Season Preview: Can Duke sustain their #1 efficient offense?
Last season, Duke finished #1 in adjusted offensive efficiency (according to KenPom) with 123.5 points, 2 full points ahead of the second team, Kansas. Today we will look at why Duke was so successful on offense and whether it will be sustainable this season.
A large part of Duke’s success on offense last season was their offensive rebounding. They ranked 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 40.3%, led by the nation’s top offensive rebounding in Brian Zoubek (21.4%).
Obviously, offensive rebounds can lead to easy buckets. Zoubek dominated the offensive glass and got countless easy layups because of his tenacity.
More importantly, these rebounds left 3 point shooters open for Duke. With the defenders sagging down to grab the defensive rebounds, the perimeter players were able to hang around the perimeter and be ready to take the open shot.
That space proved vital for Duke perimeter shooters and they often took advantage.
Is it sustainable?
Well, Zoubek graduated and took a pretty good offensive rebounder in Lance Thomas with him, but the cupboard is not bare. The Plumlee brothers have the opportunity to step in and will be helped by Ryan Kelly. I expect Duke to fall out of the top 10 in terms of OR% but I think they will continue to be a strong offensive rebounding team.
Coach K is great and defining roles for his players and getting them to stick to those roles. One of Zoubek’s was to be relentless on the offensive glass and I expect Coach K to find a replacement for that crucial skill. While it remains to be seen if Duke can be as great as last year on the offensive glass, I still expect them to be a formidable offensive rebounding team.
Guards that can dribble penetrate
The strength of Duke last season was the guard play, led by Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer. With their dribble penetration, they were able to get to the rim for layups or give the big men easy buckets.
It is not breaking news to say that neither Brian Zoubek nor Lance Thomas were offensive threats last season, but they were able to poach several baskets a game thanks to the penetration by the guards that drew their defenders and left them open under the basket.
Watch how Scheyer and Smith drive to the basket and get cut off by the help defender, only to find the open man for the easy layup. Not all guards at the college level have mastered this or are this unselfish but the Duke guards have no issue in dumping the ball off for the easy layup.
Penetration by guards is not all about dumping it off to a big man, but being able to finish strong at the rim. Smith is strong enough and quick enough to get to the basket whenever he wants and will be deadly at the end of the shot clock.
Is it sustainable?
No doubt about it. Duke loses Scheyer but adds likely the most dynamic freshman guard in Kyrie Irving as well as Seth Curry to bolster their backcourt. They should be one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country.
Multi talented players
What makes Duke’s trio from last year so dangerous is their multi-faceted game. They could all drive to the basket, hit the mid range jumper or the three point shot. That made them extremely difficult to defend and allowed them to read the defense and take what the defense gave them.
Here, Zoubek sets a screen for Singler. Singler sees that the defense goes below the screen and stays at the three point line for a jumper. If the defender would have fought over the top or trailed Singler, he could have just dove to the basket for a shot in the lane. That is intelligent basketball by reading the defense and taking what the defense gives you.
Here, Scheyer drives the lane and draws the help defense, leaving Singler open for the corner. Scheyer was too good to not be given help defense, yet the defense would get burned when they left Singler open. That many weapons makes Duke nearly difficult to defend.
Singler can pass the ball as well, as seen in this clip. He pump fakes the shot, then drives to the lane, drawing Smith’s defender. He recognizes this and finds the open man, who has the ability to make a quick shot and a mid range jump shot.
They are so tough to defend because if you cut Singler off, someone else is open that can burn your hard work on the initial defender. It makes it quite frustrating for a defense.
Finally, sometimes good offense just beats good defense. Kevin Jones does nothing wrong here, but Singler is good enough to score despite his effort. Defense is not fair sometimes.
Is it sustainable?
Again, you bet. Singler and Smith return and will be joined by Irving and Curry, with Mason Plumlee poised for a breakout season. They could easily field a lineup where all 5 players are strong offensive players and must be respected. Needless to say, they will be difficult to defend.
I firmly believe Duke can repeat their success from last season and be the most efficient offense once again. While they may experience some initial shock from their newcomers and learning to play together and share the ball, I think any issues that arise from that will work themselves out quickly and we will see Duke as a well oiled machine. It is enough to give any coach nightmares of how to defend their attack.