Duke basketball is beginning to get underway, with a Coach K press conference and open practice. There has been some major news and things that have me thinking going into the next season. Duke appears to be a solid team, but there are definitely some questions that need to be answered.
During Coach K's press conference, he announced that Tyler Thornton and Rodney Hood will be the captains for this season. Thornton was an obvious choice, as a senior leader and hustle player on the team. He does not play major minutes, but his hustle, dedication and leadership for the team makes him an obvious choice as a captain.
The questionable decision as captain is redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood. Hood is just the third sophomore to be a Duke basketball captain and it is just his first season playing on the team. He will be a leader and top player for Duke, but does not have the experience of playing in a Duke jersey. He is a good choice as captain, but the better choice may have been Quinn Cook.
Quinn Cook will be the starting point guard for Duke as a junior in his third season for Duke. While he was inconsistent, he proved his ability to run the team as a starter last season. As a point guard, longer tenured player, and seemingly better leader, it is surprising to see Quinn Cook was not named one of the captains for this years Duke team. He is not a captain, but I still expect Cook to be one of the primary leaders for this team.
Also at Coach K's press conference, he mentioned he planned on starting Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson, with Quinn Cook a likely fourth. It is surprising to hear Coach K's confidence in Amile Jefferson. Jefferson filled in admirably in Ryan Kelly's absence, but still will have to learn to be a center for Duke this season. Amile Jefferson worked hard over the summer and it is great to hear he is getting the praise he deserves.
The more surprising part of the comment was Rasheed Sulaimon was not mentioned in Coach K's group of starters. As a starter last season, Sulaimon definitely has the upper hand for that fifth spot but it may not be guaranteed. His inconsistencies last season may have caused for some hesitation on Coach K's end and also Sulaimon could fit perfectly in a sixth man role. This is all speculation though, as Sulaimon will likely claim the spot as a fifth starter.
If Coach K elects to bring Sulaimon off the bench, it will likely be in favor of sharp shooting Andre Dawkins. He could decide to go big, starting Plumlee and Jefferson together, but that is very unlikely. Dawkins could fit well with the starters, as a floor spacer and great shooter. Likely this talk is just to motivate Sulaimon and force him to take the role. I fully expect him to do so.
Going into the practice, many great things were said about a lot of Duke's players. Duke has an extremely deep team, but is also very star studded at the top. While Coach K may like to use his depth more this season over years past, it will be hard to justify sitting Hood, Parker, Cook or Sulaimon extended minutes. Duke has depth, but the reserves will need to emerge to see many minutes.
Outside of Duke's projected starting five: Cook, Sulaimon, Hood, Parker, and Jefferson, Tyler Thornton may be the only player guaranteed minutes for this Duke team. Coach K will likely elect to go eight or nine deep this season, forcing three or four players into minimal roles. Many players who would see major minutes on other teams, may be forced to watch from the bench a lot this season.
The first big fight for minutes will be the back up shooter between Andre Dawkins and Matt Jones. Andre Dawkins seems like the obvious choice, as a senior and solid player, but Matt Jones will force him to earn it. Matt Jones impressed at practice today, but will likely be stuck without a major role. He may provide a spark off the bench at times, but will likely lose the sharp shooter minutes to the more experienced Andre Dawkins.
The next spot is for back up big, between Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee. Plumlee looked much more agile then he had last year due to a foot injury. While Hairston has shown improved range on his jump shot, Plumlee's size and improved mobility should allow him to take the center minutes off the bench. Hairston will play in spots but Plumlee and Jefferson should be the two bigs that Duke relies on through out the season.
The ninth spot is likely a battle between Alex Murphy and Semi Ojeleye as back up forward. This spot is not necessary but will likely be used due to Duke's supreme depth. Ojeleye looks very physically mature for a freshman and has the ability to contribute to this team. Unfortunately for Semi, Alex Murphy looks ready for a breakout season and will likely take these minutes. He looked much more confident at practice and should be ready to seize minutes for Duke this season.
I expect Duke rotation to feature Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Amile Jefferson, Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee this season. The practice did not change that opinion, but has shown these reserve battles may be closer then I thought. Duke still has a way to go before the season, so expect many things to change between now and then.