Duke Report

Duke Basketball: Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly Are Gone, What’s Next For the Frontcourt?

Duke is losing two of its most important players to graduation in a few weeks in Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. With so much attention usually paid to guards in college basketball and with the Blue Devils in particular, replacing the experience and production of those two will be paramount for Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.

There are two ways Duke can handle next season’s frontcourt and it will ultimately come down to a philosophical decision that pits physicality against the current trend of playing small.

In Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee the Blue Devils have a decent-sized stable of bigs to pick from to fill those the power forward and center positions in the more traditional mold. On the other hand, incoming freshman Jabari Parker and rising sophomore Alex Murphy are excellent candidates to play the stretch “4″ role that has been the trend in recent years (Kelly, Kyle Singler).

But which lineup serves the Blue Devils better in the long run? Here are a few ways they could go.

Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Marshall Plumlee

This seems like the most logical way to position the frontcourt as close to this season and previous season’s lineups. Parker at the power forward position would see him doing many of things he’s been doing for years at Simeon while also making room for Hood to play out on the wing where he does his best work.

Plumlee’s development this summer is going to have a big impact on how successful this lineup can be, especially since he’s the only player on the roster with the size to compete with other centers in the college ranks. If he isn’t ready, Hairston is likely the option but leaves the Blue Devils in the lurch a bit with nobody in the starting lineup over 6-foot-8.

Cook, Hood, Parker, Hairston, Plumlee

Here is the traditional look. Cook and Hood in the backcourt, Hairston and Plumlee in the frontcorut with Parker floating and doing all the things that made him such an attractive prospect.

This leaves Sulaimon as the sixth man and Tyler Thornton, Amile Jefferson and Murphy coming off the bench and providing experienced depth. Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye could rise above Murphy but the first three are almost non-negotiable as we found out this season.

Personally, I like this lineup a lot better with Jefferson in there ahead of Hairston but it’s become clear that Krzyzewski perfers Hairston at this juncture. That could all change with a good offseason, but for now Hairston gets the nod.

Cook, Sulaimon, Parker, Jefferson, Plumlee

This might actually be the best option in my mind, especially from a defense perspective. Sulaimon and Jefferson both proved this season that they can have an impact on the defensive end of the floor when they’re focused on doing that. Parker gets the nod over Hood because, well, he’s Jabari Parker.

This will likely be one of the lineups Krzyzewski features during stretches of games where they need to get defensive stops and protect a lead with Thornton possibly being swapped in if he really wants to clamp down. I think this could be a great lineup, and I hope we see it.

Cook, Thornton, Hood, Parker, Plumlee

And here we have the hammer. This is the lineup I see starting Game 1 next season.

Cook is the obvious choice at point guard, Thornton has been a coach favorite since he stepped on campus so he gets the nod over Sulaimon (at least to begin), Hood gets the nod for doing his time and working hard, Parker takes his spot as something of a stretch four, and Plumlee rounds out the lineup strictly for being big.

I’m personally banking on a big offseason for Plumlee, Jefferson and Murphy and for them to make strides towards filling roles that range from impact starter (Plumlee) to valuable bench player (Murphy). Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski know how important their big guys are going to be to reaching the same heights they achieved this season and will have those guys in the gym and in the weight room preparing for what lies ahead.

If Plumlee knows whats good for him, he’s already at the K Center working with Mason and Wojo getting better.

  • http://www.totallystonedonline.com Cameron R

    Call me an optimist but I think Andre Dawkins will be a factor for a starting position. At last sight, his defense was a little suspect and he appeared to be lost on the court, but his off the court issues apparently were a very large factor in his overall mental state. Hopefully, there is improvement in that area because offensively he will be one of if not our most dangerous weapon – an athletic catch and shoot player with unlimited range and a lightening quick release. Also the ability to finish at the rim. Mixing him in will be…well, Awesome! Assuming he returns…

  • Ches Goodall

    I see your first line up as one possibility (depending on how Marshall develops) but the most obvious line up to me is: Cook, Sulaiman, Hood, Parker, and Jefferson.

    • tommy duke

      YES! I agree. “Amile’s on wheels” needs to do just that and put on some weight. But otherwise it is OBVIOUS that he is the most talented player among the returning big men including Marshall & Hairston. I would sacrifice his lack of size even now for his ability to flat out make plays. Getting a wide open layup or a put back from Josh Hairston is scary, and while I admire his charge taking ability he is a hack on the defensive end. Your lineup is exactly my thought as well. There are not many traditional big men anymore; most teams are going smaller. That is a nice front court.

  • Bil Wheeler

    Cook lost his touch as the season went on. His defense weaked and he committed untimely turnovers and poor shot selection. That is why Thorton took over the ball control. Additionally I think Cook’s attitude is bigger than his capabilities. That was evident in the regular season Maryland game. Either his skills improve or Thorton is going to be the floor leader.

  • Wallace

    To summarize: Cook and Plumlee are locks at the 1 and 5. Then it boils down to one big decision: Hood-Parker tandem at the 2-3 (the bigger lineup) or the 3-4 (the smaller lineup). Coach K will probably spend the pre-season trying to figure out which one works better. Then the decision of who to slot into the remaining position: if its Hood-Parker at the 2-3, then it’s likely Hairston over Jefferson at the 4 based on how the end of this last season went. If it’s Hood-Parker at the 3-4, it looks like Sulaimon provides the best combination of offense and defense at the 2, although Thornton will get major minutes as he did this last year. Murphy, Jones and Ojeleye (and don’t forget Dawkins if he plays) are the wild cards here. Will be interesting to see how they stack up versus the first 7.

  • ti koze

    Unfortunately, K will screw this up by refusing to play more than 7 players, 8 at most, just like this years and every year. Look at how many coaches use 9, 10, or even 11 players, and their bench is not nearly as good as Duke’s. There is no reason that Murphy and Marshall Plumlee couldn’t have played 8-10 minutes every game. That would have made them more ready for next year and, more important, would have provided more rest for the starters who, consensus is, were worn out by the end of the year, just as they are virtually every year. What good is it to recruit all of this talent if you don’t use it? Bad coaching.

    • Richard Kortum

      i have to agree. coach K was flat out-couched by pitino last week. not only his refusal to play his bench, but his obsession with man-to-man defense without changing defenses to throw the opponent off-balance from time to time, are signs of a lack of CREATIVITY, which is required of ANY job at the highest level. with the athletes he’ll have next season, if he doesn’t use multiple defenses, it’s time for him to retire! with more macdonald’s all-americans than anybody else year in and year out, he has really underacheived. yes, he’s won 4 titles, but look how many finals he’s lost where Duke was the HEAVY favorite. and how many finals he did not reach as a #1 seed. i really hate to say it but, he’s entirely OVERRATED. he is certainly one of the best recruiters, and he’s excellent at coming up with game plans when overmatched in one way or another. but during games he becomes a spectator. i wish he would learn something from pitino (who switched defenses on them constantly) and from the likes of jim boeheim. duke ould easily have won it all this year again. alas. POOR COACHING.

      • AJ

        Pitino hasnt won too much and boeheim doesnt switch defenses… he plays the 2-3 zone exclusively… i bet pitino and boeheim wouldnt have won the title with the team duke had in 2010… coach k doesnt need SUPER athletes to win… pitino and boeheim has to have SUPER athletes to win… coach k adjust to his roster… he doesnt recruit someone to fit a certain system… he recruits good players and adjust to their strengths… all he asks is for them to play defense… but i agree that he shouldve played the bench a little more… andre wouldve really helped duke this year though

  • ti koze

    Unfortunately, K will screw this up again. He will play no more than 7, possibly 8, leaving talented players on the bench, contributing nothing, just like Murphy and Marshall Plumlee this year, so that the starters will again be worn out by the end of the season. That is the main reason why other top teams, like Louisville, seem to improve during the year while Duke, the vast majority of the time, gets worse. Bad coaching.

  • http://Dukebasketballreport Paul Greene

    The starting five should be Cook,Sulaimon, Hood,Parker,and Jefferson. They should use their athleticism to run up and down the floor and get out the slow half court game. You guys are right , K has to use 9 or 10 players against his philosophy I might add. Multiple defenses would help. Hairston needs a seat on the far end of the bench, he is slow, non athletic no rebounding hack man. He averaged more fouls than points or rebounds. Thortons minutes should be limited , too many fouls and turnovers,poor shooter,over rated defender.

    • AJ

      No need for multiple defenses… against louisville all he needed to do was tell the guards to go under the picks and make siva/smith shoot jumpers… thats all they needed to do… it worked for wichita… they just started turning the ball over at the end

  • http://dukereport.com craig

    You forget, Coak K is a master of the ’3′ guard offense when there are 3 ‘great’ guards. Here they are: Sulaimon-Cook-Andre/Jones with Parker and Hood rounding out the BEST FIVE.

    Plumlee?, come on, Hariston? great guy but SLOW. We need to play uptempo with Jefferson spelling Hood and Parker with big minutes and OJ playing big minutes in the backcourt. With Murphy, Thornton and on a limited basis, Hariston, you can always have ’5′ fresh players running, pressing, scoring and showing toughness.

    Coack K WILL have to play ’8′ starters (if Andre and Jones split time) with Jefferson and OJ. He is the type of coach who has to ability, smarts and philosophy to employ an up-tempo, high-scoring, tough half court pressing team that will blow the doors off of most teams if he uses the MOST talented players available.