Duke has a lot of great options to start and play significant minutes at shooting guard. It is great for Duke to have all these options but there are only so many minutes to go around. These 4 players will also see minutes at point guard and small forward, but Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood do not see much time on the bench. Going forward, Coach K will need to find which guys he trusts, and which he may not, to allow his team to get some chemistry before league play. Here are Coach K's options and where I see them fitting in the rest of this year.
It has not been ideal but Thornton has been Duke's starter at shooting guard for the majority of the season. He is not a scorer and fouls more than he should but he is Coach K's rock. He is a player Coach K always trusts and for good reason. He is a great defender, allows Cook, Hood and Parker lead the offense, and is a true leader. Regardless of the play of Duke's other guards, expect Thornton to play minutes as a defender and leader. His ability to avoid mistakes and make impactful plays that do not show in the box score will allow him to play minutes for the rest of the year.
His defense hurts his ability to get minutes but his shooting ability is a huge asset for Duke. In short spurts, he can score points and change the momentum of the game. Against Michigan, he was able to make two quick threes and completely changed the momentum of the game. He will likely be in this role for most of the season. He will not see major minutes but will always be there as a quick scorer off the bench. He will likely play small minutes the rest of the way but still have a large impact on this team. His defense really hurts his minutes but his shooting will allow him to make an impact.
He came to Duke with a reputation as a shooter but he may be Duke's best perimeter defender this year. Against Michigan, he played crucial minutes and played fantastic defense against Nik Stauskus. He fits well with Duke's starters, with his defense and ability to stretch the floor. He should see big minutes but Coach K has not shown much trust in Jones. He made big impacts early against Michigan and Alabama but was relegated to the bench at the end of those games. My hope is he takes over the starting role but we will see if Coach K lets him. If his defense continues, his skill may be too much for Coach K to ignore.
Sulaimon is the true wildcard at this spot. He was a huge player on last year’s team but has not had the same impact this season. Personally, I do not think he fits extremely well on this team. He is at his best with the ball in his hands, but Cook, Hood and Parker are also ball dominant scorers. He will get many opportunities to take the shooting guard spot but I am not sure he will grab it. He will not be a transfer, as he would likely go pro instead, but he may not have an impact for Duke going forward. His success will likely determine the minutes of everyone else at the shooting guard spot.
I see two real ways this spot will end up going this year. The first option is Sulaimon takes over the spot and returns to his form of last season. The other three players will see minutes but Sulaimon gets a majority of the minutes. The other option is the other three guys take over the role and Sulaimon sees minimal minutes. Thornton would likely start with Jones and Dawkins seeing consistent minutes off the bench. Duke would be best with the first option but I am not confident it will happen. If Sulaimon cannot perform, Coach K will need to ignore the comments and play the other three. Duke will still be a solid team without Sulaimon, but they will need a big turnaround from him to be a Championship contender.