Duke's biggest weakness last season was a lack of perimeter defense. Teams with top guards were able to drive the lane with ease. Shane Larkin and Durand Scott (Miami), Peyton Siva and Russ Smith (Louisville), and even Dez Wells (Maryland) excelled attacking the rim against Duke. Duke's perimeter players allowed an average of 99.1 points per 100 possessions defensively. This statistic, also known as defensive rating, tracks how well players and teams play defense and prevent other teams from scoring. While the stat is not perfect, it gives a good representation of how good a team or individual players defense is.
The biggest problem with Duke's perimeter defense was their poor play vs the pick and roll. Duke's bigs tried to hedge screens but often were unable to contain the guard. Duke's guards desire to go over the screens usually made the situation worse. This left the defense chasing from behind with no one to protect the rim. Duke was able to mask the issue against some lesser opponents but not against the top competition.
Duke also was not great at perimeter defense against isolations. Duke was consistently allowing penetration, which led to layups or three pointers. Many Duke guards helped one pass away at the three point line, which led to many easy kick out threes. Many people, including myself, pointed to Ryan Kelly's injury as the reason for the regression in the second half of the season. Looking at it again, clearly their perimeter defense was the downfall to the season.
While last season is in the past, it is unknown if Duke's perimeter defense will improve in 2013-14. Here are the defensive ratings of Duke's guards in their last season:
Hood: 105.6 (2011-12 with Miss St.),
Dawkins: 105.5 (2011-12).
This gives Duke an average of 101.1 defense rating with their perimeter defenders. While Duke's perimeter defense looks like it may improve next season, the stats seem to say otherwise.
Duke will likely improve on their perimeter defense from the stats shown above. Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Andre Dawkins all have the ability to improve their defense. Hood will likely see the biggest boast while playing with a better team and improving his defense during his year off. Dawkins will hopefully improve his defense, as he may need to in order to stay on the court. Sulaimon and Cook will need to make strides as well and seem like they are capable of improvements. Will their improvements be enough to make them a title contender?
The last few National Champions make the chances look slim for a Duke National Championship. Last year, Louisville's perimeter players had an extremely low 89.2 defense rating. Duke will not need to get this low, but it shows why Louisville won the championship last season. In 2012, Kentucky's perimeter players had a 97.2 defensive rating with their perimeter players. This number is slightly higher then other champions, but some of their troubles were masked by Anthony Davis protecting the rim. Duke does not have the luxury of a great shot blocker this season. When Duke won the championship in 2010, the had a 95.3 defensive rating with their perimeter defenders. This is the number Duke may need to get to, as the teams both have similar styles. They both have potent offenses and are based on a very perimeter oriented game. In 2010, Duke's backcourt played great offense and defense to mask their weakness in the frontcourt. Duke will need to do that again in 2014 to win another Championship.
So will Duke be able to improve its perimeter defense from last season and what they are projected for this year? I personally think they will be improved from last season, but may not make it to the 2010 championship level. Duke clearly has the athletes and scorers to stay in games, but their perimeter defense will need to improve for Duke to win the championship in 2014. While many people focus on Duke's new athleticism and scoring options, the biggest factor in Duke's success next season is their perimeter defense.