Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent recruiting success had been well noted. Since 2014, Duke has occupied either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on ESPN’s Basketball Class Rankings.
The past two recruiting classes for Duke, more so than others, have come with a significant amount of hype and championship-or-bust expectations.
Last season, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval all made an immediately impact and produced good stats, especially Bagley who earned ACC Player & Freshman of the Year as well as National Big Man & Freshman of the year.
This year’s class has garnered the same expectations placed on Bagley and company by Duke fans and sports writers alike.
Is Duke’s 2018 recruiting class better than the 2017 class though?
To recap, Duke is bringing in small forwards R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, power forward Zion Williamson and point guard Tre Jones. Four highly-touted five-star recruits that could all play in the NBA one day. Duke is also still in consideration from E.J. Montgomery, the No. 16 overall player.
The 2018 class is different than the 2017 class in many ways. For instance, Duke’s 2018 class features only one big man in Williamson but he is listed at 6 feet 6 inches tall and is far from a traditional big man. The 2017 class featured Bagley and Carter, two power forward/centers that operated primarily down low.
The point guards in the respective classes, Jones and Duval, are very different players and bring different qualities as well. Duval was a bigger, more athletic and physical guard while Jones is more of a floor general who is more vocal and a better shooter.
The 2018 class also features two small forwards in Barrett and Reddish who are going to be game changers for Coach K. Barrett, the No. 1 overall player according to ESPN Top 100 Rankings, is an excellent scorer and excels at attacking the basket, among his many skills, while Reddish is a lengthy and lethal three-point shooter.
The 2017 class had one small forward in Jordan Tucker, but he did not receive any playing time and decided to transfer elsewhere during the season. Gary Trent Jr. admirably filled the role of small forward for Duke, with Duval and Grayson Allen occupying the guard positions, and performed well.
If there is one area where the 2018 recruits have a clear advantage over the 2017 class, it’s versatility. Reddish, Barrett and Williamson can all secure a defensive rebound and lead a fastbreak, dribble trough defenders and then finish at the rim with force. In half court possessions, all three players, Barrett and Reddish more so than Williamson, can play with or without the ball.
Coach K can follow the trend in the NBA of position-less basketball with his freshman next season. Krzyzewski could even institute a small-ball lineup if he wanted to put Williamson at the five, Barrett and Reddish at the three or four interchangeably, Alex O’Connell at shooting guard and then Jones at the 1.
Needless to say, Coach K and his staff are not going to be short of talent and different options when deciding lineups.
With this in mind, Duke’s 2018 recruiting class, considering the top-three overall players’ immense skill and versatility as well as a true point guard to run the show, has a chance to be better and accomplish more during their time in Durham than the 2017 class.