The Duke Blue Devils have had some well-documented troubles to start the 2013-14 season. Two neutral-court losses to Kansas and Arizona have dampened expectations and worried fans. The poor defense (101st in the country, according to Kenpom) is troubling. An inability to prevent entry passes into the post — even to players who are not interior ones — has been a contributor and aggravated fans and the team alike. However, this is a young team with a Hall of Fame coach, so these issues should not be a hindrance to future success in the ACC or NCAA Tournament. While Duke may not be a juggernaut defensively this season, the Blue Devils run the nation’s top-rated offensive unit, keyed by linchpin point guard Quinn Cook.
Cook is one of the most improved — and most important — players on this year’s team; he is the integral part of their offensive success. He has complete command of the team when they are on offensive, leading the players better than a symphony conductor. This is Cook’s team, and he knows it.
There is a massive difference between last year’s iteration of Cook and this year’s. After mistakes last year, he would hang his head and mope down the court. It would carry-over not only from play-to-play, but even game-to-game; he was unable to consistently run the team to its full potential. Instead of feeding Mason Plumlee in the post, he would frequently shoot or aimlessly drive into the paint as the season wore on; he was unfocused and often discouraged. But this season, Cook has been a revelation.
The most noticeable difference is in Cook’s attitude. No longer does his head droop when things do not go perfectly—instead he quickly grabs the ball on the in-bounds or harasses the other point guard down the court. His eyes are always fiery whereas last year they would frequently flicker. He gathers the team together at critical moments. This year he is a leader.
It is not just Cook’s leadership that has improved, but he has also focuses on making the right pass, on making assists, and limiting his turnovers. He scores when he needs to and not only follows the flow of the game, but dictates it. His tactical awareness of the game is at another level from last year. Cook
While it remains to be seen if Cook can maintain his current level of excellence, the early returns suggest he will be able to. His focus and drive are apparent. He still wears his emotion like a second jersey, but this year it is has control and a purpose when it does appear. Cook is the motor and emotional heart of this year’s Duke team. If he can elevate his level of play to include improved defense (especially of the team variety), this Duke team will truly be a threat to be playing in April.