Let me preface this piece by saying I have no inside knowledge of what Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s plan is sans Ryan Kelly or am I claiming to be smarter than the Blue Devils staff when it comes to what they should do.
I can, like everyone else, only hypothesize about what Duke will do to compensate without one of its best players for the foreseeable future. Unlike some though I think that the Blue Devils will adjust and be just fine though admittedly it could take some time.
For starters who starts in place of the injured Kelly. Well all signs right now have to point to 6-foot-7 junior forward Josh Hairston. Hairston isn’t Kelly, isn’t even close but he has the confidence of Krzyzewski to play the role he has been assigned to play. The questions is will his role change drastically with Kelly gone? It really shouldn’t because Hairston’s limited in what he can do well.
He plays hard, there is no mistaking that but he isn’t a real scoring threat. He can play respectable defense but he isn’t going to be the guy Krzyzewski puts on an opponents best player. He is a servicable body and a player who can hustle but who isn’t going to overwhelm anyone. In short he is a role player and his role isn’t changing.
The two guys whose roles are most likely to change are Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. Neither is averaging big minutes; Jefferson 8.8 minutes per game and Murphy at 5.6 minutes per game. Those two will probably see an increase in their floor time now but what in terms of production they provide is a mystery.
Jefferson isn’t going to be a major scoring threat but he can slash a little bit and attack the basket. He is not quite strong enough to bang against bigger, stronger, more experienced post players and he isn’t even close to the shooter Kelly is. That means he is going to have to pick his scoring opportunities and get chances on put backs and fast breaks. If he can hit a free throw with any consistency then you might start seeing him attack the basket even more.
As for Murphy, he is clearly the most offensively talented player on Duke’s bench. He was pegged early as a potential starter and by some as perhaps Duke’s best player. That hasn’t translated over the first 15 games. Murphy is only averaging 2.2 points per game but that is still more than Hairston who has played significantly more minutes this season.
Murphy can shoot and he can put the ball on the floor and score. He doesn’t have to average 13.4 points per game but if he can put in anywhere from 5-10 points consistently then that goes a long way toward compensating for Kelly’s loss on the offensive end. You’d expect Rasheed Sulaimon to be called upon to step up his scoring as well to help compensate making any offensive from Jefferson or Hairston gravy.
Murphy of the options to replace Kelly, is probably the most capble player offensively and many have said it is a lack of confidence that has held him back. Expect that confidence to get put to the test now since he is going to have to play more in Kelly’s absence.
Duke could squeeze so more minutes out of Marshall Plumlee but he is likely to not see a drastic increase in time unless he progresses a lot. He suffered his own foot injury which has been a big set back to his season. If he continues to work hard though he may be able to get a few extra minutes.
Much has been made about the influence Kelly has on the offensive end but his defense will be tough to replace. He leads the teams in blocks and is fourth in steals. He is as much a mismatch on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He can guard smaller players and guard them out away from the basket. He is a smart defender who always seems to be in the right position to draw a charge.
Hairston’s biggest contribution could come on the defensive end but you’d have to expect that Murphy and Jefferson will have to show what they can do defensively given they are much more versatile players. Both are athletic enough but are they strong enough and smart enough to be able to get in position to make plays defensively. I’m not entirely sold on that just yet.
Still I think with time Krzyzewski and his staff will make the right adjustments to help at least compensate for the loss of Kelly. Duke is still better with their senior forward than without but the are in a much better position this season to deal with his loss. Plus there is much more time to adjust.
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