You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Duke hasn’t been the team we expected, but it’s still Duke


The team ranked No. 1 in the land when the season began opened its conference tournament seeded fifth among ACC teams. That suggests the Duke Blue Devils have underachieved mightily, which is true if you’re checking the record — they’ve lost eight games — but less true in the grand scheme.

The ballyhooed all-freshman front line of Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden — ranked by Rivals as the Nos. 2, 3 and 11 prospects of 201 6 — hasn’t materialized. All were injured and missed preseason practice. None played in a November game. It’s now March, and Giles has worked only 245 minutes and Bolden 152. (By himself, Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers has logged 1,157 minutes.)

Grayson Allen, last season’s leading Duke scorer, has become renowned not for playing basketball but notorious for his intemperance. This season’s leading scorer is Luke Kennard, who has nearly doubled his average. The two least gifted starters from the Devils’ 2015 NCAA titlists — Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones — are still starting, and with all the turmoil they’ve become essential.

As if that weren’t enough, the best coach of this era and maybe all eras missed seven games after back surgery. Duke lost three of the seven. Mike Krzyzewski is back now, and even he’s not sure what’s what.

“I think we’re still evolving because of all the injuries and interruptions we’ve had,” he said Wednesday, after his Devils were life-and-death to hold off a Clemson team that won’t be going to the NCAA tournament. “But we’re getting better.”

Duke won 79-72. It had three men — Tatum, Kennard and freshman point guard Frank Jackson — score 20 points apiece. The rest of the squad totaled 19. Allen, who averaged 21.6 points last season and who famously scored 16 in 20 minutes as a freshman sub in the 2015 national championship game, played 12 minutes without scoring. He was, however, called for another technical foul.

This wasn’t for tripping an opponent, something he has done three times over the past two seasons, or for throwing an elbow, which he did Saturday night against North Carolina. This was for his reaction to missing a shot and being called for a foul on the rebound. He slammed the ball down. It bounded away. The resulting free throws gave Clemson its first lead.

Allen has been fighting an ankle injury, but mostly he’s fighting himself. The whisper in basketball circles is that the Krzyzewski family has, in the effort to protect Allen, become a band of enablers. Could any player on any other college team have pulled the on-court stunts Allen has and been docked only one game?

Whatever the cause, a troubled young man has become an addled distraction. Krzyzewski spoke of the need to “get Grayson going,” but on Wednesday he couldn’t take that risk. The Devils weren’t very good with him in the game, which was tied at the half and in doubt with two minutes remaining.

With Clemson trailing by three, the 6-foot-9 Elijah Thomas missed a layup. He wasn’t challenged He just missed. (Missed the rim, to be precise.) Then he fouled Thomas 20 feet from the basket. What should have been a one-point game was instead a five-point spread.

Afterward, someone mentioned to Brad Brownell that Duke had “taken over the game.” The Clemson coach bristled. “They didn’t take over the game,” he said. “We had a layup to make it one point.”

Then this: “They made more individual plays. Their players rose to the occasion and made high-level shots. That’s what you expect of high-level players.”

Even with eight losses, Duke remains the nation’s most talented team by some distance. NBAdraft.net projects Tatum and Giles as lottery picks, Kennard as a first-rounder. If not for his excesses, Allen would be a Round 1 draftee come June. As it stands, this overstuffed team will be a No. 4 seed come the Big Dance, but would you really want to face these Devils?

Krzyzewski: “I don’t know who we are completely. I have really good kids and they play hard and they share the ball. Maybe we’ll develop an identity here … We have four really good scorers (meaning Tatum, Kennard, Jackson and Allen). If we can ever get all four going, that’s who we’d like to be.”

Tatum was especially good against Clemson — 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists. A reporter asked if Krzyzewski had ever worked with such a versatile player. The man who’d coached Christian Laettner and Grant Hill and Eldon Brand laughed.

“Yes,” Coach K said. “That’s why we’ve won five national championships. I’ve been in a lot of big-time games because I’ve had big-time players. I’ve been in 21 Final Four games. I’ve been to 18 of these (ACC) championship games.”

And there’s the real reason not to discount these Dukies. The guy on the bench knows what he’s doing. There’s every chance he’ll think of something.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Hawks

How the Hawks season came to an end despite near miraculous comeback
How the Hawks season came to an end despite near miraculous comeback

Five observations from the Hawks’ 115-99 loss to the Wizards in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series. The Wizard won the series, 4-2. 1. Turnovers kill. The Hawks committed 22 turnovers for the game – but it was the 15 first-half turnovers that led to the 22-point deficit they were never able to completely erase...
Inside the box score: Wizards 115, Hawks 99
Inside the box score: Wizards 115, Hawks 99

Inside the box score and more of the Hawks’ 115-99 loss to the Wizards in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Friday: Key players * John Wall scored a game-high and his career playoff high with 42 points for the Wizards. * Bradley Beal added 31 points for the Wizards. * Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 31 points and 10 rebounds...
Hawks’ quick playoff exit affirms change is needed
Hawks’ quick playoff exit affirms change is needed

Two years ago, the Hawks won two playoff series. Last year, they won one. This year, none. Sometimes you don’t need advanced analytics to tell you there’s a problem. The Hawks didn’t just lose a game and a series to the Washington Wizards on Friday night. They affirmed in defeat that, despite generally exceptional coaching, despite...
Hawks eliminated, Wizards nearly blow 22-point lead
Hawks eliminated, Wizards nearly blow 22-point lead

They say the closeout game is the toughest to win in the playoffs. It was for the Wizards. The Wizards nearly blew a 22-point second-half lead before a series-clinching 115-99 victory over the Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series Friday night at Philips Arena. The Wizards won the series 4-2. “It’s the toughest...
Game Thread: Wizards at Hawks Game 6
Game Thread: Wizards at Hawks Game 6

Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder dribbles against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal during the second half in Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in Washington.
More Stories