Jones was ranked as the No. 29 overall prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft class by ESPN. His return is a huge boost for a Duke team that will be losing three star freshmen in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish.
Duke was eliminated in the Elite Eight with a one-point loss to Michigan State. Jones finished that game with only four points.
Jones was projected to be a one-and-done for most of the year. His older brother Tyus Jones left Duke after his freshman season, but he also won a national championship in his one year on campus. Jones is returning in part because he has unfinished business.
This is huge news for Duke, but Mike Krzyzewski’s team still has work to do for next season. Here’s what Jones’ decision means.
Duke still has questions even with Jones’ return
Duke fans have been spoiled by monster recruiting classes the last few years under Coach K. Duke has finished with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country the last three years. That won’t be the case next season. Duke’s current group of commitments is ranked No. 10 overall by 247 Sports.
Vernon Carey Jr. headlines Duke’s incoming class. Carey is ranked No. 1 overall in his recruiting class by Rivals as a powerful big man with perimeter touch who will be expected to anchor the offense as a freshman. Carey is good, but his lack of foot speed and vertical explosiveness leaves real questions about just how impactful he will be. Don’t expect him to be nearly as brilliant as Williamson was this year.
Duke has two other signings in Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis. Moore, a 6’5 shooting guard, is ranked No. 22 overall in his class. Ellis, a 6’2 combo guard, is ranked No. 34 in his class.
This is a great recruiting haul by any standard other than the one Coach K has set for himself. With so many losses from last year’s team even with Jones back, expect Duke to take at least a small step back next year.
Duke should still add one more impact freshman
Coach K likely isn’t done yet. Expect him to secure a commitment from Matthew Hurt, a 6’8 power forward ranked as the No. 8 overall player in his class.
Hurt is smart player and a versatile scorer. He also likely won’t be a one-and-done because he doesn’t have the natural talent of players like Barrett and Reddish. Hurt is likely a multiple year college guy who eventually grows into a stud. In the short term, it will be interesting to see if he and Carey — along with returning bigs Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier — can keep Duke in the top five next year.
What does Duke’s projected starting lineup look like next year?
Let’s take a crack at it:
PG Tre Jones
SF Wendell Moore
C Vernon Carey Jr.
Ellis, Hurt, and Bolden will be off the bench. There’s also junior guard Jordan Goldwire and wing Joey Baker, as well as Jack White. Baker is a potential breakout candidate as a 6’8 wing who can score from three levels. Duke needs him to be. This team doesn’t have the star power it’s used to on the perimeter, even with Jones.
Will Duke land R.J. Hampton with Jones returning?
If Jones entered the draft, it was speculated they could land R.J. Hampton, a burgeoning guard in the 2020 class who could reclassify. With Jones returning, it seems less likely Hampton will now reclassify and commit.
RJ Hampton’s dad tells me they’re at 4 schools now w/ Duke, UK, Kansas and Memphis and may cut to 3 soon. Reclassifying to 2019 is still a strong option. They will look at what PGs go to the NBA, including what Tre Jones does at Duke. Story coming later.
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 6, 2019
What does Tre Jones need to work on for the next level?
Jones’ biggest area for improvement is shooting. He made only 26.2 percent of his three-pointers this year. Duke will need more scoring out of Jones in general next year after he averaged 9.4 points per game as a freshman. Already a lockdown defender, Jones should see his stock rise if he improves as a shooter.
It’s worth noting point guard looks deep in the 2020 draft. Aside from Jones, next year’s crop of elite point guard prospects include Cole Anthony, Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey, French teenagers Theo Maledon and Killian Hayes, Tennessee commit Josiah James, and Arizona commit Nico Mannion, among others.
Duke will be good with Jones, but they won’t be a super team
Duke’s super team era had mixed results. A freshmen-led team won the national title in 2015, but they came up short in 2016 with Brandon Ingram, 2017 with Jayson Tatum, 2018 with Marvin Bagley III, and 2019 with Zion and R.J.
Maybe Duke will benefit from a more experienced team led by Jones, but they will still take a step down in terms of raw talent.