I know this will be an opinion not shared by many of those who follow Duke, but to me, this was one of the worst coaching jobs K has ever done (apologies for the Bleacher Report quality intro but I’m still upset over the loss). I know people will point out how we beat many great teams during the course of the year and how we had a chance to win the ACC regular season title as proof of K’s genius, but to me those early successes simply mask the overall poor job he did this year. A poor job that by and large was the result of the stubbornness – which admittedly has over the last 32 years generally served him better than worse – that led to a highly uncharacteristic lack of experimentation that ultimately doomed the team.
K ultimately failed this team and potentially future ones in 3 ways: 1) not recognizing that our lack of perimeter defense was not something that could be fixed with simple willpower (why was this ever seemingly considered an option I will never understand), and the unwillingness to give 2) Cook and 3) Gbinije more run at the PG and SF spots, respectively. On the defensive front, I would’ve hoped following the Temple game, that K would realize that forcing our guards to pressure out on the perimeter was only leading them to get beaten off the dribble and forcing Mason, Miles and Kelly to constantly have to help which led to offensive rebound situations and increased fouls accumulated by the bigs challenging shots. It seemed to me at least that going to the 2010 sag defense ( as depicted by Luke Winn) could solve so many of our perimeter defensive problems.
Packing the inside of the arc with guards would still allow us to run opponents off the 3 (a classic and highly effective K tactic), but when they drive by, we’d still have a clogged paint of 3-4 guys ready to take away clear paths to the basket, thereby forcing low percentage mid-range jumpers. The further advantage of this is that we’d almost always have 4-5 guys inside the arc ready to grab defensive boards, and since we already couldn’t force turnovers (finishing at 18.7% TO%, good for 254th in the nation), there didn’t seem to be much of a downside to this approach. By sticking to a defense that only enhanced the weaknesses of our guards as opposed to using one that hid them, K just kept trying to nail the square peg into the round hole that was our defense.
As for the point guard situation, looking at plus-minus data (basically going through the play by play data on statsheet) through the VaTech game at home against good competition (Belmont, @Clemson, Davidson, home and away to FSU, @Georgia Tech, Kansas, home and away to MD, Miami, Mich, MSU, @UNC, NCSU, @OSU, SJU, Temple, Tennessee, home and away to VT, and UW to be precise) the data screams for Quinn Cook to be given more run.
Now I will gladly acknowledge the randomness of plus-minus data (read Ken Pomeroy’s diatribes against to get a better idea of its failings), but the fact remains that in the 24% of the minutes Cook played in those games our offensive efficiency was 116.8/100 poss vs. 109.9 off the court and our defensive efficiency was 101.9 vs. 105.4 (just to be clear these numbers are adjusted for strength of the opponent each player was on the court for and other variances such as FT% of teammates and opponents when on the court. Neither Cook nor Tyler should be held responsible for Mason’s FT%). Take those 2 together and Cook was a +10.4/100 possessions, or as I like to look at it the best numbers on the team (for a sanity check, Rivers was #2 at +7.1). Tyler on the other hand was -5.4/100 poss with a -5.3 on offense and a +0.1 on defense (positive is bad here).
Just to offer a further breakdown of what went right and wrong with each on the court, the key to Cook’s offensive effectiveness wasn’t that we shot the ball better (our eFG with him in the game was 45.6% with Cook in and 47.8% out) or got to the line more (FTA/FGA of 0.441 in and 0.472 out), but simply that we got more shots up. When Cook was in the game, we only turned it over on 13.9% of our possessions vs. 19.5% for Tyler (I’m gonna guess this is partly due to the fact that Cook only coughs it up on 13.3% of his possessions in these games vs. 28.5% for Tyler), and we also (though I won’t claim any Cook-related credit) grabbed 35% of available offensive boards vs. 32% for Tyler. Add these things up and look at “shots” (a metric John Hollinger uses relatively often. Shots = FGA +.475*FTA) and with Cook in the game we attempt 107.1 shots/100 possessions vs. 96.2/100 with Tyler. That’s an enormous difference.
Defensively, I think there’s a tendency to say that because Tyler has obvious offensive flaws that he must be an elite defender in order to be playing for Duke when it’s perfectly possible that he’s just one of those unheralded four-year players like Dave McClure who we simply hope we don’t have to give regular time to, much less start. And while I will defer to the defensive statsheet guys at Duke Hoop Blog in terms of measuring defensive performance (and I know Cook tends to rate somewhere between average and Andre-level bad), the fact remains that with Tyler in the game opponents tend to shoot better from 2 (47.4% for Cook and 49.4% for Tyler), though I won’t focus as much on that as the fact that my God, does Tyler foul a lot. He committed a foul on 8.7% of the possessions he was on the court for, which is second on the team to only Josh “insert scream here” Hairston’s 9.6%, and serves as stark contrast to Cook’s 3.7%. That not only leads to more free throws for our opponents (0.339 FTA/FGA with Tyler in vs. 0.270 for Cook) but also leads to us getting in the penalty sooner and more frequently.
Lastly on the issue of point guards and my opinion that K should’ve started Cook and basically handed him the reins, just ask yourself as a fan, did you really ever think Tyler (whom my fellow alums have started referring to dejectedly as “the poor man’s Greg Paulus…who can’t shoot”) was the solution? If so, you need to put down the Kool-Aid in your hand and come back to reality. Even more to the point is that I wish K had realized early on in the year that this was a team that barring some tremendous breaks or massive improvements as certain positions was not going to win a title. The early wins over Michigan St. and Kansas and then the win at Carolina almost certainly led to a deluded thought that this team was better than it was and not in need of some experimentation and minutes to be given to younger guys. Would Cook have absolutely worked out and we would be cruising to the Final Four?
I doubt it, but I can’t say for sure we still wouldn’t have been better than we ended and that we wouldn’t be better next year just for knowing that this is Cook’s team. K basically repeated the Larry Drew debacle that Roy made last year without ever taking a shot and putting in the defensively liable but offensively far more gifted freshman point guard. And while I won’t claim that Cook would’ve been as effective as a freshman as Marshall, it’s my contention that his turnover-free offense and the providing of a second guard in addition to Rivers capable of getting in the paint, would’ve at least been better than what we got instead.
As far as Gbinije, I can honestly say that nothing K said all year infuriated me more than his complaint after the UNC loss that he wished had taller wings. Now I don’t want to be seen (and I know it’s probably too late) as saying a 4-time national champ coach doesn’t know what he’s doing, but how can you say you wish you had a real 3 when you simply refused to play one during pretty much the entire course of ACC play. From January 1 through the end of the ACC Tournament, Gbinije played 30 minutes. We may as well have redshirted the kid and given that we have Alex Murphy coming in next year as well as potentially (though unfortunately, not likely) Shabazz Muhammad, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Gbinije is looking to transfer.
Now I understand that just screeching that someone should’ve played more is stupid without at least going about and suggesting whose minutes should be reduced for Gbinije. In this case the answer is pretty straightforward: Andre Dawkins. The eye test alone would tell you that Dre is by far our worst defender, but being a nerd and all, I’m going to quantify it nonetheless. He’s epically bad defensively. Like we’re 9.5 pts/100 possessions better with him on the pine. On the court, we’re giving up 108.3/100 with Dre while off the court, we’re giving up 98.8. The numbers would indicate that he almost singlehandedly was the difference between us being an atrocious defensive team and us being a semi-decent to good one. Let’s break it down further and look at the 4 factors with Dre on and off the court: On the court, foes shoot an eFG of 49.3% vs. 47.2% off, helped no doubt by the 49.7% (!) 2-point shooting with Dre on the floor (I can picture the backdoor cut – a product of a forced upon pressure D – being executed in my mind) vs. 48% off.
Looking at turnovers, we forced 21.3% with Dre off the court, which would’ve been good for a mediocre but still above average 113th in the country, whereas with Dre playing, we forced just 17.2%, good for 315th. Opponent offensive rebounding sans Dre (this is one where I will throw all the guards not named Rivers under the bus. Their DR% ranged from 6.0-6.8%. Rivers was 9.0%) was 31.5%, or about 150th in the country. With Dre, it was 35.9%, or 308th. To Dre’s credit we fouled less with him on the court (0.315 FTA/FGA) vs. off the court (0.335). As someone who spent Dre’s first 2 years thinking he was the ability to get to the hoop from the arc away from being an All-American, this last paragraph hurt to write.
The thing that keeps drawing Duke fans back to Dre is that when that sweet looking jumper is on, he’s liable to do wonderful things like hit 6 first half threes in Tallahassee, but when it’s off, well he’s liable to do terrible things like hit 4 more shots the rest of the year following that half. He does all this while always playing atrocious defense. So the question my friends and I never could figure out is why, after the first 5-10 minutes in the game, when you can always tell whether Dre has it or not, if he isn’t hitting the deep ball, why not give Gbinije some run? I’ll admit Gbinije’s raw plus-minus defensively is worse than Dre’s but that’s accumulated in the course of 36 minutes. I doubt over the longer haul, having a longer wing defensively would’ve been worse than Dre (again he was +9.5/100 poss.
No one else was that good or bad either offensively or defensively). Aside from shoring us up defensively for some of the minutes Dre wound up playing, wouldn’t it have also built confidence in Gbinije? And it K honestly felt Gbinije was so bad defensively as to not be worth even taking Dre’s minutes, isn’t that a scarier thought? Did we just miss badly recruiting-wise?
I’m not saying that making any of these changes (though I bet the defensive change would’ve really helped) would’ve guaranteed greater success in the tournament, but if nothing else, wouldn’t we be better going into next year having a more talented point guard we’re committed to having run the team and a more confident small forward ready to take on an increased load next season. If that means we would’ve finished 11-5 in the ACC (and again, can we really be certain that would’ve been the case?) as opposed to 13-3, is that so bad? I at least know I would’ve made the trade, even if K and his obsession with winning every game at all costs would never.