Duke Now

Duke to search for offensive options against Yale

Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) goes to the floor to grab a loose ball with Kentucky forward Marcus Lee (0) on Nov.
Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) goes to the floor to grab a loose ball with Kentucky forward Marcus Lee (0) on Nov. cliddy@newsobserver.com

After Grayson Allen carried Duke to two wins in New York City, over VCU and Georgetown, Mike Krzyzewski was generous with his compliments, calling Allen’s play “spectacular.” The organizers of the 2K Classic tournament agreed, naming Allen the MVP of the weekend event.

“He was so deserving of the MVP for this. There wasn’t someone in second or third,” Krzyzewski said. “We need more help.”

Right now, the Blue Devils are relying on Allen to use about the same percentage of offensive possessions when he is on the floor as they did with Jahlil Okafor last year (27.8 percent for Okafor and 27.1 percent for Allen). Last year’s offense was specifically designed to revolve around Okafor, as Krzyzewski mentioned many times last year (and this year). This team’s offense will not, ideally, revolve so heavily around one person.

There are other potential options for Duke, and Wednesday’s game against Yale (3-1) will give the Blue Devils a chance to start exploring them.

Freshman Derryck Thornton earned the first two starts of his career in New York City, and he, too, drew praise from Krzyzewski for his results. Thornton was Duke’s second-leading scorer in both games, with 19 and 14 points, respectively, shooting 58.8 percent from the floor (10-for-17) with six assists and five turnovers. He logged 31 minutes against VCU and 34 against the Hoyas.

“He’s 18 years old, he has had his first two starts, are you kidding me? This kid was really, really good here,” Krzyzewski said. “Really good. That’s a big bonus for us as we go forward.”

Thornton is Duke’s best (and only viable) option at point guard. Matt Jones and Allen are significantly less effective options when it comes to running the offense.

Speaking of Jones, Krzyzewski said, “Matt Jones is trying to do everything for us, and he gets worn out. But his two 3s starting out in the second half were huge,” he said, referring to the Georgetown game. Jones played 38 minutes in that game, and was 3-for-13 from the floor, with all three makes coming from behind the arc. Jones is the Blue Devils best perimeter defender at this point.

But in a perfect world for Duke, more offense will come from freshman Brandon Ingram, the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2015. The class of 2015, though, is not near as talent-rich as the 2014 class (or the 2016 class to come). And Ingram has struggled mightily to adjust to the college game.

Ingram came off the bench against the Hoyas, logging a season-low 16 minutes. In the Blue Devils’ three games against established teams (Kentucky, VCU and Georgetown), he has shot 5-for-20 (25 percent) from the floor, with 17 total points to go along with seven rebounds and six turnovers. On the defensive end, he has looked, at times, indifferent.

“He’s like my brother, my roommate, so I talk to him all the time about just playing your game and playing hard,” Thornton said of Ingram. “Everyone goes through bumps and bruises and different roadblocks in the game, so just keep on playing, you’re fine. He’s an excellent player, so he’ll be fine.”

Ingram is listed at 6-foot-9, 190 pounds with a Gumby-like figure. Krzyzewski said on Oct. 6 that Ingram had gained 23 pounds since July 1, but, physically, he does look like a boy among men, especially in the post.

“I don’t think he has adjusted yet to the physicality of the game,” Krzyzewski said. “ I think he has been knocked back with the physicality and that level of attention and competitiveness. Again, he has got to grow from that.

“We need him. He’s not even close to playing where he should be playing. He knows it. But that’s a learning curve.”

Luke Kennard, a freshman with a reputation as a sharp shooter, has also had a slow start to his career, going just 2-for-17 from 3-point range (11.8 percent) thus far, averaging 6.4 points in 19.2 minutes per game. The Blue Devils have hopes, though, that Kennard can shoot his way out of the slump – and a game against Yale should provide him with the minutes to do just that.

Entering the season, Krzyzewski thought Allen, Ingram and Kennard would provide the bulk of the offense for the Blue Devils. Duke already has quality wins over VCU and Georgetown while getting virtually nothing from Ingram or Kennard on the offensive end. So for the glass-half-full crowd, that should be taken as a positive sign, that the Blue Devils’ ceiling is much higher than the present product.

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