Who will start and how will playing time break down?
Not only are the Blue Devil’s ‘top’ players talented, this year head coach Mike Krzyzewski has as much depth as he’s had during his tenure. In truth Duke has the option of going as many as 10 deep with proven talent, but the big question on every Blue Devil fan’s mind is ‘who will start’?
Before that answer becomes clearer, another question of strategy must be answered. That is, will Coach K elect to go with a big line up or a smaller one. Should Duke chooses to play with the smaller lineup, as they did several times last season, a starting five of Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams seems obvious, with prized freshman Luol Deng fighting both Ewing and Randolph for their starting slots.
The more ‘traditional’ looking lineup would likely be composed of Duhon, Redick, Deng, Randolph, and Williams. With so much size on the floor, the Blue Devils would have the luxury of bringing either Redick or Ewing off the bench as instant offense. The possibility of Redick as the sixth man is interesting, but the likelihood of Krzyzewski not going with his program’s best perimeter threat isn’t one that holds a lot of promise according to most analysts.
No matter which combination of five actually starts, it is safe to say that Deng, Duhon, Shav, Shelden, Daniel and Redick are likely to be the core of the 2003-2004 Blue Devils. However early on in pick up action, the word is that sophomore Lee Melchionni is a likely candidate to challenge for the ‘7th’ man slot off the bench. The 6-foot-7 Pennsylvania native has reportedly shown the most off season improvement.
Rounding out the ten man rotation will be the highly touted tandem of Chicago sophomores Michael Thompson and Sean Dockery, and fifth year senior Nick Horvath.
Dockery’s defense and quickness should earn him minutes, along with an improved offensive game. Indeed aside from Duhon, Dockery is the only pure point guard on the roster. Should Duhon fall into another slump this season, the now experienced Dockery will be ready to take the reigns if need be.
One of the more intriguing preseason questions is which true center will see the most minutes in relief of Randolph and Williams. After spending the summer working out at Duke before heading to the Pete Newell Big Man’s Camp, sophomore Thompson seems to have the edge, though history suggests that Krzyzewski may opt for the experienced big man in Horvath. However, early indications are that Thompson will be tough to beat out after dedicating himself to becoming a force in the paint.
Who will breakout?
With so much talent on the Blue Devil roster, the question of who isn’t likely to have a break out season seems more plausible. At this time, Luol Deng is the most obvious pick, his versatility and ability to play any position on the court will serve him very well in the highly competitive ACC and Coach K’s offensive scheme.
It also doesn’t hurt that Deng has a legit 6-foot-8, 220 pound frame and a nearly freakish wingspan. As TheDevilsDen.com’s Clint Jackson wrote, Deng simply does everything well.
“Lead the break? Check. Rebound and score? Check. Defend the other team's best player? He'll do that too. The kid can do it all and he is a master of being able to play anywhere on the floor,” Jackson wrote. “From the top of the key to the wing to posting up down low. He's a completely different player than anyone on the Duke team right now. But he's completely sound.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Ewing seems to be one of the primary ‘go to guys’ coming up. It became obvious in last season’s ACC Tournament that Ewing is ready and willing to take the responsibility of producing offense on his back when necessary. He can penetrate nearly at will and is a deadly three-point marksman. Add those qualities with a strong defensive mindset and you’ve got the makings of an all-ACC caliber performer.
Defensively it appears that Shavlik Randolph may be ready to step up and assume a more established role. After struggling on defense numerous times last season due to inexperience and numerous battles with injury, Randolph spent the offseason under the knife and then in rehab. After he was cleared, Shavlik made a big effort to bulk up and add weight to his frame; he’s now tipping the scales at 245 pounds.
Chris Duhon will be this team’s floor leader this year just as he was last year. Though unlike his junior season, Duhon will enter the 2003-2004 season with questions and concerns surrounding his offensive abilities. Last season a number of analysts questioned the Slidell native’s shot selection and overall shooting prowess. His summer performances in pick up action, and at St. Augustine’s in the Chavis League suggest that the days of the long three attempts are still around for the Blue Devil.
What is different is his supporting cast should be stronger and able to put points on the board on their own unlike last season when Duhon was forced to stray from his comfort zone of driving the offense. With more weapons to choose from, look for Duhon to shy away from a high number of shot attempts in favor of a number of assists.
Another interesting development has been the emergence of walk on Patrick Davidson. While he’s unlikely to see any appreciable floor time unless the Blue Devils hold a 30-plus point lead, Davidson has made it known through Fall performances that he’s a very capable player. In fact he’s one of the better perimeter shooters on the roster, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone on the floor. He’s also a very good athlete with springs in his shoes – an example would be his ability to stand beside the basket and jump up to dunk the ball without the aide of a running start…not bad for a 6-foot-1 walk-on. Additionally Davidson has a great understanding the game of basketball, plays with great poise and makes very few mistakes.