PHOTO: Duke’s Joey Baker from the corner.
By TOM SHANAHAN
The past two seasons Duke’s basketball lineups dripped with NBA first-round draft talent, but both rosters lacked one crucial element to balance the offensive attack. They needed a consistent three-point shooter.
Small forward Joey Baker had his moments last year.
He was 4-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-7 from the field in Nov. 29 win over Winthrop; scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting while burying his only three-point attempt in a Dec. 3 win at Michigan State; and scored a career-high 22 points with 3-of-5 treys in a Dec. 19 win over Wofford. In ACC games, Baker was 3-of-5 in both victories over Wake Forest (Jan. 11) and Miami (Jan. 21).
His overall three-point percentage of .394 helped Duke ranked second in the ACC (.352) to Louisville (.376), but he has to be on the floor at crucial times for Duke to fully exploit his range. His 12.1 points per game ranked only 10th on the team. He started three of 28 contests.
Baker, a 6-foot-6, 201-pound junior from Fayetteville Trinity Christian, met with the media Tuesday in a Zoom call. NCAA basketball teams are about to open preseason practice for the 2020-21 season that had been in doubt due to the pandemic, although schedules have yet to be announced.
“I think all areas needed improvement and still do,” Baker said. “But I’d say defensively, I wanted to improve a lot. Being able to defend and stay on the court for long periods of time without fouling – that has been a big area of focus over the quarantine and the time we had off.”
Baker’s inconsistencies stood out in a stretch between the hot game at Michigan State (Dec. 3), an easier win than expected, and the next six outings. In 20 minutes at Virginia Tech (Dec. 6), he 0-of-4 from the field and 0-of-2 from three-point range; 18 minutes at Wofford (Dec. 19), 6-of-11, 5-of-7; 17 minutes vs. Brown (Dec. 28), 1-of-6, 0-of-4; 24 minutes vs. Boston College (Dec. 31), 3-of-8, 1-5; 15 minutes at Miami (Jan. 4), 2-of-5, 0-of-2; and four minutes at Georgia Tech (Jan. 8), 0-of-0.
To the fan in the stands that cheered as Baker drained a three-pointer and groaned as he missed consecutive attempts, the difference between being a 4-star recruit out playing against high school boys and facing older Division I athletes alters a shooting rhythm. They have to get their shot off quicker, which is more than just catch and fire.
“A lot of it is the technical stuff – different football, stuff like that,” Baker said. “But also, it’s confidence to consistently produce and do what you know you can do. Going into this year that’s a big thing for me. I feel like I’m more confident that the past two years. Hopefully that helps us win more games than before.”
Baker added he has focused on a bigger leadership role with the departures of seniors Jack White and Javin DeLaurier and graduate student Justin Robinson and to the NBA of starters Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley and Vernon Carey.
“My first two years, a guy I looked up to in that sense was Jack White,” Baker said. “He was super vocal, practices, workouts lifts. He wasn’t just talking. You knew what was going on.
“I knew going into this season, even before we got on campus, that was going to be missing. I probably have to fill his shoes more. I typically a lead by example, and definitely I’ve upped the ante on vocal leadership and talking more on the court.
“Wendell (Moore) has been great as well. Matt Hurt is talking more than ever. It’s exciting. I think everybody is growing and maturing into the spots that have opened up.”
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