The team with the best players usually wins the most amount of games. For Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, though, his 2018-19 team highlighted an issue that comes with overwhelming talent lacking balance.
Duke’s freshmen class, highlighted by three players all selected in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery, is considered all-time spectacular. The Blue Devils had the No. 1 ranked grouping in the country, landing three of the five most sought after players in the nation. Furthermore, lost in the shuffle, Tre Jones and Joey Baker were top-33 players.
And yet, something was missing.
Hindsight is forever champion, but some problems were easy to project prior to last season starting. Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish were all similar in that they weren’t floor spacers, but could benefit greatly from having those around them who could.
Unfortunately for Coach K, Jones was such an inept shooter from distance, UCF infamously allowed 7-foot-6 enormous human Tacko Fall to “guard” him in a way that bordered on disrespect.
As all-time great as Krzyzewski’s class was, it was as historically awful in creating floor space. The Blue Devils ranked 329th in 3-point shooting percentage, though they still managed to attempt the 26th most shots from distance of any team in the country.
The results were mixed. Duke was still superb. The potential the Blue Devils had thanks to their overwhelming talent, though, was never reached due to the roster construction’s imperfect balance.
To be Camp Crystal Lake clear: Coach K did what he should almost always do; attempt to land every great player trotting about high school gymnasiums. However, it appears the Hall of Fame coach had himself a teachable moment — it’s fine not only landing the insanely elite players in the country.
When the 2019-20 college basketball season tips off, the Blue Devils will have the fourth best grouping of freshmen in the country, according to 247Sports. Unlike last season’s Duke Collective, at least in terms relative to projection, it appears as though Coach K purposely went out to find guys who could help fill out the roster from an overall viewpoint.
Yes, of course, the Duke Blue Devils are bringing in a ton of top-tier players. Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star talents, with Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley upper-echelon four-stars, but none of these players will be packing too similar skills or position types.
Basketball is becoming increasingly position-less anyway, but Duke’s four incoming freshmen aren’t all larger wings and/or post players. From how they’re currently labeled, it’s four players who play four different positions, suggesting Coach K went out to snag a new player for every position save for point guard.
The way the 2019 recruiting class formed could be a happy accident. It’s entirely possible Krzyzewski recruited a bevy of guys, eventually landing four quality players who hint at a pattern that might not sincerely exist.
It’s why looking ahead to Duke’s 2020 class helps to highlight it.
The sample-size is minimal, only two players, but Duke has so far landed five-star small forward Jalen Johnson and five-star point guard Jeremy Roach, who presumably slots in if Jones leaves early for the NBA.
As importantly as the roster fit — which, if we’re being honest, is only conjecture at this point — is the lack of obvious one-and-done players being brought into the fold.
There’s certainly one-and-done players being brought in, but unlike 2018’s class that featured three obvious candidates, Coach K’s next two groupings will lack the massive roster overhaul that is happening from last season to the upcoming voyage.
Only six guys played over 19 minutes per game last season for the Blue Devils. All of them are gone, all to early entry into the NBA Draft, except for Jack White and Jones. While it’s a fool’s errand to project NBA Draft selections a full year in advance, a reputable outlet like CBS has only two Duke players being selected in the 2020 draft, hinting at less roster turnover. SB Nation, on the other hand, has only one player from the Blue Devils going in the first-round next year.
While those mock drafts can obviously be wrong, in theory and barring a massive surge of transfers, Krzyzewski would be returning the majority of his 2019-20 rotation to couple with his already stellar 2020 recruiting class.
An experienced, yet still humorously gifted roster? Every program in the nation would sign up for that.
Maybe this is more random circumstance than it is a trend or purposed pivot in recruiting practices by Coach K. Time will tell. But for now, it’s at least worth monitoring. Not since it infers Duke is no longer becoming a destination spot for NBA-level talent. Instead, it’s because Mike Krzyzewski, who has embraced the one-and-done rule in the past, might be trying to reinvent the recruitment process wheel once more.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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