Originally written on SCACC Hoops  |  Last updated 10/21/14
“When it left his hands, I knew it was splash waterfalls.” — Quinn Cook. With 23.1 seconds left in a two-point game to decide the Maui Invitational, Tyler Thornton put up an offbalance 3-pointer from one foot, fading out of bounds right next to Duke’s bench. It was one of those “WHY THE HELL IS HE— GREAT SHOT!!!!” According to Cook, he knew it was good from the get go. I didn’t believe him at the time, but judging by photographs taken just after the shot went in, maybe he isn’t lying. Quinn seemed to be the only guy in Lahaina Civic Center who wasn’t surprised that Tyler made the shot. Maybe it was because Tyler had just drained a three-ball one minute earlier. Or maybe it was because Tyler and Quinn have been playing basketball together nearly their entire lives. Growing up in the Greater DC area, Tyler’s Gonzaga High School was often matched up against Quinn’s Dematha in the Western Catholic Athletic Conference. In one of both Quinn and Tyler’s last games at those high schools, Quinn dropped 30 points on Gonzaga to lead his team to the conference title. The history these two have together should not be overlooked heading into this season, as they will be sharing the load at the most important position on any basketball team, but especially Duke, at lead guard. The 2012 season had no bigger issue last season than their inability to pressure opposing guards and defend the perimeter. There were a lot of reasons that this was the case, but regardless of the causes the effect was Duke’s worst defense statistically since defensive statistics have been taken. By the end of the postseason (in which we saw Lehigh’s CJ McCollum knifing through Duke’s defense with ease) Duke was 70th in the country in defensive efficiency adjusted for opponent’s strength. Of all the perimeter players on last year’s team, Tyler Thornton was by far the most effective. He led the regular rotation guys in turnovers forced per 100 possessions and allowed FG% as well as being the best defensive rebounder among that group. Still, for all that Thornton gave on the defensive side of the ball (and it was a lot) he was more often than not a liability on the offensive end. Duke’s opponents were often able to slough off of Thornton and help on his teammates. No matter the ability of Austin Rivers to cross guys up and get by them with the dribble, he faced more traffic in the lane than he would have if Thornton had been more dangerous with the ball. Tyler’s defensive ability and intangibles kept him on the court than he likely would have been otherwise and that is all that he should be expected to provide this year as well. I anticipate the coaching staff giving the keys to Quinn Cook to start the year, with Thornton coming in to spell him during times of foul trouble and/or when the Duke perimeter is unable to keep their opponents out of the lane or from making threes. As a whole, look for the Duke offense to be more cohesive and with a more concerted effort to feed the post. In order for Mason Plumlee and Duke’s other post players to be effective, they will need to get the ball in scoring position. Cook has shown he is more proficient in this area. I expect Tyler to continue to do what he’s been doing since he got to Duke — playing hard-nosed basketball and doing all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Every team needs guys like Tyler Thornton. Duke is lucky to have him. This article was originally published at http://DukeHoopBlog.com. If you are interested in sharing your website's content with SCACCHoops.com, Contact Us.  
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