Scrimmage shows Duke Blue Devils basketball team still taking shape

Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) tries to get between Chase Jeter (2), Sean Obi (34) and Matt Jones (13) during Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.
Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) tries to get between Chase Jeter (2), Sean Obi (34) and Matt Jones (13) during Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Mike Krzyzewski has always said that he prefers not to think of the annual turnover and remaking of Duke teams as a challenge but instead as opportunities.

And with the season one month away, there are still plenty of opportunities on the table for the Blue Devils.

This young Duke team was always expected to be a work in progress, one that won’t be done by the Nov. 13 season opener. And that’s perfectly normal for a team that lost its top four scorers from the previous year. A starting five and contributing roles are still to be defined, facts that were made perfectly clear over the course of two 12-minute scrimmages.

The defense is admittedly ahead of the offense 12 practices in, Krzyzewski said, and the evenly split teams made it difficult to read too much into trends. With those caveats, a few questions still came to mind:

Who is the offensive alpha male?

Every team needs a bell cow, a reliable playmaker who will take tough shots and get crucial points when the game is on the line. Several players took turns for brief stretches as the dominant scorer Saturday night.

Brandon Ingram scored five points in the final 4-minute period of the first scrimmage and flashed some of the full-court potential that has him projected as a top-10 NBA Draft pick next spring. The lean 6-foot-9 wing shook Luke Kennard on a nifty move to the basket, and then he blocked Grayson Allen’s shot at the other end of the floor. He finished with a team-high nine points as the Blue team (Derryck Thornton, Matt Jones, Ingram, Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic/Sean Obi) lost to the White team (Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee and Obi/Justin Robinson) 21-17.

Kennard led the white team with nine points – seven of which came in the final four-minute segment, too. In the second scrimmage (which was played with different teams), it was Allen who ran off six points in the middle four-minute segment as his White team won 22-18. He led all scorers with 10 points in the final scrimmage.

“We have good scoring potential here,” Krzyzewski said. “Grayson, Luke and Brandon are big-time scorers.”

What does the rotation look like at point guard?

Thornton is the only natural point on the roster, but he’s not going to play 40 minutes a game. In the first scrimmage, with Allen and Kennard on the same team, it was Kennard who primarily handled that job. In the second scrimmage with Kennard and Thornton on the same team, it was Allen who did the ball handling for his squad. Of course, Ingram will have the freedom to bring the ball up the floor as well.

Thornton, who bypassed his senior year of high school to enroll at Duke this fall, is still adjusting to the physicality of college defenses, Krzyzewski said.

“With Derryck, he’s very quick, he’s very smart, but it’s a different level,” Jones said. “Not being able to be here this summer (while he finished high school), it kind of shows at times. But he’s willing to work every day.”

Will Plumlee and Jefferson each average around 35 minutes a game?

The two senior big men are, well, men, compared to their younger counterparts. Jefferson looks noticeably more muscular, and both played strong in each scrimmage.

“They were men,” Krzyzewski said. “You could tell who has played before.”

Jeter is still a work in progress, like most freshmen. And, like most teams composed of mainly freshmen, Duke is still a work in progress, too. The talent is there, and the ceiling is high. And answers to some of the most pressing questions will sort themselves out in due time.

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