As the Wembanyama era kicked off in San Antonio with a disappointing 4-23 start, the Spurs are already eyeing roster upgrades. Although David Duker Jr.'s recent conversion into one of their two-way contracts may appear marginal, the Providence alumni's twirling skillset has the potential to fully revamp that narrative.
Despite having only accumulated 569 minutes over his two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets and recently celebrating his 24th birthday, David Duke Jr. has shown enough promise to warrant a deeper analysis of his game. In his first game with the Austin Spurs last Friday, he filled the stat sheet with 27 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Last year, his level of play earned him a first-team All-G-League nomination and third place in MVP balloting.
The standout component of his game is his impressive athleticism, which helps him
primarily as a point-of-attack defender. Duke Jr. boasts exceptional lateral speed, enabling him to execute textbook closeouts and keep pace with the swiftest players each time down the floor. He would become one of the best perimeter defenders within the Spurs' rotation.
Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, his combination of height, agility, and boundless energy makes him a prime candidate for defending ball-dominant guards, much like the Nets used him last year when facing the likes of Luka Doncic, Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, or Devin Booker. His ability to maneuver around screens can be inconsistent, although it is mostly really good, but one thing you can always count on is his unwavering effort.
The former Net is at his best when in motion, shadowing his assignment as it navigates screens, helping and bumping opponents with his stoic chest after recovering on closeouts. He tends to be a fraction of a second late on reads and rotations from a stationary position on the weakside, but his level of activity and near 6'9'' wingspan establish him as a terrific disruptor in passing lanes.
His overall defensive impact is undeniably good. Through his activity and lowered center of gravity, David Duke Jr. has the ideal profile to be an anchoring force at the point-of-attack defense in spurts and an off-ball disruptor with his instincts and contribution on the boards. The Spurs currently have the second-worst half-court defense in the league, and much of that is due to their inability to contain perimeter threats.
The 6'4'' swingman's good feel for the game translates to the offensive end, where he generates paint touches at will with his tightened handles and devastating burst. When surging to the rim, Duke Jr. can either finish high or distribute to his teammates through perfect drop-offs or blazing-hot, ambidextrial kickouts.
The jolting slasher was the point guard at Providence during his college days, but his shaky decision-making in high-pressure situations imply that his impact as a full-time primary ball-handler might be limited. Still, with the lack of incisive initiators on the team (the Spurs currently drive at the 7th lowest rate and draw fouls at the worst rate in the league) and his capability to put pressure on the rim, he could prove highly valuable for the Texans as they keep facing the same creation hurdles.
Shooting-related woes (and progress)
Duke Jr.'s ability to excel in the league hinges primarily on his off-ball performance, and throughout his early career has he suffered from a lack of reliable shooting. In the major league, he managed to connect on only 19% of his 49 shallow attempts, and his G-League numbers did not offer much more hope—he sinked 35 of his 109 tries (32.1%) from long range coming into this season.
Having said that, he's netting his threes at a respectable 35.1% rate through his first 77 attempts from long range this young season. Those promising numbers might be the early signs of a shooting breakthrough, as his mechanics have improved and the volume is getting quite significant (7.7 3-point attempts per 100 possessions this G-League showcase season).
To attenuate the shooting-related limitations, it's worth noting that Duke has proven to be a savy and effective cutter, mixing powerful dunks with finesse at the rim. He's additionally welcomed the idea of setting screens off the ball, where he likes to read and react to the defenses' schemes before soaring to the rim when a path is open. The guard is a rare blend of instincts, athleticism and court awareness.
Furthermore, Duke Jr. absolutely slaughters attacking closeouts -- precisely why developping a better shot and forcing defenses to make harder closeouts is so crucial to his future success. His first step is virtually unguardable and his keen passing instincts and athleticism often result in good looks for the offense afterwards.
His sense for seamlessly transfering weight/energy through his lower body and adjusting his footwork culminates in those bursts that will leave nearly any defender flat-footed. Couple that with superb hang-time and astute decision-making while in motion and you'll have a high-level connective piece to dynamise your offense.
The 24-year-old David Duke Jr. is a multipositional weapon who offers impact and creativity in various regards and on both ends of the floor; a perfect Swiss Army Knife profile for a Spurs team that currently lacks many of the qualities he brings to the table. All of his former coaches have been adamant in expressing Duke Jr.'s perfect attitude, genuine love for the game and desire to progress.
Ultimately, it's highly unlikely to see David Duke Jr. being granted any sort of rotational minutes early on, but the 24-year-old remains a phenomenal athlete that impacts plays all over the floor. San Antonio has also thrived on giving G-League performers a shot, as recently highlighted with sharpshooter Julian Champagnie now signed to a multi-year contract.
When Duke Jr.'s time finally comes and he gets recalled from the G-League, his energy, toughness and connective passing will immediately make him a favorite for the "Why Doesn't Pop Play That Guy More?" award. The Spurs are the right situation for him, and David Duke Jr. certainly has a case to make.
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