Nolan Smith struggled to achieve consistent play as a freshman. He was brilliant at times particularly in games at Maryland and Wake Forest, scoring 14 and 21 points respectively, but ineffective at times, such as the seven games where he did not score a point. Additionally, Smith did not have back-to-back double digit scoring games. But that is the life of a freshman in the tough ACC, especially a combo guard who is expected to score, handle the ball, play pressure defense, and make very few mistakes along the way. Smith's freshman season statistics were a respectable 5.9 points in 14.7 minutes per game, and those numbers were hampered by Smith nursing a sore knee over the last month of the season.
In his sophomore season, Smith will be competing for an open spot in the starting line-up due to the graduation of DeMarcus Nelson. Jon Scheyer and in-coming McDonald's All-American Elliot Williams will be his main competition with redshirt junior Marty Pocius also in the mix. Smith's main advantage should be his on-the-ball defense. With a year of experience under his belt, Smith will be more comfortable with Duke's defensive schemes and should be competitive to step into the role of shutdown perimeter defender previously occupied by ACC Defensive Player of the Year DeMarcus Nelson. Whether he earns the starting spot or comes off the bench Smith will need to play aggressive defense to earn significant playing time.
On offense, Smith demonstrated the ability to knock down the 3-point shot, making 38.6 percent during his freshman season, or explode to the rim with athleticism. Improving his assists to turnover ratio of .92 will need to be a focus area this coming season. This is paramount if Smith aspires to make the transition from combo guard to legitimate point guard the position many analysts see as his ultimate destiny at Duke and beyond. He has the explosiveness and court vision to play the point and making better decisions should come with experience. If Smith demonstrates the ability to distribute the basketball, he should challenge for a slot in the starting line-up.
Comparing Nolan Smith to previous Duke guards results in the name Daniel Ewing. Ewing was a combo guard who successfully quarterbacked the offense in his senior season. As a freshman, Ewing’s numbers of 6.5 points in 18.2 minutes per game are comparable to Smith’s 5.9 points in 14.7 minutes. Ewing’s numbers increased to 12 points in 27.9 minutes as a sophomore and while it is unlikely Smith will see 27 minutes a game due to Duke’s deep roster it is not unrealistic to expect his points per game to approach double digits. Moreover, Ewing was a consistently strong defender who drew the assignment of guarding the opponent’s top perimeter player. That is the role many expect Nolan Smith to fulfill in his second season as a Blue Devil.
After a highly successful freshman season that saw Kyle Singler earn ACC Rookie of the Year and 3rd Team All-ACC honors, what will he do for an encore? Duke fans are anxious to find out. Singler averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game last season but he appeared to lose his legs during March as a result of being worn out from guarding bigger, stronger players all season as Duke was thin in the front court due to injuries. Basketball pundits love to throw around the term "potential" when discussing players. Therefore, here goes: Kyle Singler has unlimited potential in terms of skills. At 6-8 220 pounds Singler is the size of a prototypical Duke power forward such as Shane Battier or Danny Ferry. He is an excellent shooter with 3-point range, can drive with the basketball or deliver a precision pass to a cutting teammate, post up a defender, rebound with aggression, and is a solid defender. The numbers from last season validate his skill level. Singler has the potential to develop into as good of a player as former National Players of the Year Shane Battier and Danny Ferry. This coming season he will not only be more experienced but he will be stronger. Undoubtedly, the Duke coaching staff has pinpointed areas for Singler to focus upon over the summer. Kyle Singler has the potential to be downright scary good!
Thoughts of an improved Kyle Singler is an elixir to Duke fans upset with early departures from the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. The arrival of freshmen Miles Plumlee (6-10 230) and Olek Czyz (6-8 235) should shore up Duke's thin front line. Plumlee and Czyz will be able to assist Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and Dave McClure in sharing duties guarding opponent's primary big man freeing Singler up to defend the opponents second inside player. The defensive end of the court is key in regard to Singler's sophomore season. The objective is to prevent the scenario where Singler is constantly guarding bigger, stronger players. With a deeper front court available, Coach Krzyzewski should be able to orchestrate the line-up and create interior match up advantages for Duke.
In commenting on the recognition he received as a freshman, "It means a lot - I put in a lot of hard work throughout the season," Singler said. "I feel very honored, but like any individual award, you kind of want to match it with a team award." With an improved Kyle Singler and seven other scholarship players back from last season, plus the return of Marty Pocius, and the arrival of three freshman including McDonald's All-American Elliot Williams, the team award Kyle desires may arrive at the end of his sophomore season.
Someone who desires to comprehend Lance Thomas’ impact on the basketball court should not look in the box score. Thomas brings intangibles onto the court that are not reflected in the after action statistics. Statistics tracking can be misleading and this observation is coming from a box score junkie. Throughout the course of a game, there is much action taking place on the court that is not reflected in the box score.
First, Thomas is a tenacious defender when Duke presses full court. His energy and aggressiveness disrupts the opponent’s offensive flow even if it doesn’t result in a turnover. An effective full court press will create turnovers and easy baskets, but not on every possession. The press is effective when backcourt pressure results in the opponent faltering in their half court offense. An effective full court press can drive an opponent’s offense into disarray and Lance Thomas is one of the Blue Devils dishing out that back court harassment.
Second, Thomas brings emotion onto the court. I’ve rechecked the box score categories and sure enough “emotion” isn’t tracked. However, Thomas’ enthusiasm for the game uplifts his teammates and motivates everyone on the court to excel and produce in the categories that are tracked in the box score. This emotion and enthusiasm is palpable to anyone sitting in front of a television watching a Duke Basketball game.
Lance Thomas has played in 63 games over the course of his first two years as a Blue Devil, starting 46 of those games. There is room for improvement in his game. For starters, he needs to shoot free throws better as he has made only 55.1 percent of his attempts. Grabbing rebounds on the defensive end of the court is another example. Thomas has secured only 87 defensive rebounds over 63 games. That averages out to less than 1.4 per contest. Thomas needs to be more active in limiting opponent’s second chance points, but I digress into statistics…
I’m not sure how to measure the intangibles that Lance Thomas brings onto the court but I am sure of two things. His teammates need his passion on the court and his effectiveness cannot be measured via the box score. Lance Thomas is another Blue Devil who is ready to breakout.