Postcard from Duke (cont.)
Posted: Thursday October 18, 2007 2:08PM; Updated: Friday October 19, 2007 1:17PM
That personality -- and the uncertainty of how much it'll translate to success -- is what's so intriguing about Duke this season. The offensive profile looks like this:
The Blue Devils are small. No one's left to fit that Elton Brand/Carlos Boozer/Shelden Williams/Josh McRoberts role in the paint, so the tallest starters are likely to be Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler ... who are both 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. (7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek, who broke his foot in July, was still limited in the practice I saw. He'll be in the rotation when healthy, but he only saw 7.3 minutes per game last season.)
They're also deep. There's the potential for a nine- or 10-man rotation if Krzyzewski is willing to give freshmen Taylor King and Nolan Smith minutes (it's almost a given that super-frosh Singler will start and play a lot). This should allow them to play more up-tempo basketball.
They should shoot it well from the perimeter. Point guard Greg Paulus hit 45 percent of his threes last year. Freshman Taylor King, a 6-6 lefty, might be the team's best long-range shooter, and fellow rookie Singler is no slouch. Guards Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson both have the green light to launch treys, even though they have room for improvement from beyond the arc (both were around 36.5 percent last season).
Assistant coach Chris Collins said because of the team's depth and shooting prowess, "We'll try to spread the floor, create space for guys to try to drive, get open shots. We don't want to get into a grind-it-out game where a team is going to try to match us physically."
A few ACC teams will be able to attack Duke from that size-and-muscle angle, namely rival North Carolina, with Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson down low; N.C. State, with its superb frontcourt trio of Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and J.J. Hickson; and Maryland, with James Gist and Bambale Osby. How well the Blue Devils manage to develop this up-tempo, spread-out identity will probably make the difference between being a 3-4 seed in the NCAA tournament or once again falling in that vulnerable 5-6 range. Duke's perimeter defense should still be excellent -- it ranked fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency last year, mostly by taking away the three -- but the prowess of its perimeter offense is yet to be determined.
Three factors should go a long way in deciding whether Duke is a contender. It will be extremely important whether a healthier Paulus, back from offseason foot surgery, can orchestrate the wide-open attack with a better assist-to-turnover ratio that last year's 1.2-to-1. Coaches are hoping Scheyer can expand on the scoring niche he found in '06-07 ("Jon had one of the better freshman years, scoring-wise, that we've ever had here," said assistant Steve Wojciechowski).
And the pace of Singler's development into a major matchup problem at the four -- the Medford, Ore., product is considered by some to be the best recruit in the Class of 2007, but has been overshadowed by the Love-and-Mayo mania in L.A. -- could be the biggest key of all. (As Collins said, "We've got a lot of talent on this team, but no one with as versatile a skill set as [Singler].")
There is clearly some urgency in pushing Singler into a large role. At one point later in Tuesday's practice, when Coach K had his microphone turned down, he stopped play after Singler had turned down an open three-point look in the corner and opted to rotate the ball instead.
"Whoa!" said Krzyzewski. "You had a shot."
Turning to Scheyer, who had received Singler's pass, Krzyzewski asked, "How can you help him?"
Scheyer quickly proffered an answer that was deemed correct: "Tell him to shoot it."