Duke’s return to dominance starts next season with returning sophomore 7-footer Mark Williams, who ended the season as a complete force on the interior. With 23 points and 19 rebounds against Louisville, Mark put on an exhibition that hasn’t been seen since Ralph Sampson in 1980 ( ACC Tournament freshman rebounding record). Williams’ production came late into the season due to lack of playing time and in game situations, as the Blue Devils faced more veteran oriented teams. Yes, we can admit some of this was due to confidence and clearly not being ready to begin the season. We know about the pandemic, players not being physically ready and lacking chemistry with one another. Those excuses are a forgone conclusion. With a full off season, post-pandemic time in the weight room, film study, a proper nutrition plan and experience being in a Duke system, expect big things from the dual-threat center. According to recent reports, Mark Williams has already tacked on 15 plus pounds to prepare for next season.
Who will help fill the void in the front court?
5-star freshman Paolo Banchero 6-9/ 235 lbs.- This freshman is already destined for greatness. What sets Paolo apart from everyone in this class is not only his motor, but his ability to play on both ends. The ability to shoot from 3, and take any defender off the dribble – finishing above the rim. Duke hasn’t seen a player with his type of skill-set and athletic ability since Zion. Paolo is already drawing comparisons to Chris Webber, while at Michigan, which speaks volumes.
Graduate transfer Theo John 6-9/ 245 lbs.- The Marquette transfer is in Durham to do the dirty work. He may not put up 20 and 10 on a nightly basis, but he knows his role and will be a complete pest on the defensive end. John flourished at Marquette under former Dukie Steve Wojo – attacking the boards averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block per game. The transfer adds much need physicality in the paint. You shouldn’t see teams flexing on the Blue Devils this season in the middle .
I expect Duke to run a lot in transition with this upcoming top-2 class. With several stretch fours capable of taking their opponents off the dribble (Baldwin, Moore, Griffin) and depending on the matchups (able to guard off the switch/ pick and roll 1-4), Duke will run an uptempo style, complimenting Mark Williams due to his ability running the floor. A player to keep an eye on, whose a complete freak and Coach K may use as a Justise Winslow type of player, is A.J. Griffin.