After finishing a disappointing 22-11 last season, which was capped off with a first round knockout in the NCAA tournament, Duke has rebounded extremely well this year, posting a very impressive 19-1 record thus far. DeMarcus Nelson
, the squads lone senior and team captain, certainly has a lot to do with that. The former McDonalds All-American and all-time leading scorer in California high school basketball history is leading the Blue Devils in minutes, points, rebounds, and steals, while posting the best field-goal percentage of his career. In his four years at Duke, Nelson has impressively improved his efficiency and production every season, showing an outstanding learning curve. His field-goal percentage, most notably, has risen from .400 to .452 to .478 to .507.
Nelson stands 64, with long arms and average athleticism, having the tools to guard point guards to power forwards at the college level. He combines those physical tools with a relentless style of play, being very aggressive on both ends of the court, and on the boards.
On the offensive end, Nelson has a versatile skill-set, which starts with his ability to take the ball to the basket. With a solid first step and excellent timing on his moves, Nelson has little trouble taking his man off the dribble, either in isolation or coming off a high screen. Coming off screens, Nelson is very quick to turn the corner and accelerate in the lane, where he makes good use of subtle misdirection moves. Nelson will occasionally pull out a behind-the-back or crossover dribble, but for the most part relies on simple changes in speeds and hesitation dribbles to gain separation, doing very well with it at this level. He shows no preference for going right or left, though he looks a little bit more comfortable going right, using his natural hand. Hes not a very advanced ball-handler, being mostly relegated to simple straight-line moves to the basket.
At the rim, Nelson shows very good touch off the glass with both hands, and is fearless when it comes to taking contact, showing a nice propensity for finishing after being hit. Nelson also has an effective, but inconsistent floater in his repertoire, something he should definitely look to improve on, as it will be important to his success at the next level. While Nelsons explosiveness or vertical leap would not be classified as weaknesses, he tends to overestimate his abilities in these areas at times, occasionally trying to go up and dunk over one or more opposing big men at the rim, which he usually falls short of doing. At 64, this is simply not something hes going to be capable of doing with a defender in his face, especially at the next level.
From the perimeter, Nelson has a respectable outside shot, as hes shooting 40% from behind the arc on the season, albeit on a limited number of attempts, but he definitely has some room for improvement here. He doesnt always get his feet underneath his shot, and his shooting motion has a noticeable hitch in it, which is deliberate when he has a lot of time to get off his shot. The hitch is less noticeable when hes more pressed for time and space, and the results may actually be better in these situations, where his motion looks more natural. Despite the hitch, his release speed is generally not a problem, and the rest of his mechanics are fairly solid. As his 63% free-throw shooting could attest, though, he definitely could use a few minor tweaks.
Nelson shows off flashes of a mid-range game as well, though he does most of his damage at the rim and from behind the arc. He shows the ability to get separation and pull up for a balanced shot from the 10-15 foot range when he wants to, which he is fairly effective with. Nelson is also very solid cutting off the ball to the basket, where he can catch and finish well at the rim.
While Nelson certainly is not a point guard, he does play a combo-guard role at Duke, and his assist-to-turnover ratio and assists per game have improved in each of his four years there. This season, hes shown pretty good court vision and a propensity for driving-and-kicking and hitting cutters in the lane, doing a decent job creating for his teammates at times.
Where Nelson really excels, though, is the defensive end, where he has a very complete game, having the physical tools, mentality, and technique to be a very good and very versatile defender. Nelsons off-ball defense is excellent, as he plays very close to his man while keeping an eye on both his man and the ball at all times, while he fights well through screens when necessary. Once his man gets the ball, he shows a strong, aggressive stance, playing far up on his man and using his length and hands well to cause discomfort. He moves well laterally, and has good recovery speed when he does get beat. Nelson also shows excellent anticipation in the passing lanes, jumping out to deflect and pick off stray passes, while also showing a propensity for making steals in man-to-man coverage. Nelson even looks fairly competent when switched into the post, using his strength and technique to force post players into tough shots. Nelsons biggest weakness on this end of the court would probably be biting on crossovers too often, which he is prone to doing. Nelson is also a very good rebounder for a guard, leading his team in boards and showing excellent aggressiveness in attacking on both ends, while exhibiting a nice second bounce at the rim.
Despite coming into Duke with a great pedigree as a scorer, Nelson definitely projects as a role player at the next level, and he has many of the characteristics coaches look for in role players in the NBA. His defensive ability will be his greatest selling point, and while hes slightly undersized for a shooting guard at 64, length somewhat makes up for that, while he has the versatility to guard multiple positions. His abilities to cut and finish at the rim, along with his strong rebounding for a guard, will also help him, though really improving on his spot-up shot from outside will be important to his chances of succeeding in the league. Nelson will have a chance to prove his worth to scouts and executives at the pre-draft camps, and hes someone teams will probably look at in the second round, though hes not a lock to be drafted.