What will Duke basketball roster look like next to Cooper Flagg and Tyrese Proctor?

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What will Duke basketball roster look like next to Cooper Flagg and Tyrese Proctor?

Duke’s end-of-season banquet was last week, the final time that every member of Jon Scheyer’s second team will all be together.

Because a week after the national championship game, several Blue Devils have already moved on — and there’s more roster management to be done.

So, which players are leaving? Which are staying? And who might Scheyer bring in to round out his third roster?

Let’s dive into what I’m hearing:

Mark Mitchell’s transfer and other departures

Ryan Young is the only player from this season’s Elite Eight team who exhausted his eligibility, but he’s not Duke’s only departure. Sophomore Kyle Filipowski and freshman Jared McCain have declared for the NBA Draft, and both are expected to become first-round picks in June.

Both were expected departures for Duke — as were, to some extent, the four Blue Devils who have entered the transfer portal so far: sophomore forward Mark Mitchell, junior guard Jaylen Blakes, redshirt freshman big Christian Reeves, and redshirt freshman guard Jaden Schutt.

Mitchell is the biggest loss of the four, a nearly every-game starter who was arguably Duke’s most versatile defender. The Blue Devils were 33-4 in Mitchell’s two seasons when the 6-foot-9 forward scored at least 10 points. But for as impactful as Mitchell was at times, he didn’t make sense on next season’s roster for a variety of reasons.

Chief among them is positional — and skill — overlap. Mitchell’s jump shot has never been his strength, but after making 35.2 percent of his 3s as a freshman, his form became noticeably worse as a sophomore, including a serious hitch in his release. As a result, his percentages plummeted: to 27.5 percent from 3, and 62.3 percent from the free-throw line (compared to 76.3 percent as a freshman). In Duke’s second game of the season, a home loss to Arizona, the Wildcats “dorked” Mitchell — sagging off him when he got the ball on the perimeter — and laid a blueprint for all future opponents. While Scheyer ultimately got Mitchell more involved with short rolls and cuts, his lack of floor-stretching ability was something Duke had to work around offensively.

With top-five freshmen Cooper Flagg and Khaman Maluach coming in, the spacing with Mitchell would not have worked. Every roster move Duke makes this offseason has to be viewed through the lens of complementing those two, because they are the players Scheyer and his staff are building around. One NBA scout, who was granted anonymity because he is not authorized to talk about players not eligible for the draft,  told The Athletic when Maluach committed that he and Flagg would be the most hyped, heavily scouted pair of college teammates since Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins at Kansas in 2013-14.

Yes, even more than Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett in 2018-19.



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Flagg can shoot, and Maluach may be able to eventually — more on both later — but neither is a true sharpshooter. For that reason, Duke will prioritize putting shooting around that duo, something Mitchell does not provide.

Neither does Blakes, who is set to graduate this spring and would have been a reserve again next season. Reeves was always a development project for the Blue Devils; Scheyer has prioritized continuity and long-term development since taking over as head coach, but Reeves was never going to get the reps he needed next season in what figures to be a stacked frontcourt. And while Schutt once hit 17 3s in a high school game, his shooting prowess hasn’t translated to the same extent at the college level; with the multitude of wing options at Scheyer’s disposal next season, it likewise would have been difficult for him to find playing time.

An experienced backcourt returns

Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster will both be back next season, giving Scheyer an experienced backcourt to build around.

Foster’s decision, especially, was critical for the Blue Devils. The former five-star guard missed Duke’s final nine games with a broken ankle, but he shot 40.6 percent from 3 and thrived in key nonconference wins vs. Michigan State and Baylor. That combination of experience and shooting is exactly what an otherwise young Duke roster needs most. Foster already had surgery on his ankle and hopes to return to the court by June, which would give him a summer working as an expected starter.

As for Proctor, while there was chatter about him potentially returning to Australia and playing in the NBL next season — a la former Wake Forest wing Bobi Klintman, an expected first-rounder this summer; his return gives Scheyer an experienced captain with upside left. He also developed into arguably the team’s best perimeter defender by season’s end, as showcased by his late-game stops against Houston in the Sweet 16. Proctor also shot 35.2 percent from 3, up from 32 percent last season, but during the 10 games before Duke’s season-ending Elite Eight loss to NC State, Proctor was at 37.3 percent from deep on almost seven 3-point attempts per game. Continuing to work on his shot is crucial for him this summer; Duke needs Proctor (and Foster) to be among its best 3-point shooters to maximize space around Flagg and Maluach.

Where does that leave Jeremy Roach?

Likely, although not definitely, playing elsewhere next season. Roach still has his COVID-19 year of eligibility left, and as a four-year Duke starter with Final Four experience — and as someone who shot 42.9 percent from 3 last season — he would be a hot commodity in the transfer portal. There is also the option that Roach turns pro, but he is unlikely to be drafted; Roach did not appear in The Athletic’s latest mock draft. His earning potential, depending on his next school, should be greater in college next season than somewhere overseas or in the G League.

My prediction is that Roach ultimately transfers and plays his final college season elsewhere.

Scholarship situation

It’s important to understand Duke’s current commitments for next season. By position, they are:

  • Guards: Proctor, Foster
  • Wings: Flagg, Isaiah Evans, Kon Knueppel, Darren Harris
  • Bigs: Maluach, Patrick Ngongba

That doesn’t factor in players who have yet to announce their decisions for next season — namely Sean Stewart and TJ Power.

The internal expectation is that at least one of the two will transfer, although Duke has room for both to return.

Stewart — like Mitchell — is facing a positional/skill overlap with Flagg and Maluach. He’s a non-shooter who brings great athleticism and rebounding, and would be a valuable piece on most teams, but his fit next to Flagg and Maluach isn’t ideal. Power is someone opposing coaches have hoped would enter the transfer portal for months now, due to his shooting upside. He has good size at 6-foot-9, but would need to bulk up this summer — and improve his 3-point consistency — to carve out a serious role next season, especially given Duke’s glut of wings. Power would be the player I would prioritize between those two, given both his untapped upside and fit with Maluach and Flagg.

Cooper Flagg drives during the McDonald’s All-American Game. (Maria Lysaker / USA Today)

Incoming freshmen intel

Flagg is a transcendent talent, and the best high school player I’ve ever seen. His shot-blocking prowess as a primary defender — not in help situations — is incredible, as is his anticipation. He’s the early frontrunner to be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft, and Duke will (appropriately) build around him next season. At 6-foot-9, Flagg can play either wing spot, although because of his value as a defensive center fielder, I expect Duke to target a bigger wing — someone who can defend opposing forwards in the paint and otherwise free Flagg up — in the transfer portal. Flagg can shoot, but depending on him as a primary 3-point threat doesn’t make the most of his talents. Flagg is an awesome slasher and creative finisher at the rim, and the more shooters Duke can surround him with, the more space he should have inside to operate. Flagg will spend plenty of time as a de-facto point forward, not unlike how Filipowski would sometimes bring the ball up the floor and initiate this season.

Maluach, on the other hand, is much more of a work in progress. People who saw him participate in last week’s Nike Hoop Summit came away in awe of his physical measurables — at 7-foot-1, Maluach registered a 7-foot-5 wingspan and 9-foot-5 standing reach — but also expecting him to need serious seasoning at the college level. Maluach struggled in Hoop Summit practices, especially with his hands in traffic, and reminded the basketball industry how new the sport still is to him. Maluach needs to work on some similar things as Duke’s last two conventional centers: Mark Williams and Dereck Lively II. Williams struggled early in Durham with attempting to block every shot, which at times got him out of position and made the Blue Devils vulnerable on the offensive glass; Maluach similarly will have to learn better defensive discipline, and that his mere presence is a deterrent in the lane. Lively, on the other hand, had to learn the timing and spacing of pick-and-rolls on offense, and so will Maluach. All of which is a long way of saying that Maluach has tremendous potential … but expectations should probably be tempered early.

Duke’s other four freshmen — Evans, Knueppel, Ngnongba, and Harris — will have varying roles. Evans has the loftiest pedigree and theoretically offers the necessary 3-point shooting, but how will the staff handle his streakiness? Ngongba spent most of his senior season recovering from a broken foot injury; how ready will he be to contribute early on? Harris is the lowest-ranked incoming freshman, but he was named Peach Jam MVP last season, and was arguably the best player this season for Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, Va.) High School, which made it to the Chipotle Nationals high school championship game. The player being least discussed of those four, Knueppel, arrives with a strong scoring pedigree, and depending on how quickly he acclimates this summer, may even make a case as a starter. His floor, given his scoring chops, maybe the highest of those four.

Transfer portal intel

If roster movement shakes out as expected — with Roach transferring, as well as at least one of Stewart or Power (or possibly both) — then Duke should have three or four available scholarships to play with in the transfer portal. Its targets with those slots, in no particular order:

  • A starting-caliber forward with college experience, who ideally can both shoot the 3 and provide interior defense;
  • A reserve guard with the requisite ballhandling to give Proctor and/or Foster a breather;
  • A reserve big who can aid Maluach’s development and defend opposing centers, especially if Ngongba’s recovery lingers.

While Duke has been mentioned with several portal targets already, one who would be an ideal fit — and who would probably be my top portal priority for Duke — is former Purdue forward Mason Gillis. The Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year this season, Gillis will turn 24 in November and just played in the national championship game, bringing valuable experience wherever he goes next. At 6-6 and 230 pounds, he has the strength to defend opposing power forwards, but he also shot 46.8 percent from 3 last season, and 40.7 percent over his career with the Boilermakers. Gillis would seemingly check all the boxes for Duke: a low-usage, high-efficiency stretch-four who can handle bigger defensive assignments and free Flagg up to roam — and who has already done what Duke hopes to next season: play for a national title.

(Top photo of Tyrese Proctor: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)