The Duke team that takes the floor next November will bear little resemblance to the one that captured the national championship nine days ago in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils will have to replace four starters who accounted for 71.4 percent of their points, 58.6 percent of their rebounds and 76.7 percent of their assists this past season.
Point guard Tyus Jones became the third Duke freshman to leave the program Wednesday morning when he joined classmates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in declaring for the NBA draft. Senior guard Quinn Cook is the fourth starter leaving the Blue Devils.
Whereas it was a foregone conclusion for weeks that Okafor and Winslow would enter the draft, it was less clear what Jones would do. The 6-foot-1 point guard will likely be selected in the first round because of his ability to knock down outside shots or get into the lane and set up shooters or big men, but concerns about his modest size, strength and lateral quickness will hurt his chances of cracking the lottery.
Jones boosted his stock this season with his performances in some of Duke's biggest wins. He scored a combined 46 points in two victories against rival North Carolina, he made the most crucial plays down the stretch when the Blue Devils became the first team to beat ACC champion Virginia this season and he was the most outstanding player in the national title game against Wisconsin.
"People have already seen him and know how he handles himself, especially in pressure situations and in the biggest games," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement "He comes through like a champion. I loved coaching him, and I believe he’ll be an outstanding professional. At this time, I think it’s so appropriate for him to take advantage of this opportunity."
Jones' departure instantly makes point guard Duke's biggest question mark entering next season.
Combo guard Grayson Allen might be best suited to fill the void unless Krzyzewski adds a transfer or a late signee. There's also a chance that the Blue Devils could persuade class of 2016 prospect Derryck Thornton to reclassify and come to Durham a year early, but Scout.com reported Wednesday that such a move is still unlikely to happen.
In addition to concerns about point guard play, Duke also may not have much in the way of perimeter depth next season, nor will there be any proven low-post scoring threats on the roster.
Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and highly touted incoming freshman Luke Kennard are each quality players, but Duke needs to find another option or two off the bench behind them. Incoming freshman Chase Jeter, Rice transfer Sean Obi and returners Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee form a solid frontcourt, but none of those guys are likely to instantly command double teams the way Okafor did.
While there's still time for Duke to address the holes in its roster for next season, it seems clear the Blue Devils are likely to take a step backward if they don't.
In Krzyzewski's previous 35 years in Durham, he had only lost five one-and-done players to the NBA draft. He lost three in seven days this spring, leaving the Blue Devils scrambling to avoid a rare rebuilding season.
- - - - - - -