Game Notes (2018/2019)
A Canadian Review. As we have alerted our readers, we have been traveling extensively through Europe and did not have an opportunity to comment immediately upon the Canada exhibition games as we normally would. We did, however, take the opportunity to watch the games consecutively on YouTube while on the road. It was particularly painful because that meant about five hours of listening to Jay Bilas jabber endlessly about everything except what was transpiring on the court. Poindexter always has a barf bag on hand when the specter of Bilas looms, and on this occasion it was refilled several times.
So what did we glean from these contests? Not much. The scoring margins were predictable, and would have been matched by most major squads. The saving grace is the realization that Duke was short-handed, with Cam Reddish, Tre Jones, and Poor Alex O'Connell all sidelined. Actually, Alex did start the first game, but was quickly injured … Javin once again left his feet on a head fake and his opponent drove to the hoop with elbows flying. Poor Alex wound up taking a shot to the eye. Watching him on the bench for the remainder of the series suggested that he could have played, but there was and continues to be a concern about further impact.
Anyone just reading accounts of these games would believe that both Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett had Herculean performances. They would be half-right. Zion was by far the most impressive kid on the floor. We had seen only one full game of his previously, and we had been struck by his ball-handling, passing and driving abilities. But playing with some other talent really opens the floor for him. We are now even more impressed.
Quite simply, if Zion has any kind of lane to the basket, he is almost always going to score. Contact on the shot hardly fazes him. God, how we love that.
The downside? Zion does not shoot well from a distance. Those three treys in the first contest were purely an aberration. Zion is also iffy at the line. Even so, we love the kid … he is almost certain to be the best player on this year’s squad.
While Zion may be best, we suspect that R.J. will be the leading scorer. When you shoot the ball virtually every time you have possession and are relatively talented to boot, you are going to rack up a lot of points. That was the story of R.J. in these games.
To some extent, we can forgive his extreme offensive exuberance since there were not a lot of offensive weapons available for the Devils. But when the team is at full complement, we will not be so understanding.
There is no doubt that R.J. is athletically gifted. But he is not as automatic off the drive as is Zion. He also struggles from long and at the line. Against the Canadian teams, his free throw shooting was absolutely abysmal. He and Zion are going to leave a lot of points on the table this season, and it will likely be deadly at times.
The other available freshman, Joey Baker, validated what we had heard … he has a very sweet stroke, and is a thing of beauty at the line. We had read a piece on another site recommending that he redshirt. We find that silly – it is highly unlikely that he will hang around for five years, and this team might at times need another outside stroke. At this point, Poor Alex is the only other kid with any kind of dependable shot from long.
We were disappointed that Joey did not get many minutes initially. However, we were delighted to see that change by the final game. We know that Joey will not get much court time this season, but he does add a dimension that is sorely lacking on this team.
As for the rest, it was mostly same old, same old. Vrank and Jordan had some decent minutes, but that needs to be qualified by considering the level (or lack thereof) of the competition. Javin was Javin, with effort surpassing skills. We did like the performance of Jack White, but then we have always favored him. We have said repeatedly that he is more effective overall than Javin, though we were highly disappointed in his outside shot last year after showing glimpses of real shooting prowess as a freshman.
There was, though, one big and disturbing negative in these games, and here we refer to Marques. We pride ourselves on being accurate talent assessors, and we were impressed by what we saw of Marques in his high school all-star contests. He was injured early as a freshman and thereafter, to our chagrin, was given little opportunity to shine. We had hoped for a breakout last season, but things were desultory at best. This year he is Duke's only athletically talented big, so we were anxious to see if he could step up. Well, based on what was shown up North, it ain't looking good.
In short, Marques was utterly ineffective against opponents he should dominate. It was so bad that he did not even start the final game, and his minutes were very limited. It would be highly beneficial to have an athletic big underneath to protect the rim and provide some effective board work. We are beginning to fear that will just be a pipe dream this year.
It has frequently been opined that Duke will be a more effective man-to-man defensive squad this season. That may well be, though it is not saying much. Certainly, the team is quicker overall, but that quickness needs to be balanced by discipline. That is something we did not see in Canada. The Duke players were gambling constantly on the defensive end, usually with disastrous results. It's something the coaching staff should address. We won't hold our breath.
So where does that leave us? Frankly, we're not sure. We love Tre Jones, but have a lot of misgivings about Mr. Reddish. We trust that Poor Alex will be ready to go, though having just one three point threat in the rotation is very worrisome. It had been our anticipation that Duke will be seeing a lot of zones, though that may not be quite so essential if R.J. and Zion continue to tank at the line. As we said in a prior post, our expectations are more constrained than the hype would seem to warrant. It is just unfortunate that the team needs to start the season against such tough opposition.