The last time we saw Duke play, at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that he was expecting his star center Harry Giles III to return to the court “before Christmas.”
Duke plays two games before Christmas. One of them is tonight, against 8-2 Tennessee State, and the expectation is that this will be the first time we see the player many believed to be the best prospect is a loaded 2017 draft class to take the floor.
Giles’ story has been told over and over again. A 6-foot-11 center blessed with the kind of athleticism scouts can only dream about, Giles has dealt with a myriad of knee injuries. He tore the ACL, the MCL and the meniscus in one knee the summer before his sophomore season in high school. After missing an entire season, he returned to dominance as a junior before tearing the ACL in his other knee on the opening night of his senior season in high school.
He looked to be on track to return for the start of this season before he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on the knee he injured as a sophomore right before practice started.
One of the biggest talking points of this young season has been whether or not it would be smart for Giles to return to play in college. There are only so many miles left on those knees, and it doesn’t make financial sense to risk another injury by playing for a team that isn’t going to be paying him to play. From a business perspective, it would seem silly to put himself at risk.
The other side of it, however, is that Giles is going to be at risk of injury whether he’s playing in games or working out on his own. Assuming that he is back to being fully healthy – I can’t imagine Giles being allowed to return to the floor if he wasn’t – is there really that much of a difference between playing for the Blue Devils and going through workouts and practices with the team?
At the end of the day, an NBA team is going to pick Giles based on what their doctors say about the future of his knees. If he returns and looks dominant, that is only going to help his cause.
You also have to consider that Giles is from North Carolina. He committed to Duke in part because he wanted to play with Jayson Tatum for a year and because he’s a kid from the state that wanted the experience of playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium. He’s a competitor. He wants to win a national title. He doesn’t want to spend the final four months that he’ll be on a college campus like he has the last two or three games: warming up with the team, wearing his uniform on the bench and watching his guys go out and win.
There is no easy answer.
But it seems like the decision has been made, and Giles will be playing.
What kind of impact will he have on this Duke team?
For starters, it will give the Blue Devils a big, athletic presence in the lane. As good as Amile Jefferson has been, he doesn’t have the same kind of presence in the paint that Giles does. As talented as Marques Bolden is, he doesn’t have the same ability that Giles does. This gives a Duke team that has finally rounded into form another weapon. It also gives them more lineup versatility; right now, their best lineup is when Tatum plays at the four alongside Jefferson. With a healthy Giles, they can play two bigs on the floor together without losing much in the way of effectiveness.
At some point this week, we should get a chance to see the Duke team everyone had as the preseason No. 1 team in the country.