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Inside the Numbers: How does Duke, with UVA on the horizon, account for loss of Tre Jones?

dukeFor all the attention given Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, deserved, by the way, Tre Jones, to me, is the key to the Duke engine this year.

The 6’2” other freshman averages a modest 8.1 points per game, but there’s only one basketball, and Jones has been astute at getting it to the right lottery pick at the right time, averaging 5.7 assists and just a single turnover per game, which, wow.

He gets a little too much love on the defensive end. Yes, Jones averages 3.7 steals per game, but his defensive rating, per, is 91.2, worst among the Duke rotation guys, suggesting a bit of feast (when he turns you over) or famine (when he allows the blow-by or open three) to his defensive game.

The good, the bad, all immaterial, because for now, and at least for the foreseeable future, beginning with Saturday, when Duke faces ACC leader UVA, he’s out, with a shoulder injury.

Leading to the question: how does Coach K account for the absence of his point?

Before you start to feel sorry for Krzyzewski, keep in mind, he has the top two picks in next June’s NBA draft on the roster.

It could make sense to scheme around Barrett, a 6’7” slasher who can certainly run the point skill-wise.

Barrett, in essence, took over the playmaking duties in the absence of Jones in the loss at home to Syracuse on Monday, dishing out nine assists with one turnover in 45 minutes in the overtime defeat.

The problem with having Barrett run the point: his itchy trigger finger.

Barrett put up 30 shots from the floor in the Syracuse loss, and shot 8-of-30 on the night, including 4-of-17 from three-point range.

Thirty shots, yikes.

Reddish, at 6’8”, also has the skillset to initiate, though it seems to be counter to his nature. His season-high in assists is just four, and he’s averaging 3.0 turnovers per game.

I’m seeing it suggested that Duke use 6’2” sophomore Jordan Goldwire, who has averaged 8.8 minutes per game in obviously limited action, to run the point, allowing Barrett and Reddish to stay in their more familiar wing roles.

I can see Goldwire getting 8-10 minutes Saturday against UVA, but if I had to bet, I see Krzyzewski going with a committee approach, having Barrett and Reddish get the ball up the court and take turns initiating.

Then, one of two approaches for mixing things up for UVA: either going big, giving more minutes to 6’11” Marques Bolden and 6’10” Javin DeLaurier, or spreading the floor with 6’7” Jack White and 6’6” Alex O’Connell as catch-and-shoot-three guys.

Whatever they end up doing, it’s going to be advantage: Duke, because, think about it. All of the game tape that anybody has up until Saturday night is Duke playing with Jones initiating for 29.3 minutes a night, except for roughly 30 minutes from Monday, when Coach K and staff did what they could to wing it to get through the Syracuse game.

Duke has all week to figure out how it wants to account for the absence of Jones, and all UVA coach Tony Bennett and his staff can do is try to guess.

Every scenario but the one that has Goldwire getting more minutes pretty much negates Virginia’s best on-ball defender, 5’9” freshman point guard Kihei Clark, from having much of an impact.

Assuming Duke goes big, the smallest guy on the floor wearing the home white is going to be 6’6” or above.

Less Clark means: more pressure on Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to check Barrett and Reddish, more De’Andre Hunter on an island with Williamson, giving up 60 pounds, in general, more chess matches, as Krzyzewski and Bennett move pieces to try to gain the schematic advantage.

If possible, this one is even more interesting than we’d been assuming for months it would be.

Column by Chris Graham

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