Key Departures: Matthew Hurt (NBA); DJ Steward (NBA); Jalen Johnson (NBA); Jordan Goldwire (–>Oklahoma); Jaemyn Brakefield (–>Ole Miss); Henry Coleman (–>Texas A&M)
New In Town: Theo John (ßMarquette); Bates Jones (ßDavidson); Paolo Banchero (#2); AJ Griffin (#17); Trevor Keels (#22); Jaylen Blakes (#105)
State of the Program:
It’s the last dance for the Coach K era at Duke, and they enter the season on the heels of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. We all know the history of Duke and Coach K, but the recent struggles point to the problematic trend in the one-and-done era. It is difficult to sustain success when recruiting all 5-star guys who immediately bolt for the NBA after 1 season. Not every class has a Zion Williamson, and when you don’t have much talent returning, relying on 18 year olds can make success YOY very difficult. This season will look very similar, with 3 5-star Freshman coming to campus, but what helps the outlook for this Blue Devils group is the 3 returning starters. Wendell Moore (JR), Jeremy Roach (SO), and Mark Williams (SO) are all back, along with role player Joey Baker (SR) to give Coach K more experience to go with his incoming future NBA players. The bad news is the 2 leading scorers from last season’s underwhelming group are gone, but the incoming class is still giving the Dukies plenty of National attention.
Leading this talented incoming class is 5-star stud PF Paolo Banchero (#2). Banchero is a sure fire star lottery pick and a superstar in the making. He’s 6’10” with great athleticism and a face-up game that will be a nightmare for opponents to guard, as he can take you off the bounce or hit a jumper over you. He is lethal in transition and can alter the game defensively as well. His outside shot will need to develop but he’ll hit some this year. He’ll be able to play a stretch 4 or small ball 5 for Duke this season and will likely open games next to Mark Williams inside. The next 5-star coming in is 6’7” wing AJ Griffin (#17) who comes in with elite potential as a 3 and D wing at the next level. His jumper is smooth and should be his greatest weapon at Duke, but he can also make plays off the bounce and can be lethal in transition. He has potential to be an elite defender as he has the strength and athleticism to guard 1-4 and his versatility will be leaned on this year as he should start at the 3, but will battle returner Wendell Moore for the gig. The 3rd and final 5-star is SG Trevor Keels (#22), who looks like a LB on the court as he is a powerful athlete, especially for the 2 spot. He reminds me of Dillon Brooks, as his athleticism laterally and vertically won’t wow you but his jumper is pure and he has a good feel for the game as a playmaker. He should start in the backcourt alongside Roach and give the Blue Devils a much better shooter from the outside than they had in the backcourt a year ago. The last Freshman coming in is PG Jaylen Blakes (#105), who figures to need a year or two to grow into a large role but is a solid prospect all-around. He is not an explosive athlete but is tough and crafty around the rim, with a decent looking jumper. If he chooses to stick around he could be the kind of 4 year guy the Blue Devils tend to have around when they are most successful, and he’ll start off as the primary backup to Roach at the point. A couple of transfers are also coming in to provide depth on the interior, the best of which is Marquette transfer Theo John (SR). John is extremely physical and is purely a bruiser inside, who figures to serve as the primary backup inside and may be leaned on when more physicality is needed. He will never be a force offensively, but he can muck it up and do the little things needed to win close games. The last newcomer is Bates Jones (SR) out of Davidson, who does not figure to have much of an impact. He played sparingly at Davidson, and was a surprising addition that will likely not see major minutes in high level games.
Coach K’s final roster of his illustrious career is loaded with young talent once again. The combination of Moore, Roach, and Williams returning to go with the potential star talents of Banchero, Griffin and Keels make this both an exciting and difficult to project roster. I think Banchero comes in and is an All-ACC talent, and Roach and Williams should make Sophomore jumps like Hurt did a year ago. With Keels and Griffin they get good athletes who will need to be able to shoot consistently for this team to truly contend with the best in the Country. That’s the wildcard for me with this team, outside shooting, as the returning 3 have no proven consistency from deep, with Roach the best at 31%. They will be incredibly athletic and should be tough on the glass, but if Keels in particular isn’t consistent they may have 0 true threats from outside. There will be electric moments, but I don’t see quite enough firepower surrounding the 3 freshman for them to make another Final 4 run, but they should be a factor at the top of the ACC.