On paper, Mike Krzyzewski has formed a team that is one of the most well-rounded in the country. The only team with comparable or more size down low than the Duke Blue Devils is Kentucky. With Jahlil Okafor and Marshall Plumlee, Coach K has two near 7-footers on his roster.
However, the Blue Devils may be in search of something, or someone, to step up when necessary.
Last season, freshman Jabari Parker was not always eager to be the guy to win or lose a ball game down the stretch, often forced into the role. However, without a clear alpha male to start the season this year, the Blue Devils may be spending some time finding out who can handle the big moments.
Of course, there’s Okafor, who will anchor the paint in Cameron Indoor this year. He’s going to command double teams purely from his size, let alone his skill level. The majority of teams are going to struggle to handle his size with no one on their roster that can match up to his 6’10”, 265-pound frame.
However, Okafor is still just a freshman, and Duke is always in the national spotlight. In big moments, can a freshman like Okafor handle the scrutiny if he fails? Does he want to put himself in that position?
The next logical choice would be Cook, the senior point guard expected to keep this band of Blue Devils in tune. Expected to take on a bigger leadership role, Cook could be the one to take on the big moment. He certainly is most qualified.
However, Cook has never been option number one while at Duke. He never saw much action his freshman year and his sophomore year, he was second fiddle to Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. Last year, it was obviously Parker and Rodney Hood ahead of Cook. This year, Cook could be the alpha male, but can he handle the role.
The only other option, Sulaimon, is likely the best returning scorer on the squad. Coming in as a five-star recruit, Sulaimon has not really lived up to the hype. The Texas-product averaged double digits his freshman season, but took a back seat, like most others, to Hood and Parker last season. Entering his junior year, a step up in production should be expected of Suliamon.
But can he return to a form closer to his freshman year while also taking on a bigger scoring load? He seems like the natural answer, considering he’s a perimeter scorer. But it would be quite the jump in roles to go from a scorer off the bench last year to the go-to man down the stretch.
There is no right answer to the question, at least not right now. It will take a couple games and weeks, if not months to find out who will take the role as primary man down the stretch for the Blue Devils. If they do find it, though, it will take the Blue Devils to the next level.