Jabari Parker considered coming back to Duke for his sophomore season, but the allure of playing in the best league in the world and all of the financial benefits that come with it was eventually too much to turn down. Parker announced his decision to enter the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon in an essay for Sports Illustrated. Hours later, his teammate Rodney Hood decided to make the same leap.
Parker was brilliant as a freshman and surely has a long and prosperous NBA career ahead of him. He was second in the ACC in scoring, first in rebounding and won the Wayman Tisdale Award for the best freshman in the country ahead of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and several other worthy candidates he'll see at the next level. Hood is also projected as a first-rounder after just one season at Duke. Hood, who transferred in from Mississippi State, is a 6'8 wing who shot 42 percent on three-pointers last season.
Losing a top-five pick in Parker and another possible lottery pick would kill any college team, particularly one like Duke that couldn't make it out of the round of 64 this past season. But if you look at what Coach K and Duke have coming in, as well as who's returning, it isn't hard to think the Blue Devils could be even better next season without Parker and Hood.
How was Mercer able to oust Duke in its first NCAA Tournament game? The loss was essentially a microcosm of Duke's entire season. We wrote about it in February -- Duke was a killer offensive team, but it might have had some of the worst interior defense in the country. That proved to be Duke's downfall, as it had no answer for Mercer senior Daniel Coursey. Coursey, at 6'10, 220 pounds, was big and skilled enough to beat the Blue Devils repeatedly on the inside. He finished with 17 points and Duke's season and Parker's career were over after just one tournament game.
Duke started Parker at the four and sophomore Amile Jefferson at center last season. At 6'9, 210 pounds, Jefferson didn't have the size or shot-blocking instincts to anchor a defense. Duke's block percentage ranked No. 260 in the country, per Ken Pom. The defense as a whole checked in at No. 116. Even the No. 2 offense in the country couldn't rescue a defense that poor.
Duke is losing lots of shooting with Parker, Hood and the graduating senior Andre Dawkins. On the plus side, the Blue Devils are replacing it with some size.
Jahlil Okafor has reigned atop the high school class of 2014 rankings for years. Like fellow South Side of Chicago native and his good friend Parker, he chose to spend his year in college at Duke. For a team that played the entire season without a traditional big man a year ago, Okafor's arrival is game-changing.
You don't see players like Okafor anymore. It's hard to think of a more offensively polished big man entering the college ranks in recent memory. Okafor is a bit of a throwback, with a developed low post game and advanced footwork already as an 18-year-old. He's also 6'11, 275 pounds with a 7'6 wingspan. That's a big deal.
Okafor is not the most explosive athlete, but his length and sheer mass should be a major deterrent to opposing offenses looking to get to the rim. Last year, the paint was a red carpet for opponents against Duke. That's not going to be how it works this season with a monster in the middle like Okafor.
Okafor isn't Duke's only major recruit. The Blue Devils are bringing in four of the top 21 prospects in the country according to ESPN. Minnesota native Tyus Jones comes to Duke as part of a packaged deal with Okafor, and the 6'1 point guard is the type of heady leader Coach K lacked last season. Jones figures to start from day one alongside rising junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who will be expected to pick up some of the shooting responsibilities. That should work out just fine, as Sulaimon hit 41 percent of his attempts per game from three-point range.
Who replaces Hood on the wing? It could be another McDonald's All-American, freshman Justise Winslow. Winslow doesn't have the shooting ability of Parker or Hood and shouldn't be relied upon to get buckets at a high level, but he projects as a perfect glue guy for the Blue Devils. Winslow has the size and lateral quickness to defend multiple positions on the wing, which is something Duke was sorely missing a year ago.
Throw in freshman Grayson Allen -- your new least favorite athlete -- and Duke will have plenty of firepower offensively to go with what should be an improved defense. Lots of programs talk about reloading instead of rebuilding, but Coach K seems like he will actually be able to do it next season.