Rosen: With DJ Steward’s commitment, Duke’s Class Is Taking Shape

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how if Terrence Clarke reclassified to 2020, he would be a perfect fit at Duke. While Clarke did opt to reclass, he choose the blue-blood in Lexington. Despite missing out on Clarke, the Blue Devils more than landed on their feet, earning a pledge from Chicago-sharpshooter DJ Steward. While Steward isn’t the athlete that Clarke is, he makes up for it with his shot-creating prowess and consistent three ball. He is the third commit in Duke’s 2020 class, joining Jeremy Roach and Jalen Johnson which forms a three-headed monster that Duke fans should already be excited about. When the average fan evaluates recruiting classes, the “fit” aspect often goes under the radar. On paper, last year’s Duke class should’ve been the best of all time, reeling in the top three players in the entire country (according to ESPN) but they peaked at the Champions Classic and didn’t reach their potential due to the bad fit. With the class of 2020, all three players will compliment each other, and Coach K can focus on getting a big man to hold down the inside. 

On offense, these three will be very fun to watch. The basis of why I thought Clarke was such a good fit at Duke was due to his shooting ability. Floor spacing is a classic Achilles heel for Duke teams, so the appeal of a shooter alongside two high IQ playmakers like Roach and Johnson is very intriguing. In some ways, Steward is a better fit because of his lethal three point shot. Whoever is playing shooting guard will likely be the tertiary initiator behind Roach and Johnson, and that’s where Steward provides a ton of value as a shooter off the catch that defenses have to locate, starting from the NBA line. This past summer in the EYBL, Steward scorched the nets while shooting 39% from three on 97 attempts. Those numbers are absolutely obscene at this age, especially when you consider his high usage rate and difficult attempts. Roach was the first commit in this class, and I’ve had the luxury of watching his game develop throughout his high school career at Paul VI. As a freshman, you could tell he was special. Roach always made the right play, and never got rattled by the big moment. He took a massive leap in his sophomore year, operating as the full time initiator and truly expanded his scoring arsenal. While he missed his junior year with an ACL tear, he has fully recovered and is primed for a huge senior year. In Durham, you can expect him to control the game, score it consistently at all three levels and lock up the opposing team’s point guard. Jalen Johnson, who committed over the summer, is the highest rated player in the class. I’ve seen much less of him than Roach, but still have a pretty good feel for his game. Listed at 6’8” 215 with a wicked basketball IQ, Johnson seems to be one of the more promising wing prospects in the next couple of drafts. While his three ball must improve and I would’ve liked him to be more assertive at times over the summer (I know he was playing with other ball-dominant players), Johnson does so many positive things on the court at his size. When getting downhill, he is an absolute force. If you play him straight up, he can put you on a poster, but if you show your cards and help too early he’ll make you pay with a live dribble skip pass to a wide open teammate. Like Roach, his game is very well rounded. Steward’s sharpshooting and overall offensive gravity will create more space and driving lanes for Roach and Johnson to attack, something Duke lacked in particular this past year. I haven’t seen enough of Steward to feel comfortable writing about his defense, but at 6’3” 165 it’s fair to say he might be a little undersized when guarding some ACC two guards. Again, that’s why the trio of Roach-Johnson-Steward is a perfect fit. Roach is known for his quick feet and hands, often picking up full court and giving the best of the best a hard time. Johnson is very lengthy on the wing, and knows how to use his physical attributes and intangibles to create havoc on the court. While writing about this trio, I got some flashbacks from Duke’s 2015 national championship team, especially in the backcourt. The Blue Devils played their best basketball when Coach K decided to play Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook together, with Cook off the ball. While they were both “smaller” guards, Jones’ command of the floor and overall impact combined with Cook’s shooting ability made them a lethal combo. I think Roach and Steward on the court together would give Duke fans deja vu from the last time they hoisted the championship trophy. With all that being said, I think this backcourt might even have a higher ceiling due to Roach’s shooting/scoring ability and Steward’s skills off the bounce. I know the 2019-20 season hasn’t even tipped off yet, but Cameron Crazies should be very excited about their 2020-21 squad already. 

Jake Rosen

Twitter: @JakeInThePaint

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