Despite No. 1 ranking, Duke needs to get better fast
If you were to look on any sports website I can guarantee there is either a mention of Duke on the main page, or a Zion Williamson highlight. The thing about Duke basketball is that, yes, they are good, but they aren’t great. The Blue Devils rank 62nd in the nation in field goal percentage shooting only 50%, and 121st in 3PT field goal percentage with 37.2%.
For the sake of this article we will focus on their top 3 ranked freshmen. Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish come into the season with the expectations of going 1, 2, and 3 in the upcoming NBA draft. While every fan loves to watch Williamson, I believe Barrett is the real No. 1 prospect even with him shooting just 30% from 3-point range. Williamson is shooting 33% from 3, but with his ability to fly, he has his FG% at a staggering 82%. Reddish is the purest scorer on the team with 44% from 3 and a 40% field goal percentage. He takes the most 3’s per game which at this point is warranted. He has 2 other dynamic playmakers to lean on, and his percentage will absolutely keep teams honest, but this will not last long if the entire team can’t make free throws, contested and/or uncontested shots. Coach Mike Krzyzewski understands this very well.
“If there is space, the more space we give the harder it is to defend. The thing about space is that in order for it to be validated you have to be able to hit a shot. That’s why the stand still 3pt shot is a shot that EVERYONE on this team HAS to hit," he said.
Some will call bull; how can Coach K expect everyone from Marques Bolden to Mike Buckmire to be able to hit open 3’s? Practice. Practice. Practice.
“When I coached the U.S. team I talked to them about hitting stand still 3’s," Krzyzewski said. "Kobe Bryant said ‘coach I never get a stand still 3’. I said you will get stand still 3s. ‘I’m always double teamed.’ You won’t be double teamed because LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and those guys will be on the court. You’re going to get open 3s. Then all of a sudden he didn’t hit them. Then he’s in every night shooting 1000 shots and that’s not an exaggeration……….the free throw and the stand still 3 you’ve got to be able to hit.”
Duke is currently ranked 277th (62%) in free throws and 121st (37%) from 3. If they want to make a serious run at this year’s championship they need to get better fast. The ACC is a power house and never a cake walk. Duke will also play in what is probably the strongest Maui Invitational line up to date. Arizona, Auburn (9), Gonzaga (3), Illinois, Iowa St., San Diego St., and Xavier will all be quality tests for Duke regardless of when they play. Defenses will adjust if Duke is unable to improve their efficiency. With only 3 games into the season it may be premature to call them busts from 3, but if Duke can’t hit them then the three freshmen are going to have a long season; which might even result in the three of them slipping in the draft.
Follow Christopher Elias on Twitter. (@304_Chris)