The Blue Devils’ season ended with a 14 point loss to top seeded Oregon early Friday morning in California. While the game against the Ducks wraps up this 2015-2016 season, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in the immediate future. Here’s a quick look ahead to next year for Coach K’s squad.
WHO IS LEAVING
Senior center Marshall Plumlee’s final game represented the end of the Plumlee era at Duke. The youngest of the three brothers may have been the least naturally talented, but his final year saw his numbers make a big jump (8.2 PPG and 8.6 RPG) and saw Marshall become one of the most reliable players on the roster. That steady presence in the paint will be missed.
Brandon Ingram will head to the NBA after 36 career games at Duke. The latest one and done talent recruited by head coach Mike Krzyzewski may have been the best, individually. Ingram averaged 17 points and seven rebounds while playing all five positions at time for the Blue Devils. He was an extremely unique talent who will likely be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
WHO COULD LEAVE
Sophomore Grayson Allen went from the last man in the rotation last February to the spark that earned Duke a fifth national title in April of 2015. Soon after the confetti was cleaned up, Duke lost Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones to the NBA Draft, leaving Allen as the only member of the sophomore class. He did himself proud in his first season as a full-time starter, averaging 21.6 points per game and taking home First Team All-ACC honors. Those numbers suggest the explosive scoring guard could, and perhaps should, test the NBA Draft waters, go to the combine, and then make his ultimate decision after receiving feedback from the various parties involved in this new process. If Allen is back, Duke becomes even more imposing to start next season. It’s also worth noting that Allen could, like many players before him including Jay Williams, Gerald Henderson, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy, be close to graduating after his third year.
Currently Duke sits at 13 scholarship players committed for next season - not including Justin Robinson, who will be a preferred walk-on. That’s the maximum allowed under NCAA rules, but Duke is still actively recruiting in the class of 2016 (see below). Given those facts you have to wonder if some of the players who did not factor into this year’s group (with all the depth limitations) may not be potential transfer candidates.
WHO IS COMING IN
Two of the top three prospects in the country for starters. The nation’s top overall prospect, Harry Giles and fellow Team USA alum and gold medalist, Jayson Tatum headline the 2016 Duke recruiting class which also features five star guard Frank Jackson and four star power forward Javin DeLaurier. Giles missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy due to a torn ACL, but is expected to be ready to go for the start of the season. When healthy, Giles was touted as a player who would be the top overall pick in this year’s draft ahead of both Ingram and LSU’s Ben Simmons. At 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, he’ll be a lock to start in the front court. Meanwhile, Tatum may be the most dynamic scorer to enter college basketball next year. Both players are considered top five picks in next year’s draft. In the backcourt it’s likely that Jackson will factor in as both a point guard and off the ball. The five star prospect out of Utah will remind Duke fans of Jay Williams’ style of play as well as in build. Four star power forward Javin DeLaurier is known for his high motor, defensive ability (he can guard three positions in the front court), and rebounding prowess. The most recent commitment was Australian U19 National Team member, Jack White White is a 6-foot-7 skilled wing with international tournament experience.
Aside from the recruits, Duke will welcome back Amile Jefferson assuming he receives a medical hardship waiver after his true senior season was limited to just nine games because of injury. In the first nine games of the season Jefferson was the Blue Devils’ most consistent player averaging 11.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. In addition to his numbers, Jefferson was the vocal leader of the team and helped steady and direct the defense. When he was lost, Duke’s defense suffered dramatically as the team struggled to re-define itself. After a year in which Krzyzewski continually pointed out his team’s relative youth, it’ll be a huge boost to have a 23 year old roaming the paint.
Bolden has become one of the nation's elite centers. He's strong, athletic, scores with his back to the basket and strikes an imposing figure on defense as well. He's both productive and has the room to expand his game even more, placing him ahead of he frontcourt field.
The Blue Devils - both coaches and 2016 recruits - continue to recruit unsigned, five star Texas center Marques Bolden heavily. Scout.com’s top rated post player in the class of 2016, Bolden will decide in the next three weeks between Duke, Kentucky, and TCU. Bolden will play in next week’s McDonald’s All-American game along with Blue Devil commits Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum. As noted above, Duke is currently at the maximum allowable scholarship count.
WHO IS COMING BACK
2016 starters Matt Jones and Luke Kennard are both expected to be back in Durham as is point guard Derryck Thornton who bounced in and out of the starting lineup throughout the season. Jones began the season as a steady producer, but was hampered by injuries over the final six weeks and was never the same. A year ago head coach Mike Krzyzewski described him as a key cog on a title team while highlighting his ability to contribute without needing the ball all that much. This season, however, his role expanded exponentially on offense, which produced mixed results. Kennard was the team’s third leading scorer at 11.6 points per game. Like most freshmen he showed flashes of being a very, very good player down the road (he scored 20 or more points seven times). At times it seemed as though Kennard was ready to be Duke’s third scoring option behind Ingram and Allen. However, there were a number of rough outings as well. Similarly, Thornton showed flashes all season long. He’s got a very good handle and his length and quickness could allow him to become an elite on the ball defender. There were also moments of poor decision making, but it’s worth noting that the former five star lead guard reclassified to come to school early and should be competing in the McDonalds game along with Jackson and Tatum. That reclassification process robbed Thornton of early enrollment and workouts at Duke leading into his first season in Durham. In the post Duke has Chase Jeter, who like most big men will take some time to develop (see all three of the Plumlee brothers for reference). Jeter will benefit tremendously from a full off-season in the Duke strength program, and had some nice moments in the last quarter of the season. At the end of the bench Duke currently projects to have seldom used bigs Antonio Vrankovic and Sean Obi. Vrankovic was originally projected to redshirt this season, and may very well do so next year. Obi, a transfer from Rice, battled reported knee problems and never factored into the rotation.
SR (2): Amile Jefferson (F), Matt Jones (G)
JR: (2): Grayson Allen (G), Sean Obi (C)
SO (4): Chase Jeter (C), Derryck Thornton (G), Luke Kennard (G), Antonio Vrankovic (C)
FR: (5) Harry Giles (F), Jayson Tatum (F), Frank Jackson (G), Javin DeLaurier (F), Jack White (G/F)
Assuming the roster stays as-is, it would appear as though four starting spots should be set. In the middle will be Jefferson flanked by Giles and Tatum. Grayson Allen will also be in the starting five. That fifth starter should probably be a point guard, and while Matt Jones handled the ball and served as stand-in at the position for extended periods of time this year, it’s hard to see that continuing with both Jackson and Thornton on the roster. However, if Allen is going to find long term success in the league, he’ll need to show the ability to play on the ball as well. Assuming, however, that Allen remains off the ball (or at least as a combo guard), the last man in the starting five will likely come down to Thornton versus Jackson. Thornton will have the experience advantage, but he’ll need to improve his decision making with the ball. It’s also a safe bet that you’ll see Duke go small at times with Giles and Tatum in the front court along with three guards. This approach would maximize spacing for everyone, which could relegate Jefferson to the same role he served on the 2015 title team. In that case the fourth and fifth starter would come down to Jones, Jackson, Thornton, and Kennard. Regardless of who wins out early in the year, it’ll be interesting to see how will the sophomores react to the new environment? As freshmen Kennard, Thornton, and Jeter were going to get minutes no matter what, regardless of any mistakes or lapses they may have committed and/or suffered. Certainly it was beneficial to play through those issues, but there was also no chance of being pulled for the most part. That won’t be the case next season when Duke will have morphed from barely having enough players for a rotation to having, maybe, too many.