While Duke has a very deep team this season, they are still a very top heavy team. Dukes top four of Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker stands way above the rest of the team. The biggest question for Duke will be finding a center who will fill out the top four, but thats a topic for another day. Other players will need to step up, but Duke's top four will be most important in determining Duke's success this season.
Many people list Quinn Cook as the most important player for Duke, as he is their floor general and leader. Duke will depend on Cook to run the offense and get the ball to the scorers in good spots. He will be able to do this but has struggled at times on the defensive end. If Cook can improve on defense, he will be able to fill out his role perfectly. While Cook is extremely important to Duke's success, I do not believe he is most important due to the quality of backup behind him. Thornton is a great defender, leader, and a smart player. While he does not have all offensive abilities of Cook, he would be able to fill in nicely. Cook is very important to Duke and its offense but he has one of the best backups on the team.
Rasheed Sulaimon will be important as a scorer for Duke this season after an inconsistent freshman season. Sulaimon will attack opponents guards and be able to score at will against the lesser opponents. While he was able to average 11.6 points per game lasts season, Sulaimon scored four or less in six games last season with Duke going 3-3 in those games. Sulaimon will not be able to have off games like that this season, and I believe he will cure some of his inconsistencies. He is also working on improving on the defensive end, after Duke's very poor effort at perimeter defense lasts season. Like Cook, Sulaimon is not my most important because of the strong backup he has. While Dawkins cannot drive the way Sulaimon can, he can still put up points in a hurry. Sulaimon is crucial to his success, but is not the most important.
That leaves the most important player role to Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Hood is the first true small forward that Duke has had since Kyle Singler. If he was able to play last year, I expect Duke would have won the National Championship. He is the do everything small forward that will fit perfectly in Coach K's system. He can spread the court with his shooting, drive the lane effectively, and really help Duke in all phases of the game. He will likely guard the other teams top offensive player, with Parker likely guarding the power forwards. His defense was not great at Mississippi State but should be improved at Duke. With Alex Murphy seemingly the only backup for Hood and Parker, Hood is needed for Duke to be successful. Hood's all around game will be great for Duke, as he will be able to fill any role depending on the game and situation.
Jabari Parker will be one of the best players to play for Duke, in only his freshman year. He can score from all over the court, in the post, behind the arc, and most effectively from mid range. Duke will use him in many different sets to confuse the defense and create mismatches. Any time the defense stops to focus on Parker, he will use his basketball smarts to find the open man. He is a great all around offensive player that Coach K will use to his fullest advantage. On defense, Parker will need to improve his quickness to stay in front of good ball handlers. Luckily for him, Hood will likely guard those players, allowing Parker to defend in the post. Against most power forwards, Parker will not be overmatched by anyones size and will be able to be an effective defender. Parker's role will be mainly as a scorer, but he will be able to help Duke in many different ways.
So which of Duke's new forwards is the most crucial to Duke's success? I am not sure there is a right answer. Both player will play and work well with each other and neither has a starting caliber backup behind them. In the end, I give the slight advantage to Rodney Hood. His ability to do so many different things is invaluable to this years Duke team. Parker is by far the better scorer, but Duke has many scorers who could help fill the void. While I think Duke would be devastated to lose any of these four players, I believe Rodney Hood would be the hardest to replace. After redshirting for Duke last season, Rodney Hood will play a huge part in Duke's success this season and is who I consider the most important to Duke.