Over the years, Duke basketball has built a reputation for relying on its perimeter play whether it’s from point guards or wings. Even in the recent years where the Blue Devils had a dominant post presence, like Jahlil Okafor in 2014-15 or Mason Plumlee in 2012-2013, they’ve still balanced out their production with backcourt stars like Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and Seth Curry.
Obviously, this year’s squad features talented backcourt play as well with Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval but Duke has more than one star in its frontcourt. Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. are, without a doubt, two of the 10 most talented bigs in the country.
These two freshmen would probably be the No. 1 option offensively on 95 percent of the teams in the country. Don’t get me wrong – Arizona, Michigan St. and Kentucky have great frontcourts, but I don’t see how anyone’s frontcourt tops the one in Durham. It’s a great balance of star power, depth and versatility.
We all know how good Bagley is but once he signed his NLI, people were quick to forget that Wendell Carter Jr. was a top five recruit in the 2017 class and a likely lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. A handful of teams feature a star big like Bagley but none of them have a second option in the frontcourt like Carter Jr. I’m not sure we’ve seen a more talented duo of pure big men at Duke before. Coach K usually strays away from the two-big frontcourt, especially nearing postseason competition, but I’m not sure he can do that this year, barring injury.
Carter Jr. and Bagley are so versatile that there shouldn’t any issue coexisting when the season gets underway. We’ve seen glimpses against inferior talent in the exhibitions and it’s been a pleasure to watch how both play off each other especially in high-low action. Both bigs can run the floor, step out beyond the 3-point line, score in the post and pass the ball.
Bagley will probably be recognized as the “center” but they’re interchangeable so it’ll be hard to label them. We’re in an era of positionless basketball anyway.
These two freshman dandies aren’t the only reasons Duke boasts the best frontcourt in the nation. Bagley wasn’t in the blueprint for Coach K until August. Marques Bolden was expected to be the starting center of this year’s team after a shaky freshman year. Bolden has all the tools to be a star on this level but his main concern is his motor and effort. If Bolden can maintain consistent energy and effort off the bench as he’s shown in both exhibitions, Duke will have a three-headed monster in addition to the array of talent in its backcourt.
But the true x-factor in the frontcourt could be Javin DeLaurier. Coach K has raved about his development all offseason. DeLaurier will see most of his time playing the three and four but we could see him at the five sporadically as well if all the bigs are in foul trouble. DeLaurier is one of the more intriguing prospects on this team because of his size and elite athleticism. Although we haven’t seen much of his jumper besides a three he made at CTC, DeLaurier brings a lot to the table with his length and ability to protect the rim. I don’t see how he’ll be left out of the rotation and he should be Duke’s utility man this year.
Michigan State, who I think probably sits in second for the best frontcourt, has the depth and experience in its frontcourt, but I don’t think that puts them ahead of Duke because of the overpowering talent in Duke’s frontcourt. Luckily, we have an early matchup between the two on Tuesday to give us an early measuring stick.