Friedlander: Will they stay or will they go? Handicapping the future of Duke's core prospects
Duke was among the 1st big-time programs to embrace the 1-and-done concept in college basketball. It’s a philosophy that paid off in a national championship in 2015.
Since then, an average of 3 Blue Devils per year have left for the NBA Draft following their freshman seasons — including the trio of Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels in 2022.
It’s a trend that’s almost certain to continue again this year, given the 5-star collection of talent coach Jon Scheyer amassed for his debut season.
The only question is how many of Duke’s 5 heralded freshmen will leave.
And who they’ll be.
Even though the young Blue Devils will have some extra time to make their decisions after an unusual early 2nd-round exit from the NCAA Tournament, it shouldn’t take long for them to reveal their plans.
While we wait, here’s a look at who might stay and who might go:
One and done
Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II.
The top 2 players in last year’s recruiting class both suffered preseason injuries that slowed their development. While neither put up the kind of numbers they would have liked, their freshman seasons at Duke did nothing to hurt their draft prospects.
Neither will be a high pick. But they’re both 1st-rounders because of their raw talent and upside.
Lively is a particularly intriguing prospect who improved steadily once he fully recovered from the calf injury he suffered in October and began adjusting to the college game. At 7-foot-1, he’s already an elite defender and rim protector who ranked 2nd in the ACC with 82 blocked shots.
He still has a long way to go offensively, as was illustrated by his stat line in Duke’s season-ending loss to Tennessee. Lively became the 1st player since 1960 to record as many as 10 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game without a field-goal attempt.
But he shot 66% from the floor, so the potential is there.
Whitehead was even more adversely affected by injuries than Lively.
He missed the entire preseason and the 1st 3 games of the season with a broken foot. Then, just as he appeared to be hitting his stride, he suffered another injury in late January. Whitehead ended up playing his best basketball over the final few weeks.
Still just a teenager, his youth and a shooting touch that produced a team-leading 42.9 3-point percentage should make him an attractive mid–1st-round target.
On the fence
Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor.
Filipowski has the entire package. At 7-feet tall, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year has the size to play on the low post, the athleticism to run the floor, the skill to take his man off the dribble and the shooting touch to make 3s.
He also has the toughness to play through contact, something he had to do frequently this season. But as Tennessee exposed, Filipowski still needs to work on getting stronger physically. He also has work to do on his consistency from the perimeter after making only 28% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
It will definitely be worth his while to go through the draft process. And there’s a good chance he might go in the 1st round. But with a year of seasoning in the G League a distinct possibility, he might want to keep his options open.
Proctor will have a similar decision to make.
His stock is rising rapidly after making a quantum leap during the 2nd half of the season, capped by a 16-point, 6-assist, 2-steal performance in the loss to Tennessee. He’s long, poised and active on both ends of the floor. And at just 18 years old, he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
Proctor originally committed to the Class of 2023 but came to Duke a year early after Keels decided to leave after his freshman season. Besides opening the door for his arrival with the Blue Devils, Keels might serve as a cautionary tale for the 6-5 Australian.
Keels was a 2nd-round pick who spent the majority of this season in the G League. While Proctor could reasonably go in the 1st round, there’s just as much of a chance he could drop down to the 2nd, where contracts are not guaranteed. With the potential for NIL earnings, he might be better served returning to school and playing his way into the top half of the draft in 2024.
Running it back
Mark Mitchell, Jaden Schutt and Christian Reeves.
Mitchell was the least-heralded member of this year’s freshman class, but he proved to be 1 of the most valuable because of his size, energy and versatility. He also showed a knack for coming through in the clutch. His importance to the team, especially on the defensive end, was magnified by an injury that sidelined him against Tennessee.
Already an attractive pro prospect, the 6-8, 220-pound forward can make a major jump into the 1st round with the expanded role he projects to play next season.
Schutt, a sharpshooting guard, and Reeves, a 7-1 center, are long-term projects who played sparingly this season and don’t appear to be candidates to leave.