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Duke Version 2011 : An Embarassment of Riches...but How to Spend Them?

When Kyle Singler announced his return on Monday, every avid Duke fan immediately began a process of rampant speculation ( and uncontrollable drooling) about what next year’s starting lineup was going to look like. With the almost silly amount of depth the Devils will have, my first thought was, ” Man, the Blue and White scrimmage is going to be one of our most competitive early season games next year”. Next year’s team will easily go 10 deep, with 6 players in the backcourt and 4 up front and will lack for neither talent nor experience. This will be quite the happy challenge for Coach K, who typically doesn’t go more than 7 deep in his rotation as a matter of philosophy and ( often) circumstance. The best players get the vast majority of minutes, but “best” can mean a lot of different things, and this team is going to have a lot of bests to choose from.

Here is what we know for a fact. Nolan and Kyle will play more minutes than anyone else. That’s a gimme.

Here’s what we are almost as sure of : Kyle will spend a majority of his time at the 3 and not the 4. Wojo said as much in an interview yesterday. There is some obvious flexibility here, but it’s clear that the coaching staff likes Singler where he is. Nolan will obviously remain at the 2.

After that we move into the nebulous realm of speculation. Let’s speculate by position, since we know the starters at the 2 and the 3 are locked up.

  • PG : Seth Curry, Kyrie Irving and Tyler Thornton. Based his performance at Liberty his freshman year,his pedigree, and everything we’ve been hearing from the Duke staff and players over the last year, Seth Curry is the real deal. Several of Duke’s starters remarked that, even though it was practice, Curry was one of the best guards they had to face all year. Challenging him for minutes at the point will be Kyrie Irving, who, based on the word of scouts and his stellar performances in   various all-american games, will arguably be the most talented freshman Duke has had since Jason Williams. And we haven’t even mentioned Thornton, who was named the Washington, DC POY and  First Team All Conference in the WCAC ( UNC’s touted PG recruit Kendall Marshall was named to the second team, by the by). I’m going to give the nod to Curry here as the starter ( though everyone will think I’m nuts) largely because of overall experience ( he’s a junior for all intents and purposes) and the fact that he’s spent a year playing in Duke’s system. But really, i see both he and Kyrie getting about 20 minutes per game, with Thornton doing mop-up.
  • PF/C: If Kyle is at the 3, it seems a fait accomplit that these two spots go to the Plumlees. If Mason shows as much improvement from year one to year two as Miles did, the only thing that will endanger their minutes is foul trouble.

Basically then, the first men off the bench are Irving at the PG and  Andre Dawkins who can spell Nolan OR Kyle. In the second case Duke would then be running a 3 guard lineup ( take your pick of combinations). They could go to this lineup if/when one of the Plumlees run afoul of fouls and move Singler to the 4 , which is a reasonably likely scenario. Kelly and Hairston will likely be used in limited reserve roles to spell the Plumlees in the first half of games and at the end of games if foul trouble arises.

Here are the lineups you are likely to see most often:

PG-Curry/Irving, SG-Nolan, SF-Singler, PF-Mason, C-Miles

PG-Irving, SG-Nolan,SG-Curry/Dawkins,SF-Singler, C-Mason/Miles

and here is a possible minutes breakdown:

Starting Lineup - Curry ( 20 min), Smith ( 33 min), Singler ( 35 min…8 minutes at the 4), Mason ( 25 min), Miles ( 30 min)

Bench - Irving ( 20 min), Dawkins (17 min), Kelly(10 min), Hairston/Thornton/Felix( 10 min)

The bottom line is that Duke can go big or small and not miss a beat in terms of the talent on the floor. It’s a great luxury and is the kind of flexibility that has everyone talking excitedly (albeit prematurely) about repeating as champions. Backcourt minutes will be at a premium,which means that someone ( Dawkins/ Curry / Kelly) will probably be playing fewer minutes than they had hoped. Let’s hope winning is a palliative, should any be needed.