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October 11, 2008
Despite the loss of wing DeMarcus Nelson - Duke's leading scorer last season - few teams have a better collection of talent, depth and experience on the perimeter.
Gerald Henderson was Duke's best player down the stretch last season.
Junior Jon Scheyer probably will move back into the starting lineup at shooting guard after being one of the nation's top sixth men last season. Scheyer provided a big offensive lift off the bench, averaging 11.7 ppg. Scheyer moves well without the ball, and is at his best when coming off screens and shooting mid-range jumpers. He is also a solid threat from 3-point land.
Athletic wing Gerald Henderson was Duke's best player at the end of last season and looks poised for an All-ACC kind of year. Without Henderson, whose strength is attacking the basket, the Blue Devils would have been knocked out of the first round of the NCAA tournament by Belmont. The former five-star recruit hit some clutch baskets late and finished with a team-high 21 points in the Blue Devils' 71-70 escape. He'll need to be more steady and average around 15 ppg, possibly more, to make up for Nelson's scoring.
Sophomore Nolan Smith earned a spot in the rotation last season and should play a bigger role. Quick and athletic, Smith can back up Paulus at the point or provide a scoring punch off the ball. He may even start if the Blue Devils choose to go with a four-guard lineup.
Duke's biggest addition is freshman Elliot Williams. A five-star prospect from Memphis, Williams packs plenty of athleticism into a 6-4 frame and can handle the ball well and play multiple positions. Williams is also an excellent defender, which should lead to early minutes. He'll quickly emerge as a steady contributor.
Mike Krzyzewski said Kyle Singler was the most ready of any freshman he had ever had prior to last season, and the versatile forward backed up the coach's bold statement. Singler ranked second on the team in scoring at 13.3 ppg and tied for the lead in rebounding with 5.8 rpg on his way to capturing the ACC Rookie of the Year award.
Singler managed that production while playing out of position for most of the year, and he'll likely have to do the same again. Duke still lacks a quality big man. The Blue Devils went out and signed a pair of three-star power forwards – 6-7 Olek Czyz and 6-10 Miles Plumlee – but neither is ready to play heavy minutes. That means Singler will match up with opposing big men again. On offense, that works to the Blue Devils' advantage. Singler, who handles the ball well and is good outside shooter, creates matchup problems and pulls those big men away from the basket. But it does create problems on defense, leaving the Blue Devils undersized and often overmatched on the interior.
It will be up to juniors Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek to change that. Both have been no more than role players so far. Either could start alongside Singler and will play significant minutes. The 6-8 Thomas needs to do a better job avoiding foul trouble. The 7-1 Zoubek, who has more than enough size to create an inside presence, has battled a series of foot injuries.
Senior forward David McClure, who has been a utility man of sorts in the past, will likely be part of the rotation. Plumlee and Czyz, who were ranked the Nos. 101 and 112 prospects in the 2008 class, may also earn some minutes.
Influenced by working alongside Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni with Team USA, Coach K made some radical changes on offense last season. The Blue Devils turned up the pace and moved four players on the perimeter, sometimes even five. The result was an explosive attack that jacked up an ACC-high 816 3-pointers and ranked second in the league with 83.2 ppg. With that kind of production and much of the personnel back, expect more of the same.
Getting more stops will be the focus of Coach K and his staff. The Blue Devils, who stick to a traditional man-to-man despite their lack of size, were eighth in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (43.5 percent) last season.
Shoes to Fill
Nelson. There is more than enough firepower to make up for Nelson's 14.5 ppg. Replacing Nelson's 5.8 rpg is a bigger concern. The team captain played far bigger than his 6-4 frame and he was one of the better rebounding wings in the nation.
Must Step Up
Henderson. This junior raised his scoring average from 6.8 ppg to 12.7 ppg last season. He's fully capable of making another big leap, and the Blue Devils need him to be more assertive on the offensive end.
Williams. Meet the Blue Devils' next star. Long and athletic, Williams has a great package of physical tools. If he develops quickly, the Blue Devils will have a big weapon to utilize.
Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.