The Duke basketball team officially opens the 2016-17 season on Friday night with its home opener against Marist.
With a lineup that could include as many as five potential first round draft picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Blue Devils enter the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the polls and a heavy favorite to reach the 2017 Final Four.
There are so many reasons for Duke fans to be excited, and this has a chance to be the most talented team in the history of Mike Krzyzewski’s college coaching career. However, there are also questions and stumbling blocks that could give this group trouble along the way.
Here are the five biggest questions Duke will have to answer this season.
1. Can Frank Jackson Run This Team?
The offseason transfer of Derryck Thornton means Duke will enter the season with a point guard by committee approach. Incoming freshman Frank Jackson was a 5-star guard and McDonald’s All-American who has incredible athletic ability, but he’s viewed as more of a combo guard than a traditional point guard. The coaching staff will likely try to ease Jackson into the role and he’ll also share responsibilities with Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Grayson Allen, but Jackson is the player with the most natural ability to handle the point guard role for this group. We’ll see if he can handle that position as the season progresses.
2. Who Takes Over in Crunch Time?
It seems weird to question who the go-to guy will be on a team that has the Preseason National Player of the Year, but that could be the situation Duke is in. Grayson Allen is arguably the best player in the country, and he handled the responsibility of being Duke’s primary option in crunch time last season, but now he’s joined on the roster by Jayson Tatum, who could be even more talented. Tatum is an aggressive scorer with the ability to attack from anywhere on the court, and his length and versatility will make him a difficult matchup for most opponents. It will be interesting to see if Tatum has any challenges to not always being the main scoring option down the stretch in close games.
3. Will the Defense Be Good Enough to Win a Championship?
In the seasons where Duke has struggled over the past few years, many of the problems have often come on the defensive end. Mike Krzyzewski regularly turns out some of the best offensive teams in the country, but some of the challenges of having such frequent roster turnover have led to defensive lapses. Last season, Duke was No. 86 in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, according to Kenpom. A healthy Amile Jefferson back in the lineup should help the defense for the Blue Devils, and Matt Jones is one of the better perimeter defenders in the ACC, but Duke’s freshmen will also need to commit to defending the basket. Hopefully, the additional frontcourt depth and ability to have a rim protector on the court at all times will also help provide more consistent defense.
4. Can This Team Stay Healthy?
If there’s one issue that could unravel Duke’s championship goals for this season more than any other, it’s injuries. Having already sustained multiple knee injuries, the health of freshman forward Harry Giles will be a question mark throughout the season, and Duke received another scare a couple weeks ago when Jayson Tatum sprained his foot during the team’s Pro Day. Amile Jefferson suffered a foot injury that forced him to miss the majority of last season, and Matt Jones has had issues with nagging injuries throughout his career. Add in the toll of abuse that Grayson Allen will take over the course of the season, and it will likely be a busy year for Duke trainer Jose Fonseca. This group has enough depth to overcome minor injuries throughout the season, but anything major could lead to problems.
5. How Does Mike Krzyzewski Utilize His Depth?
Regardless of the combination Mike Krzyzewski elects to use as his starting lineup, the Blue Devils could also have a second unit that’s capable of beating many ACC opponents. With a bench that will likely include Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter, Frank Jackson, Harry Giles (unless he’s healthy and starting), and Javin DeLaurier, Duke has an embarrassment of riches on the bench. Will Coach K stick to his pattern of narrowing the bench as the team gets close to the postseason, or will he take advantage of Duke’s incredible depth over the course of the year to keep his team fresh? I hope we see at least 10 guys get double digit minutes throughout the season, but Coach K could have other ideas.
What do you think are the biggest potential questions for Duke this season? Let us know by reaching out to us at @DukeReport on Twitter.