3 Keys to Watch in this Weekend’s Tune up Games

By Jack Drapkin

Look we all know Duke’s real season begins every year with the Champions Classic. It is a great measuring stick for the team to see where they are at in relation to the other great teams in the country. This year is no different, as they will go in as the #1 team against #2 Michigan State. Besides the fact I think Michigan State and Tom Izzo deserve the #1 ranking, they are a more experienced team with all of a top-5 recruiting class from last season including the electric Miles Bridges, returning. Michigan State is also one of the few teams who will be able to match Duke’s size, with their combination of Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson, and Gavin Schilling. But before getting too carried away with the excitement of this matchup I wanted to give you guys a couple of things to pay attention to in this weekend’s matchups against Elon and Utah Valley.

Shooting

I can’t seem to stress this enough, this is the first time in the last five seasons at least, where I have legitimate question marks about how the team will shoot. We know what Grayson Allen is capable of, but he will be the lone shooter who teams have to respect. Despite shooting 49 times from behind the arc in the first two games, Duke has only made 15 of those attempts or 30%. Even more concerning is the fact that Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. have accounted for 12 of those makes alone. Speaking of Gary Trent Jr., he has looked outstanding in the exhibitions, knocking down 64% of his looks on a variety of shots. If Duke is going to have success as we move deeper into the season, Marvin Bagley III and/or Wendell Carter Jr. will need to be at least respected from beyond the arc.

Defense

I have the loved the defense I have seen from the Blue Devils early on this season. They have been aggressive, active and in-sync on that end of the court. If this continues this weekend look for the bigs to continue leading the charge. The athleticism and ability to switch has been a real difference maker and could be a key for Duke in the matchup against Michigan St.

Rotation

Pay attention to the minutes distribution in the 1st half, it will be a good indicator of who will play in the Michigan State game. Since I am expecting both of these games to be under wraps by the 2nd half, who plays in the first half will be the true indicator. In particular, see how many people come off the bench in the first half and what is the order. In particular, the minutes of freshmen point guards, Trevon Duval and Jordan Goldwire will be key as the Blue Devils will want to keep Grayson Allen at the two as much as possible.

I’ll be back early next week to recap these two games and preview the Michigan State in detail. Until then check out our great content on the Youtube page, Dealing with the Devils!

Duke Basketball’s Projected 2017-18 Rotation

By Jack Drapkin

Thanks for tuning in or for those returnees coming back. For the remainder of the season, I will be primarily writing about the Dukies to go along with our new channel, “Dealing with the Devils“. So since they just played their first exhibition of the season against D2 Northwestern St., I figured it would be a great time to take a look at their rotation in this game and try to extrapolate what this means moving into the regular season and then conference play.

*Note this was written under the assumption that Duval’s suspension would not affect his playing time in the regular season.*

First off, the starters Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. have a ton of suffixes in their names. Besides that, it’s four freshmen and a senior who have a ton of athleticism and length. Shooting still remains a concern for me with this team and this group as while we know Grayson is knock down, the other four while capable, still have question marks. More importantly, defensively this team has a chance to be one of the better ones Duke has had in recent years. With the size and athleticism combination as well as depth Duke should play a lot more man pressure this season and at times even full court or 3/4 court press. Then again, we said many of the same things in anticipation of last year’s injury-riddled campaign.

Now to the bench, which has been a sore spot for Duke in recent years. The first two players off the bench in the first exhibition were Marquese Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. With each man standing over 6’10” the Blue Devils are clearly going to play big this season. I thought Javin looked much improved, as he nailed a 3-pointer and looked much more comfortable out on the court. The reason the first two guys off the bench was a key to me is because Coach K rarely plays more than 7 so these could be the last two guys getting meaningful playing time.

Some last thoughts here on the rest of the roster. A surprise to me was freshman point guard Jordan Goldwire being the 8th man into the game. It appears based on his early entrance that he is inline for backup PG minutes allowing Grayson to remain at the two spot. If true, this is a big development for the Dukies as it enables everyone to remain in their natural spots when Duval goes to the bench or inevitably gets in foul trouble. Finally, I was surprised at how late 2nd-year man Jack White got into the game, I thought he could emerge as a key role player this year but may have to bide his time instead. Anyways, let me know what you thought as we move into our 2nd exhibition game today at 1:00.

John Collins Quiet Ascent in Atlanta

By Jack Drapkin

Don’t look now, wait until January or February when the NBA Rookie Ladder is in full swing, but John Collins will find himself comfortably within the Top 10 of that list. You may be saying but Jack, it’s only the third game of the season how can you be so confident. Well for one here’s me discussing the impact I think Collins will have, and here too. But most importantly, in a minuscule three-game sample size Collins has averaged 12 points and nearly seven rebounds on zero three-point attempts a game. The last part is most important to me, as even though I alluded to him adding it to his arsenal, he knows where his game is at and is playing within himself.

On the offensive end of the court, Collins uses his intelligence and athleticism to create openings for himself inside the arc. A capable mid-range jump shooter, he utilizes his pump-fake to drive past defenders and get to the rim. He has also excelled on the offensive glass, averaging 5.5 offensive rebounds per-36 minutes. He has like most rookies do struggled with his ball security in the early part of this season. If he could carry over his offensive instincts and motor consistently to the defensive end of the court, we would be discussing a Rookie of the Year candidate

Still far more confident and comfortable on the offensive end of the court expect Collins to struggle on the defensive end for the remainder of his rookie season. While he has shown activity on that end in the early part of the season,  six combined steals and blocks, he still has ways to go with his positioning and could improve his strength as well. This combined with the four fouls a game he is currently picking up say it will take time, but at least the effort has been there unlike what it was in college.

In short, look now, look later, but Collins will find himself among the top rookies by the All-Star break even if no one is watching the Hawks.

Time for Middleton to Emerge in Milwaukee

By Jack Drapkin

When discussing the Milwaukee Bucks, the conversation rightfully is centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak who will turn 23 in December is the young centerpiece of a franchise on the uptick. However, Giannis needs help and with Jabari Parker sidelined until at least January, someone will need to take up some of the playmaking slack. Some writers are looking towards second-year players Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon to bridge this gap. However, both players seem more likely to stay in their current roles than drastically increase them. This leaves Khris Middleton, now a year removed from a hamstring tear to pick up the playmaking slack.

So why Middleton and not Brogdon or Maker, after all, Middleton is the oldest player of this group and the one who presumably has tapped into his potential the most. A career 40% shooter from deep, Middleton had increased his role each year with Milwaukee before his injury-ravaged campaign last year. Peaking at over 18 points and four assists a game in the 2015-16 season. This numbers should surprise the most ardent of NBA fans, just not the top-notch Bucks fans, I hear ya Milwaukee!

So why will this year be the year for Middleton and the Bucks. Two reasons, opportunity, and health. To the latter, a year removed from the major hamstring injury from last season, expect Middleton to look fresh and re-invigorated at the start of the season. Now as far as opportunity is concerned, this will be the best situation Middleton has had a chance to play on throughout his career. The difference in the level of play that Giannis is playing at compared to the last time Middleton was completely healthy is night and day. The openings created by playing with Giannis are tremendous and will make Middleton’s life easier to pick apart his defender with his old-man, Joe Johnson-like game. Also with the additions of Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon, the defensive burdens will be less on Middleton this season allowing him to have more energy on the offensive end.

With Middleton’s 15 points, nine rebound, six assist opening night performance is just the way the Bucks hoped his season would start.

Potential 2nd Year NBA Breakout Players

By Jack Drapkin

With the season starting this upcoming week, I figured it was time to take a look at the rising sophomores from the 2016 NBA Draft Class. A class that by most measures disappointed across the board. Think about this, the three best rookies of last season were two rookies from Philly in Dario Saric and Joel Embiid who were both part of the 2014 draft and the 36th overall pick Malcolm Brogdon. It’s safe to say that the top of the 2016 NBA Draft failed to live up to the expectations that were frankly already set fairly low. So who changes this narrative and steps up as we head into a new season? I attempt to put on ‘Genie’ hat and predict which players are going to take a step forward this season.

Brandon Ingram

Look, the beginning of his career was not pretty. As a skinny nineteen-year-old in the NBA maybe as a collective, our expectations should have been lower. However, they were not and he struggled immensely through early January. Then, something funny started to happen, things began to click for Ingram. His shot started falling a bit more frequently as he became more assertive on the court increasing his scoring from eight ppg before the All-star break to 13 ppg after the break. Many of the same doubters from last season are pointing to a weak pre-season showing from Ingram as a sign that his performance at the end of last season was a fluke. I’d be careful of following that advice, with pre-season games more accurately reflecting that of pick-up quality, expect Ingram to slowly grow into his role this season and be a 15 ppg scorer on a better than expected Lakers team.

Henry Ellenson

After spending one season at Marquette, Ellenson spent much of last season in the G-League with just 19 appearances to his name. So why is Ellenson poised for a bigger sophomore campaign. Two reasons, first he is much more confident with his skills as was apparent with his summer league dominance. If you’re highly drafted 2nd-year player doesn’t dominate in the summer league its a cause for concern. Ellenson, tore it up to the tune of 17 points and seven boards a game. And, I know it’s just summer league but it is still important for his confidence. Second, the Pistons lost Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes this offseason. Two players who combined were playing 50 frontcourt minutes a game. Besides journeyman Anthony Tolliver the only other frontcourt player Detroit brought in was Eric Moreland, Ellenson is due for minutes this season.

Taurean Prince/DeAndre’ Bembry

The Atlanta Hawks are not going to be a good basketball team this year. That’s the bad news, the good news they have a number of intriguing young players including this pair of sophomore wings. Prince, in particular, was able to move into the rotation last season after the trade of Kyle Korver and performed admirably, especially in the playoffs. If I had to pick one or the other it would be Prince who will have the better season. Bembry however, has a unique game, not a great shooter but does everything else well, and is a deceptively explosive athlete who will look to take advantage of the minutes departed by Tim Hardaway Jr. The Hawks are hopeful they have a couple of wings for the future in today’s switch happy NBA.

Making Sense of the Rookie Hype

By Jack Drapkin

For all of the hype surrounding the 2017 Rookie NBA Class, they have yet to play an official NBA game. However, with the success that many of them had in the various Summer Leagues, the hype is certainly understandable. What I find most interesting is who the spotlight has been placed upon primarily.

Sure, Lonzo Ball has the media in a buzz buoyed by his business-savvy, loudmouth of a Father, but he was not the number one pick that was Markelle Fultz. And of course Dennis Smith Jr. has looked impressive and explosive but he wasn’t even the third point guard selected, De’Aaron Fox, or the fourth for that matter, Frank Ntilikina.

Alright, alright, alright what’s the point? Well, remember how excited everyone was for Michael Carter-Williams and Tyreke Evans after there rookie campaigns. Or how about the promise that Jared Sullinger and Iman Shumpert showed early in their careers. What about how promising Anthony Bennett looked in his days for the Cavs. Oh, too soon you say?

Alright, let’s flip that around, remember what a young Mike Conley was like. How about Harrison Barnes in his first year with the Warriors. Point being, many players can have fast starts to their career and stall out, while others struggle initially before finding their footing.

So my advice to all of you whoever you were high on before the draft process and during the summer maintain that faith, no matter the start of the season.

2017 New York Mets Pitching Staff Bust

By: Alexander C. Lawrence

Being a Met fan for over 7 years now, I’ve seen a lot of hope going into the following season, but none quite like 2017 though. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler (the return!), and Steven Matz. I bet most Met fans know by now the only New York Met starting pitcher worth rostering all season in fantasy leagues was (drum roll)….. JACOB DEGROM!

For most Met fans they are looking forward to next season and seeing what free agency brings them as the Mets were derailed by injuries all season long. Matt Harvey, may not be in the rotation in 2018, so that’s the first step in figuring out the Mets pitching staff. Trading for a starting pitcher doesn’t seem like a true option at this point. Signing a starter seems like the most viable option as Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler had to battle injuries in 2017. For the Mets to come in with so many expectations for this pitching staff you’d think we were talking about the New England Patriots and once upon a time it did seem like the Mets had a very good pitching staff.

Zach Wheeler may be the only pitcher to stick around the rotation next season along with DeGrom and Syndergaard as Harvey may be gone, and Matz may be transitioned to a relief pitcher if he continues to show he is not capable of staying healthy during the course of a rigorous MLB season. Terry Collins, the current manager of the Mets has said they need to look into how to properly deal with these injuries and the approach and process need to change. 2018 will be about figuring out how to manage health.

One thing that the Mets could benefit from is finding a couple veteran guys who can eat innings as all their young pitchers risk injury and some may even have innings limits such as Syndergaard and Wheeler. The Mets had the depth, but no one can be prepared to lose five starters in one season when you go into opening day with everyone presumably healthy. Sure they won’t find a veteran such as Bartolo Colon who beat father time and contributed nicely to the Mets for two seasons.

With veterans such as Jason Vargas, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb will be there for the pickings and it’d be in the clubs best interest to do so. Along with getting a big bat, but that’s a story for another day.

Old Faces, New Places

By Jack Drapkin

Inspired by seeing Victor Cruz salsa after scoring his first (preseason) touchdown for the Chicago Bears. I figured it was a good time to take a look at some familiar players donning new jerseys for the first time in their careers.

The criteria for this list was as follows: The player had to have played with only one team in his career previously and needed at least five seasons in the league. He also needed to be notable enough for you to care.

Jamaal Charles

Charles will be in his 9th career season and first outside Kansas City. He’s currently expected to be a part of a three-headed backfield with veteran CJ Anderson and young Devontae Booker. Charles will be looking to prove he still has ‘it’ after spending much of the last two seasons on IR.

Victor Cruz

Cruz will be playing in his first season outside of the Big Apple. In this instance, I think a fresh start is exactly what Cruz needed. After missing much of 2014 and all of 2015 with devasting knee and Achilles injuries, Cruz rebounded to post a respectable 586 receiving yards last year.

Lawrence Timmons

Timmons joining the Dolphins on a 10-million a year salary was shocking for many around the league. With the recent injury to 2nd-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Timmon’s role and importance to this team becomes even more significant.

Andrew Whitworth

Embarking on his 11th season, Whitworth will be hoping to solidify a Rams offensive line that has been a weak spot for many years now. A stalwart on the Bengals offensive line and 3x Pro Bowler expect Whitworth to still have a few good seasons left in him, especially with the warm weather in Los Angeles.

David Harris

After 10 seasons with the New York Jets, Harris will play for the rival Patriots in 2017. With over 700 tackles and 35 career sacks, Harris has nothing left to prove but would like to add a Super Bowl ring after all these years in the trenches.

Adrian Peterson

Arguably the greatest running back of his generation, Peterson will hope to have a career resurgence with Drew Brees and the Saints. With nearly 12,000 career rushing yards in his 10 seasons in the league, Peterson has put up some truly impressive numbers. However, after missing significant time in two of the past three seasons Peterson will have to show he still has that burst in his age-32 season.

Will Coach K Finish 38 and Done at Duke?

by Jack Drapkin

With Coach K approaching his 38th season at Duke and 43rd season overall it’s fair to wonder will this be it for the greatest coach of all-time. A recent knee surgery is just the latest in a long line of surgeries for Coach K. Many of which have been for his oft-injured back. Ask anyone with a back ailment and they’ll tell you, those don’t get better with time.

Look in all honesty, I was poised for last year to be the one in which he walks away. After a dominant regular season and championship run, I figured it would be the right time for Coach K to step away. Wait, that didn’t happen? Oh, nevermind that’s right, his team was injured right along with him last season.

Wait, that didn’t happen? Oh, nevermind that’s right, his team was injured right along with him last season.

To me, this is about how much punishment one man can endure.

With over 1,000 career wins and 5 national championships, Coach K deservedly will have the right to decide when he wants to call it quits. At some point, however, you have to wonder why does he continue doing this to himself. You can clearly see him in pain on the bench during games. And, at times especially last season

You can clearly see him in pain on the bench during games. And, at times especially last season he rarely got off the bench during games, allowing assistant coach Jeff Capel to walk the floor.

I certainly don’t hope this is Coach K’s last season in Durham but if it is, our expectations as fans have only been exceeded during his time at Duke. Thank you K.

How will Grayson Allen be Remembered?

By Jack Drapkin

Grayson Allen began his freshman year in obscurity. Buried on the bench behind a pair of NBA guards in Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, Allen didn’t see the court much. That began to change with the dismissal of junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Allen became the 8th man in the rotation and a 27-point breakout performance against Wake Forest soon followed. Inconsistent play and minutes would restrict Allen’s role from growing much from that point on.

However, as you all know that would prove to not matter as Allen came up huge in the Final Four games against Michigan St. and Wisconsin. Ultimately playing his way into being a deciding factor for the championship team.

Next came a sophomore season in which he led the team in scoring at 21.6 ppg and alongside Brandon Ingram, lead the Blue Devils to a respectable Sweet 16 loss against Oregon. This set up the National Player of the Year conversation that bled into the beginning of his junior season.

Allen obviously was not able to live up to that hype. He battled an ankle injury throughout the season and shot below 40% from the field for the first time in his career. He also battled his own emotions. Costly tripping incidents led to a 1-game suspension for Allen who would be stripped of his captaincy.

With a freshmen laden group, the Blue Devils will be looking for Allen to provide some veteran leadership this season. The question is does he have it within himself to provide that for his young teammates in their first season of college basketball?

It’s up to you Grayson, how will the Blue Devil Nation remember your Duke career.