This is part one of a three part series in which Jason Morrow and I will look at the past, present, and future of Duke at the guard spot. In the next two parts, we will look into Duke's forwards and centers. Jason will look into the past and present of Duke's guards, how they played last season and how they will improve into this year. I will look into the future of guards, in terms of recruiting and who will go to the NBA. Although it is tough to look ahead with such a talented team, Duke has such a bright future that it is hard not to.
Last year, Thornton was not that much of scorer, and did not have to be with Seth Curry taking most of the shots from the guard spot. Offensively, Thornton only averaged a little over three and a half points per game last season, but his presence was felt on the defensive end.
This 2012 McDonalds All-American guard certainly took advantage of the minutes he was given in 2012-13, averaging 11.6 points per contest in his first season at Duke. Sulaimon did not have any trouble scoring when he wanted to, as the freshman guard had three twenty-plus point games. Two other notable games came consecutively early on in the season against Louisville in Atlantis, and home against Ohio State, when he averaged 15.5 points and four rebounds in those two resume-building wins.
Although he averaged a little over five assists last year, this sophomore guard dealt with consistency issues, very similar to Sulaimon as mentioned above. Cook is a true point guard, and can distribute the ball with no issues whatsoever. Some of his games last year really speak to this claim, dishing ten-plus assists three times, and nine or more in six total games during his freshman campaign. When he is not passing the ball, he is knocking down triples (1.5 per game). During a late season six-game winning streak, Cook hit half of his threes, making 14-of-28 from beyond the arc.
Despite losing star guard Seth Curry to graduation, the future of backcourt play for the Blue Devils looks to be in very capable hands heading into the 2013-14 campaign. Returning guards Tyler Thornton, Rasheed Sulamon, and Quinn Cook will headline the guard play, with newcomer Matt Jones rounding out the backcourt. There will be plenty of competition going on leading up to the beginning of the season, trying to figure out who will be the leader in Coach K’s offense going into November.
Thornton will have to build on last year and work on staying out of foul trouble. During the crucial non-conference stretch early last year that featured Ohio State, Louisville, and Minnesota, the six-foot-one senior guard had four fouls in four of those five games. He can be a defensive lockdown guard for the Blue Devils, but he will most certainly have to make adjustments to make sure he can give Duke quality minutes.
This upcoming season will be important for Sulaimon and his draft stock if he does choose to enter after the 2013-14 season, and he does have some things to improve on. First off, he can score, but also had some games where he struggled last year shooting the basketball from time-to-time. In Duke’s losses last season, Sulaimon’s shooting inconsistencies were at the forefront, as the 12th ranked 2012 freshman shot just 27% (17/63) in those six losses. Sulaimon has the ability and the motor to have a breakout year for Duke, but he will have to work on his consistency if he wants to achieve that.
As I mentioned twice above, consistency is going to be the major key to Cook’s success. Despite finishing with a season-high 14 assists in an 80-62 win over Wake Forest early in the year, Cook was scoreless from the field, missing on all 11 shots that he took. He will need to find the range at a better clip to keep defenses honest on playing him on the perimeter so he can help open driving lanes for Sulaimon, Rodney Hood, and Jabari Parker.
Even before stepping onto campus, the 36th ranked freshman in the class of 2013 will have to take a big step up if he wants to see quality minutes for this year’s Blue Devils squad. Despite having quality guard ahead of him, Jones, from DeSoto, Texas, can help give Duke some much needed minutes off the bench when Coach K sees fit. I would like to see Coach K extend his bench at times, and Jones is a good guy to have in that role. Some scouts have classified Jones’ game as “very reminiscent of a young Ray Allen.” Although the minutes may be sparse early on for Jones, he should be ready at any time because you never know when his services may be needed.
For this season, Duke will definitely have guards Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, and Grayson Allen on the team. Duke will be even better if Tyus Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon join them to form a stacked backcourt. A backcourt with those five players would be great for Duke. Duke would likely start Cook, Jones and Sulaimon and likely play three guards for most of the season. Matt Jones would likely see the majority of the bench minutes with Grayson Allen possibly seeing minutes. This backcourt group would be amazing, but Tyus Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon are not locks to be on the team.
If Rasheed Sulaimon decides to enter the NBA Draft, this will likely lead to Duke running a two guard lineup much more frequently. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones will likely start together in the backcourt while Matt Jones plays a majority of the backup minutes. Rasheed Sulaimon declaring for the NBA draft likely will not effect the guard rotation, but will put pressure on the forwards to play more minutes.
If Tyus Jones decides to go somewhere other then Duke, there will be a lot more pressure on Quinn Cook at point guard. He will be expected to play almost all of the point guard minutes. It will also put Grayson Allen in a difficult spot where he will likely be forced to play point guard at times. If Jones decides to go elsewhere, Duke may look for another guard in the 2014 recruiting class, but no guard recruits stands out as a Duke fit. This shows Duke's confidence in getting Tyus Jones. He may be the difference between a good and great Duke backcourt.
The two players we know will be at guard this season are Matt Jones and Grayson Allen. Matt Jones will likely have developed into a solid starting shooting guard and Allen a great player off the bench. If Tyus Jones comes to Duke, he could still be with Duke if he avoids the one and done mold. If Jones is with Duke, they will likely look to add one guard to this group who can play point guard as well as off ball. The two main targets so far are Tyler Dorsey and Malik Newman. Both could play next to Tyus Jones and Matt Jones in a three guard lineup as well as play minutes at point guard when Tyus Jones sits. This would be the best case scenario for Duke, as it would give them multiple players who can play different spots on the court.
If Tyus Jones is not with the team, look for Duke to try and secure two guards from this class. One of Malik Newman and Tyler Dorsey will likely be needed with Grayson Allen occupying the back up point guard role. This will likely lead to Duke looking for another guard as a potential backup for Matt Jones. Duke has an offer out to shooting guard Luke Kennard, who could fill the role, but they will also likely look more in depth into other shooting guards. Also, Duke will likely look for a point guard who is likely to play four years of college basketball, something that is rare today. Duke appears to be in a good place for their future at guard, but Tyus Jones will put it over the top.