Duke’s Blue Collar Worker… Gary Trent Jr.

By Jack Drapkin

If the Duke Blue Devils were to succeed this year, it was to be on the backs of senior guard Grayson Allen, point guard Trevon Duval and/or the freshman frontcourt tandem of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Gary Trent Jr., was expected to have a prominent role, however there were no guarantees that he would even start at the beginning of the season. While everyone has had the spotlight at times, Trent Jr. has been bringing his lunch pale to work and getting it done while no one is watching.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was worried about Gary. After a promising exhibition campaign and first two games of the season, Trent Jr. could not buy a bucket from the outside. However, despite his shooting struggles he remained active and engaged on the defensive end of the court. He seems to be okay doing his work out of the spotlight and is comfortable not receiving the credit. Not only does this help tremendously with this Duke team, but it also allows Gary to show NBA teams that he can do the same things for them too.

As a defender, Gary Trent Jr. moves his feet well and has active hands. It’s not as though Gary has had a tremendous number of steals or blocks either. He just is always in the right spots on the court, and that kind of accountability is what a coach is looking for. This is part of the reason why Trent Jr. is averaging over 31 minutes a game for Duke, Coach K can trust him.

On offense, Gary Trent Jr. has a diverse repertoire of moves and can score from all three levels of the court when he has it going. He has a great three-point stroke and will need to knock them down more consistently in ACC play. While not the most explosive athlete, his heady play allows him to find openings in the defense and get a step on defenders, like his game-tying and-one drive against Texas.

Look for Trent Jr. to be wearing his hard hat all season long, doing the dirty work while no one is watching.

 

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.

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.

It’s NBA Draft Night!

By Jack Drapkin

We’ve been waiting, or at least myself and those of who root for the 28 minor league teams currently parading the NBA, have. Tonight’s the night of hope. There are no draft busts tonight, just questionable decisions and shocking selections. Thon Maker at 10?! Are you kidding me? (By the way it sure looks like the Bucks were right again, note to self don’t question those guys again).

Anyway, the Knicks get their shot at returning to the glory years with the promise of potentially adding Dennis Smith Jr., and the Lakers seem poised to try and bring back ‘Show Time’ with the addition of Lonzo Ball. Meanwhile “The Process” sure seems to be well under way in Philly with the presumed addition of Markelle Fultz.

This is the time to be positive and rejoice for many lottery teams who frankly will be lottery bound again next season. (Looking at you Sacramento, let’s see what Georgios Papagiannis does this season huh).

So here are three things I’ll be looking for come draft night.

Number one:

Does my favorite NBA Draft Prospect Jonathan Isaac sneak into the top-5? I think this comes down to whether the Phoenix Suns pull the trigger at four. Pairing him with Booker, Bledsoe and last year’s selections Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender would  give the Suns an exciting young core.

Number two:

Speaking of the Kings, which draft prospect gets thrown into the tornado that is Sacramento. I think it will be difficult for a non-PG to have success there with the number 5 pick. Therefore, it is vital that the Kings end up with either De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith Jr.

Number three:

When will the first senior be selected? The first senior has typically been selected just outside the top-10 the past five seasons. This season should be no different, in fact my prediction is that no senior will be selected in the first 20 selections. If I had to bet I’d say Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State will be the first one selected near the end of the first round. If your reaction is ‘Who?’, I don’t blame you, long gone are the days of 4-year dominate collegiate players.

The Best Scorer in the 2017 NBA Draft No One is Talking About

What if I were to tell you there is a player in this draft who averaged 20 points a game in the ACC.

Who did so while leading Wake Forest back to the tourney for the first time in seven years. 

And is not a senior but rather a spry sophomore.

John Collins. The 6’10 230 Forward from Wake Forest has been criminally underrated.

Look this year’s draft class is loaded I understand. However, a player with as multi-faceted an offensive game as Collins should be garnering a lot more conversation as a lottery pick.

Collins put up 30 against Duke, 25 on Louisville..this was no case of a player taking advantage of weak competition. In fact, he tended to rise to the level of his opponent.

Collins is a dominant interior scorer and easily the best big man scorer in this class. He has an array of moves in the mid-range area and a nice touch on his jumper evidenced by 62% shooting from the field.

The owner of the highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the nation last season. It is easy to infer that Collins had his way at the offensive end of the court.

Defensively there are some concerns. The first thing many draftniks will point to is the lack of length he has, with only a 6’11” wingspan on his 6’10” frame. However, with his mobility, he should be able to curtail this issue at the next level.

The defensive factor I am concerned about, effort. Now, the excuse given to a lot of guys who have to carry the load offensively is that they don’t have the energy to produce similar results on the defensive end. While that may be fair, Collins didn’t show consistent effort on that end of the court. He also demonstrated a propensity to commit silly fouls, which may have also limited his defense activity as he would then have to avoid foul trouble.

Look, I think 10-15 years ago this guy is a surefire top-10 pick as an NBA Power Forward. The shift to “positionless” basketball has hurt guys like Collins who’s not quite a Center but doesn’t fit into today’s Forward position either.

This leaves two options, either increase your shooting range to the 3-point line or become a more sturdy defensive presence. I think with time Collins can and will do both, but only time will tell.

Until next time,

Jack Drapkin

Remember to follow me on Twitter @NBADraftWhiz! Shoot me your NBA Draft Questions.