyzewski said of Winslow. “The four games before this, he had only eight points and two rebounds a game and was in foul trouble. I thought the second half today, he really came up.”

Winslow did score 10 of his 12 points after halftime, and he had the crucial offensive rebound and lay-in that broke the 30-30 tie early in the second half, beginning a 15-2 Duke run.

Okafor was only credited with two assists – one each half – but that doesn’t account for the handful of nice passes to set up teammates that went for naught. Krzyzewski was quick to point out that Duke could have made many more shots, as the Blue Devils shot just 37.5 percent from the floor, a season low. Passing has been a focus for Okafor – there have been many film sessions looking at opportunities to set up teammates, he said. And, his best friend Tyus Jones is quick to offer tips on proper court vision.

“In the game if he sees something, we’ll let each other know,” Okafor said.

Okafor is already an elite scorer, and his rebounding appears to be improving, too. If he can continue to make strides as a passer, that will make him the ultimate triple threat for Duke. And the perfect quarterback to run the triple option.

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