In 2015, Duke Basketball rode a tremendous freshman trio of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow to a national championship. All year long, the Blue Devils worked their inside-out game to perfection, with Jones and Winslow controlling the perimeter and Okafor dominating in the paint.
Luckily for Duke, this year could bring much of the same.
With Marvin Bagley III committing to Duke and reclassifying to 2017, the Blue Devils will have a new three-headed monster of Bagley, center Wendell Carter, and point guard Trevon Duval. While Bagley’s commitment itself was huge news for Duke, the skill sets he brings, much like that of Duval and Carter, are eerily reminiscent of his 2015 counterpart.
Bagley possesses tremendous height and length at 6’11,” but his athleticism and ability to extend his game to the three-point line evoke memories of Winslow knocking down threes and soaring to the rim for emphatic finishes. His passion, intensity, and energy were all on display this summer, as he competed in the Drew League with the likes of James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. Winslow was always lauded for his tremendous maturity in the big moments, which is part of why he was rated so highly as an NBA prospect in addition to his athletic ability. While it remains to be seen how Bagley will adapt to the college stage, he hows that same kind of that made Winslow so special.
Meanwhile, Duval’s propensity for scoring from the point guard position, especially his ability to make contested shots both from beyond the arc and against big men in the paint, is evocative of Jones’ play style. Interestingly enough, Tyus’ younger brother Tre (in the recruiting class of 2018) committed to Duke just days before Bagley. However, it’s Duval that will suit up for the Blue Devils this season. Duval actually has a couple inches on Jones (he stands at 6’3″), and his bigger frame should make him a more physical guard on the defensive end as well as offensively. But just as Jones was fearless in taking the ball into the lane and scoring in the most crucial of moments (just ask North Carolina), so too does Duval possess that kind of swagger and mentality to make the big play. His quickness and ball handling paired with his shooting ability make him an immediately impactful offensive weapon. The top point guard in the class of 2017 will have to share the ball and the spotlight with his counterparts, but if he buys in as Tyus Jones did, opposing backcourts are in for a world of trouble.
Finally, there’s Wendell Carter. The 6’10,” 262-pound big man will remind Duke fans of Jahlil Okafor from his days at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The 18-year-old may even be a better rebounder and defender than Okafor was, but his nimble footwork in the post and ability to kick to shooters on the wings marks a similarity between the two. Similarly, Carter leverages his size and weight when he needs to get position in the post, just as Big Jah did time and again to assert his dominance on the interior. Given the offensive propensity of both Bagley and Duval, Carter may be more of a force around the boards and on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, the three of them together certainly does harken back to days of championships past.
Duke fans would be thrilled if the parallels in play style carry over to the end result: a sixth program national title.