Duke Basketball’s Strong Incoming Class Will Only Add to Blue Devils’ Embarrassment of Riches

Posted on December 15, 2012 by

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Duke Basketball Bench

Eric Lin/Duke Chronicle

This has a been a long, arduous week for students and basketball players alike with finals taking precedent over on-court action. For those concerned with the on-court product though, Duke’s future is cause for equal parts excitement and concern after getting a look at a few future Blue Devils this week.

Incoming guard Matt Jones and potential commit Jabari Parker were on national television Thursday with Jones showcasing an improved all-around game and Parker showing everyone how far he’s come back from a foot injury. Another signee, Semi Ojeleye, scored 58 points in a game last week causing many fans to wonder just how good the Blue Devils could be down the road.

Looking at the potential roster for next season, however, a startling trend emerges. Just as this year’s roster has a logjam at the small/power forward position, next year’s will have a similar problem with the two wing positions. Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry will all be gone, leaving three rotation spots for the two (possibly three) incoming players.

Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton will be back as primary ballhandlers, Rasheed Sulaimon will be back on the wing and Josh Hairston will still be banging the boards. Alex Murphy, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee should see bumps in playing time with Marshall taking his brother’s post in the…well, post.

Also in the fold will be Rodney Hood, a 6-foot-8 wing player, and Andre Dawkins, a shooting guard.

Thornton, Sulaimon, Jones, Ojeleye, Hood, Dawkins and Murphy are all primarily wing players but Mike Krzyzewski‘s system only calls for three or four to be heavily involved. Sulaimon will lock down one wing with Thornton likely in the mix at the other — as has been the case much of this year.

That leaves the other five players competing for minutes at the “3” spot. Murphy and Hood could be better served adding weight and competing with Jefferson and Hairston at the four, but even that situation gets complicated if Parker decides to come to Durham.

So what is the solution? Who are the odd men out? While the team will be good regardless of who plays, the decision to sit a player like Murphy a lot for a second-straight year could hurt his confidence or even lead to a transfer situation.

Here are some key points to think about with this potential roster.

  • With no post players coming in, Hairston and Marshall Plumlee must remain members of the rotation.
  • Cook and Sulaimon will start, the other wing slot is up for grabs.
  • Murphy makes the most sense as Kelly’s successor in that stretch-four role, but Jefferson, Hood and Parker would be good options as well.
  • Thornton will be involved, to what extent is the real question.

There will be plenty of talk about this leading up to and throughout next season. While having too much talent is never a bad thing, the risk of hurting a young player’s confidence or forcing a player to consider transferring can be detrimental to a team’s depth.

If I had it my way, this is how the rotation would look next season. In the parentheses is the change should Parker come.

  • Cook, Sulaimon, Jones, Murphy, Plumlee as starters. (Parker for Murphy)
  • Thornton, Hairston, Hood as primary substitutes. (Murphy plugs in here, Hood slides down)
  • Ojeleye, Jefferson become situational subs. (Hood slides in)
  • Dawkins provides depth, but never really becomes a factor.

It hurts me to keep Dawkins on the outside looking in and to bury Ojeleye that low, but if we’ve learned anything from this season it’s that Krzyzewski cherishes his depth and most players are able to accept their roles. If next year’s team can follow suit, this could be a very memorable two-year stretch for Duke basketball.

Jimmy Kelley is the founder and lead writer for Devils in Durham. Follow him on Twitter @JKell17

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