There’s a freshman on Duke who is a favorite to win national Player of the Year. However, it’s not the same player that will determine how far the Blue Devils go this season.
While Jahlil Okafor is dominating headlines for being the best post player in years as a freshman in college basketball and Tyus Jones is making a push for best point guard in America, there’s another freshman who is quietly going about his business. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but Justise Winslow is the key for Duke going forward.
The 6’6”, 225 pound forward is currently averaging 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, but it’s his versatility that provides the biggest advantage for Duke’s success. Winslow does a little bit of everything, drawing a quote earlier this season from Okafor saying “it’s hard to say what Winslow does best. He does everything well.”
Winslow, who has drawn comparisons to Corey Maggette and Victor Oladipo, showed just how valuable he is during Duke’s recent win at Virginia. He earned a double-double that game, putting up 15 points while grabbing 11 rebounds while playing 31 minutes. More importantly, he committed zero turnovers while playing valuable defense.
That defense is something that’s not often seen when it comes to Duke basketball. The Blue Devils currently rank as the 43rd best defensive team according to KenPom, which is really due to Winslow. Duke gets minimal defensive effort from Okafor on the interior, while the combination of Jones and Quinn Cook at the guard position allow opponents to get penetration deep in the lane.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has implemented a 2-3 zone since the Louisville game last month, but don’t be surprised to see this be a short-lived experiment. Krzyzewski is not a zone coach, but he has been forced to use it this season due to his team’s shoddy defense. However, with Winslow Duke can play man-to-man and have someone guard multiple positions.
On top of that, Winslow allows Krzyzewski to get creative with his lineups. Duke still has a deep roster with eight McDonald’s All-Americans and the ability to go small with Winslow at the power forward spot. A quick, strong-shooting Duke team can emerge. Or the Blue Devils can go big and move Winslow to his natural small forward spot or move him to shooting guard because of his quickness and decent shooting ability.
Duke needs Winslow more than ever now. With the recent dismissal of Rasheed Sulamion, Winslow is expected to play more minutes than the 27 per game he averages currently. The dismissal of Sulamion, who ironically is a Houston native as well and helped with the recruitment of Winslow, means Winslow is the only small forward on the roster for Duke going forward.
So, while Okafor is going to win all the awards, whether it’s conference Player of the Year or national Player of the Year, it’s the other freshman who will be the key for the Blue Devils. Just remember that when Winslow is a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.