With the departure of two McDonald’s All-American guards, most schools would expect a rebuilding year. This is not the case for Duke, who lost Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving to the NBA. Mike Krzyzewski has the luxury of two outstanding incoming freshmen in the form of Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook, both of whom are also McDonald’s All-American guards.
Rivers is considered by many to be the top recruit in the nation and perhaps the best pure scorer to attend Duke since Jay Williams. He has the ability to penetrate at will and also has a consistent jump shot. One of Rivers' biggest question marks is his ability to play defense now that he is competing against people on his talent level. Quinn Cook possesses the talent to handle the ball in a conference where the point guard is key to success. Cook has big shoes to fill because his predecessor Smith averaged 20 points per game while shooting 45% from the field and 35% behind the arc.
But despite their immense talent, Rivers and Cook will have to compete for playing time with holdovers Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Dawkins is purely considered a spot-up shooter with averages of 48% from the field and 43% behind the arc. Curry shot 42% from the field and 44% behind the arc, but his ability to play either guard position will give him the edge to become a starter. He also was impressive in how he stepped up last season during Irving’s injury.
Sophomore Tyler Thornton will also be in the mix for backcourt playing time after averaging just under 10 minutes per game last season. Thornton split time with Curry and may have played the best defense on the team. His defensive pressure on the ball allows Duke to capitalize on turnovers, but his inconsistent offensive game limits Duke’s offensive output.
Despite the fact that Duke lost two terrific players, they will most certainly be competitive with the arrival of those two dynamic freshmen. Compared to previous seasons, this Duke backcourt has as much depth of talent and potential as any other backcourt in school history, but they do lack experience.
The 2008-09 Blue Devils started Gerald Henderson and Smith in the backcourt. Both players did well and their talent carried the team at times as they won the ACC tournament, but failed to make it past the Sweet 16.
The 1999-00 Blue Devils had a plethora of talent in Jay Williams and Nate James, but a lack of experience prevented them from making it past the Sweet 16 as well. Williams did go on to lead Duke to the 2001 National Championship in the following season.
This year’s Duke backcourt will put their team in a position to win the ACC, but it will be no easy task as North Carolina is a definitive favorite to win the national title. One of the biggest upsides is the fact that Rivers and Cook will certainly show flashes of greatness, but great NCAA teams are led by their guard play and this is Duke’s biggest uncertainty despite its potential to be a strength. With a mixture of Thorton, Curry, Rivers, Cook and Dawkins, the Blue Devils will have a mixture of speed, strength and depth that will make them a dangerous team.