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Duke Needs to Find Alex O’Connell More Minutes

Alex O'Connell Duke
© Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

When Alex O’Connell committed to the Duke basketball program, he was regarded as a solid player who could develop physically and possibly become part of the rotation after a couple years.

As a 6’5”, 170-pound 4-star shooting guard, O’Connell was known for his shooting and offensive playmaking, but it looked like he’d need to put on weight and build his frame in order to be an effective contributor at Duke.

Through the first 14 games of the 2017-18 season, it’s become clear that O’Connell doesn’t need a year to adjust to college basketball. He’s ready to contribute now and the Duke coaching staff needs to find more minutes for him.

The freshman from Roswell, Ga., is averaging 12 minutes per game, though that’s somewhat skewed by logging heavy minutes in blowout victories against Evansville and South Dakota. His career high in minutes is 29, which was in Duke’s overtime victory over Texas in the PK80.

In the three games the Blue Devils have played against ranked opponents this season (Michigan State, Florida, Florida State), O’Connell played a combined 20 minutes. In the team’s lone loss on the road at Boston College, he only played two minutes.

We all know Mike Krzyzewski’s track record of relying heavily on his starters and preferring a shorter rotation, but O’Connell has showed in limited action that he deserves a spot in that rotation.

Not only has he performed when on the court, Alex O’Connell brings a skill that is particularly valuable for this season’s team – he can knock down outside shots.

He’s shooting 50% from three-point range and 58% from the field overall.

It makes sense that Duke’s offense this season is built around getting the ball in the paint. With dominant low post scorers like Marvin Bagley & Wendell Carter, it’d be foolish not to utilize their strengths.

However, because of Trevon Duval’s perimeter shooting struggles and Gary Trent’s streaky outside shooting, there are times when the Blue Devils need someone who can come off the bench to assist Grayson Allen in providing an outside shooting threat that prevents teams from clogging the lane.

O’Connell can be that weapon.

He’s limited defensively, but he tries to overcome it by being extremely active and disruptive. Giving maximum effort on defense goes a long way, and O’Connell’s effort is enough to prevent him from being a total liability on that end of the floor.

And, if we’re being honest, Duke hasn’t played defense in 7 years. No need to use that as a reason for not playing Alex O’Connell.

This past Saturday’s win over Florida State was the latest example of the way O’Connell has a knack for making a positive impact in the game for the Blue Devils.

During a short stint in the 2nd half, he knocked down a three in transition and later found Grayson Allen on a beautiful play where he passed up a shot, drove the lane, and passed out to Allen for a corner three-pointer.

It was terrific basketball and not what you’d typically expect from a freshman.

But, Alex O’Connell has been better than expected all season.

That’s why we should expect to see more of him.