Duke's presence on a national level took a meteoric rise -- and that's saying something -- this week with the latest operatic episode involving Grayson Allen's tripping habit.
But for all who are sick and tired of "Graymond" already, I have good news for you: We're not here to talk about that. Not one bit. Let's look at what Duke's done on the floor through 13 games of non-conference play. This is a fun, promising, potentially all-time-talented team. The Blue Devils have wrapped up their non-league schedule, and their current 12-1 record is what the computers predicted in the preseason. So, in that way, Duke has matched the hype; hit expectations on the nose.
Of course, the path to 12-1 was not what Mike Krzyzewski was anticipating.
Let's look closer and see where this team has done well and in what areas there's still plenty of room for growth.
The Blue Devils rank third in the country in offensive efficiency at KenPom.com, trailing only undefeated Villanova and undefeated UCLA. That's great. They are averaging 83.5 points, which is 36th in America. That's pretty good. Beyond that, Duke's offense still has room for growth. It's getting a B+ for being so good despite having roster issues for almost the entirety of the preseason and into mid-December.
Duke is shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Only once in the past 15 years, in 2008-09, did Krzyzewski have a team finish the season under 36 percent from deep. So keep an eye on that (I do think Duke will finish out around 38 percent by the time we get to March). From 2-point range, Duke is at 55.6 percent, which is very good but not elite (27th in the sport).
The Blue Devils don't play fast, they don't play slow. Their tempo is consistent. They aren't getting to the line as much as they should given their talent (they have a 40.7-percent free throw rate, meaning 40 percent of the total shots they take are foul shots, which is about average for a Coach K team), but I think the best is still to come with this team's offense.
Overcoming injuries: A
No doubt about it. Duke started the season without freshmen Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden. All have been projected lottery picks. Bolden's having some growing pains, but Tatum (15.4 points, 7.6 rebounds through five games) is immediately adapting. He's been great. Look at this smoothness. This is a fadeaway move ready for the league right now.
Giles only came back this week. He'll need another three or four games before he's really comfortable, I think, and even then we'll see. I wouldn't be surprised if he averages less than 20 minutes per game for the season. We're talking about a power forward who had three knee procedures before ever playing a college game. His talent is undeniable. Krzyzewski isn't going to put him in harm's way if he can help it.
Prior to all these players coming back, Duke was able to go 7-1 and lose only to Kansas at the last second at Madison Square Garden on a shot from Frank Mason III, who could become the Player of the Year.
So, yeah, Duke's been able to move past the injury issue. Even Allen had a lingering toe problem, but that's subsided as well.
The schedule hasn't been top-notch, but Duke does have wins over Rhode Island, Florida and Michigan State. I think all three of those teams will be in the NCAA Tournament.
Producing a POY candidate: A
Not one, but two!
Here's how I'd frame this topic. If you finish as a First Team All-American selectee at the end of the year, you can say you were legitimately in the national player of the year conversation. A top-five player is worthy of inclusion. A top-10 player? Hey, that's really good too.
And right now, Duke has two guys, Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson, both with cases to be top-10 players of value.
Duke doesn't have that every year, but here's who's been a top-10 player in the past decade.
2015: Jahlil Okafor (First Team)
2014: Jabari Parker (First Team)
2013: Mason Plumlee (Second Team)
2011: Nolan Smith (First Team)
2010: Jon Scheyer (Second Team)
Scheyer's now an assistant at Duke, and Smith is also on the team bench in a support role.
This year, Kennard's in the mix (20.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 43 percent from 3) with Frank Mason III, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and anyone else you want to throw at the top of the POY chase (Read our latest POY Rankings). Jefferson (14.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 65 percent from the field) is more in the 10-12 range, but that's still really good.
The Blue Devils rank eighth in America in per-possession defense (a 90.9 DRtg at KenPom) and are allowing 61.8 points per game, which ranks 23rd in the country. Because of that, Duke is sixth in America in scoring margin (21.7 points) and has become more reliable on D than O, to this point, I think.
A lot of this is due to Krzyzewski's Hall of Fame-level coaching. But the team has tremendous athleticism, really good length, and it's very principled in its man-to-man style. Matt Jones, who almost never gets discussed, is a vital veteran and also someone I'd rank as one of the 20 best man-on-man defenders in the sport.
Wait until Giles is healthy and limber and protecting the rim. Tatum's a two-way player. Teams are shooting just 28.3 percent from 3-point range against Duke; there's debate over whether teams truly have the ability to affect opponents' 3-point percentage, butI believe they do, though it's a nuanced discussion. Given Duke's size, length, athleticism and ability to put almost anyone 18 feet out as a defender, I think that 28.3 number correlates to defensive scheme.
Role play: A-
I'm looking at Frank Jackson and seeing a guy who was asked to do more than initially expected and came through in a big way. Duke doesn't have a true point guard. It also, apparently, doesn't need one. Jackson, who is a 2 much more than a 1, has been able to step in and provide pivotal play throughout November and December.
I'll be interested to see how his minutes and/or role are reduced with a full lineup, but he'll have another chance here with the Allen suspension. Jackson is averaging 12.3 points in 26.8 minutes and shooting 39.1 percent from the field. He made big strides in preseason development and became the exact type of spot-up/role player Duke needed to remain a top-five team throughout the first six weeks of the season.
Overall grade: A-
When you consider who Duke has played, the injuries that have happened, the fact that the development is still ongoing and how Duke's looked in some of those games (the Florida win was an impressive romp), I think an A- is fair.
If we're grading on a curve, you could say B or B+, because Duke's ceiling is so high. But remember, it's going to be playing in a competitive ACC. I wonder how high Duke flies in January and February. It's undoubtedly going to roll some teams at home. It's also going to take losses on the road. If Tatum and Giles tap into their top-three draft potential, then things get fun really fast. UCLA, to me, is the most watchable team in the country right now. But at its best, I think Duke can be the most dominating and captivating team the sport has. The Blue Devils have only flirted with that so far. Will we see it sooner than later?