Every Duke fan has heard announcers criticize Duke for its live by the three, die by the three mentality. While the strategy can be nearly unstoppable when the Blue Devils are shooting well (see: Tournament, ACC), it can easily backfire if the team is on a cold streak (see: Villanova).
Unfortunately for frustrated fans, though, the strategy doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. Next season Duke will return the same core rotation, and although the Blue Devils will be welcoming two of the top forwards in the country in Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, it seems unrealistic to expect freshman to immediately give Duke the post presence they’ve so long desired.
Despite the expected similarities between this year’s team and next year’s, though, it is possible for the Blue Devils to find new ways to score from inside the arc. So, here is a three-step process to minimize Duke’s reliance on the three ball next year:
1) Develop Kyle Singler’s post play.
The way Singler has played offensively this season, it would be easy to forget that he actually is Duke’s power forward. Singler is extremely adept at using his speed to slash to the net against slower defenders or get open three-point shots, but given that he is 6-foot-8, there is no reason those skills can’t transition into solid post play.
Now, reasonably Singler may not be successful down low against a much taller defender, but against players his size Singler’s strength, speed, and coordination could easily be developed into a solid turn-around jumper or up-and-under move. It may never be his primary scoring option, but when Duke is having a cold-shooting night, the ability to go to Singler in the post for a quick, high-quality shot might put the Blue Devils back in rhythm. Furthermore, playing down low would create more opportunities for put-backs for Singler, much like his game-saver against Texas.
2) Develop Nolan Smith’s and Elliot Williams’ confidence.
Both Smith and Williams have displayed flashes of being able to drive to the basket and get easy layups this season. For much of the season, however, the two young guards seemed tentative at best, and at worst confused with their roles.
One more year of experience could do wonders for both players. Smith seemed much more comfortable towards the end of the season playing off-the ball, and Williams’ starting experience should give him a head start when he gets more consistent playing time next season. Depending on how Mike Krzyzewski decides to set the lineups, either Smith or Williams could provide a solid third or fourth scoring option in the starting lineup, or a quick spark off the bench. The pair’s ability to get easy baskets off the dribble at times should further alleviate the pressure for Duke to hit every three-point shot.
3) Convince Gerald Henderson to stay for his senior season.
The relationship between Henderson’s play and Duke’s success can not be overstated this season. When Henderson was able to create open shots for himself and get to the rim, the Blue Devils seemed like an entirely different team than when Henderson struggled. This was no more apparent than against Villanova, as Henderson’s struggles put more pressure on Singler and Jon Scheyer to make threes.
Henderson gives Duke the athleticism it has lacked in the recent past, and more important, a primary scoring option that does not involve the 3-pointer. If he chooses to leave for the NBA, Duke will no longer have a player that can easily impose his will on the opposition.
So while Duke may not be able to develop a true point guard or a dominant post presence instantaneously this off-season, there are ways for the Blue Devils to at least minimize, if not directly solve, its reliance on the 3-pointer in order to improve their chances next year.