The perennial college basketball powerhouse that is Duke University sports out some of the greatest college teams and college players year in and year out. Players of The Year, Final Four Most Outstanding Players, and eventually some number one overall draft picks. Despite their great success at the pinnacle of college basketball, for whatever reason Duke players-turned-NBA professionals sometimes flounder that the next level. There are exceptions. Grant Hill, Elton Brand, JJ Redick, and more recently Kyrie Irving, have been able to take their career to the next level follow their stint as a Blue Devil. But some of the most prestigious Duke prospects never seem to find their niche.
There are 22 former Duke University players that made a team for the 2016-2017 NBA season. Some have carved out roles on NBA contenders. And there are plenty that are floundering around the league trying to find a role in the NBA game. Even the past Duke greats had a tough time filling needs on NBA teams. The great Christian Laettner did manage to make an All- Star game but still never became more than a role player after his Duke stardom. Many have fallen out of favor, while some the youngsters are bouncing from the big time down to the D-League.
Let’s check out some of the former Blue Devils that are currently having the best professional careers, as well as the ones that haven’t seen their game translate quite yet, if ever, to the pros.
15. Best – Justise Winslow
Justise Winslow was enjoying improvement and an increased role during his second season before he was struck with the injury bug. Winslow started to show his growth during last year’s playoffs where he was able to take on a roll and eventually earned him a startling slot for the upcoming 2016-2017 season. He played 18 games with 15 starts and averaged 10.9 points which was up from 6.4 the year before, and added 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Winslow left Duke after his freshman year. That year the Blue Devils won the NCAA Championship and Winslow averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds. During his rookie year he earned NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors.
14. Worst – Josh McRoberts
Josh McRoberts has put together a lengthy NBA career, currently serving his 10th year in the league. The 37th overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers, McRoberts stands at 6-10 and sports amazing athletic ability for his size. The power forward/center has never been able to consistently use those features in a league that would seemingly cater to his specific skill set.
McRoberts, currently on his sixth NBA team, has been a full time starter just once in the league. That season he averaged 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds and shot just 43 percent from the field. Despite his athletic presence down low, he has never averaged a block per game. McRoberts is still finding jobs, having appeared in 22 games for the Miami Heat in 2016-2017.
13. Best – Jahlil Okafor
Okafor is having an odd season in Philadelphia following what was a wonderful rookie campaign. He fell out of a favor due to a logjam at center that features himself, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Richaun Holmes. Noel ended up being traded and Embiid went down with an injury, which opened up some playing time for Okafor to sport some of the skills that landed him a First Team All Rookie team for the 2015-2016 NBA season. In 53 games his rookie year, Okafor posted 17.5 points, 7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field. Those numbers down this year with what looks like his season being over. He managed 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1 block per night for the season.
12. Worst – Kyle Singler
Singler was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player during Duke’s 2010 NCAA Championship run. The Detroit Pistons used a second round pick on him, and he earned NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors. He did manage to improve on his rookie stats during his second year, but following that season his playing time and stats have diminished mostly impart to a change of scenery. Singler is currently with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he is averaging 10.2 minutes per game for the 2016-2017 season. Since arriving in OKC, Singler has not averaged more than 17.5 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, and .7 apg. Maybe another change of scenery could revive his career, but for now it looks like he is in career exile.
11. Best – Gerald Henderson
Currently serving as the veteran on a young Philadelphia 76ers team, Henderson is now in his 8th NBA season and third NBA team. Henderson has started 333 of the 527 NBA games he has appeared in. A life time 11.3 point per game scorer, Henderson had his career high years with the Charlotte Bobcats, who made Henderson the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. His season career highs consist of 15.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game, and 1.0 steals per game.
10. Worst – Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly did not enter the league with as much hype as most of the players on this list. His lone college accomplishment was his being a part of the 2010 NCAA Championship. Even then, he did not start a game and averaged just 1.2 PPG. Following his senior year at Duke, in which he averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, the Los Angeles Lakers used a second round pick on Kelly. His rookie year would turn out to be his career best, averaging 8 points and 3.7 rebounds while seeing 25 starts in 59 games. After three years in LA, Kelly has since found himself in and out of a job with stints in Boston and currently with Atlanta once again.
9. Best – Seth Curry
Most Duke fans didn’t see this one coming. Curry makes it ahead of the next person on this list who drew much more NBA hype. It took Seth Curry a while, but he has finally proved himself and has become a consistent starter with the Dallas Mavericks. After his first three years had consisted of stints with four teams and numerous NBA D-League stays, Curry is enjoying a breakout season in Dallas in which he is averaging 12.8 points per game while showing his range by sporting a 42.2 percentage from three-point range. He has almost tripled his NBA minutes total from the first three seasons, and seems poised to earn a long term deal in the near future.
8. Worst – Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers is still enjoying time as the backup point guard to Chris Paul in the Los Angeles Clippers. But let’s not be afraid to say that he may not be seeing quality NBA minutes at all if it wasn’t for his father being his current NBA coach. Rivers plays a game that is just too out of control and could have benefited from staying in college and learning to play the team game. He still shoots more often than he should, despite having a 41.8 percent career field goal percentage.
It will be interesting to see what happens of Austin Rivers if the Clippers do blow up the roster as expected after the 2016-2017 season. If Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leave, will Doc Rivers go too? And if he does, will Austin Rivers find NBA minutes under another coach?
7. Best – Luol Deng
Luol Deng gets a lifetime achievement award spot on this list. Deng is currently with a sorry Los Angeles Lakers team where he is experiencing career lows in minutes, points, and numerous other categories. But let us not forget that Deng is a two-time All-Star and went to battle in the playoffs for years with the Chicago Bulls. Drafted seventh overall in the 2004 NBA Draft after a Final Four with Duke, Deng went on to earn NBA All-Rookie First Team honors and later appeared in the 2012 and 2013 All-Star Games. He also added a NBA All-Defensive Second Team to his credit as a member of the 2012 Chicago Bulls. It looks like his career is winding down, so we’ll see if he makes it out of LA and plays for a contender before he calls it quits.
6. Worst – Marshall Plumlee
Brothers Mason and Miles were left off this list, kind of stuck in the middle of the Best and Worst lists. Although he’s just a rookie, Marshall has earned his spot on the down side of our article. Plumlee has appeared in just 14 games for the Knicks, who have been without Joakim Noah for some time. Even then, Plumlee has not been able to make an impression. He is averaging 1.1 points, .9 fouls, 1.8 rebounds, and .6 assists per game in the NBA. He continues to bounce around between the NBA and the Westchester Knicks of the D-League. Plumlee did experience an NCAA Championship while supplying 9.6 minutes per game for the 2015 Duke Blue Devils.
5. Best – Jabari Parker
If Jabari Parker can manage to shake the injury bug, he will be climbing this list for years to come. The former number two overall pick was enjoying his best season as a pro in 2016-2017, before again going down with a season ending injury. He had upped his career highs from 14.1 points per game to 20.1, 5.5 rebounds per game to 6.1, 1.7 assists per game to 2.8, and was shooting a career best 36.5 from three point land. He and Giannis Antetokounmpo are forming a duo that is bringing the Milwaukee Bucks into the NBA spotlight for the first time in many years. If Parker can manage to get healthy and stay healthy, you can expect the Bucks to be able to climb the standings in the Eastern Conference in future years.
4. Worst – Quinn Cook
Much like Marshall Plumlee, Quinn Cook has had a hard time playing at an NBA level. Quinn went undrafted in 2015, and spent the 2015-2016 season in the NBA D-League where he earned NBA D-League Rookie of the Year, All NBA-D-League Third Team, and has appeared in both the 2016 and 2017 D-League All Star Game. At least he has experienced success there. But to date he has played only eight NBA games — five with Dallas and more recently three with New Orleans. His career averages, when he does manage to see time, are 3.8 points, 1.8 assists, and 10.6 minutes per game. This member of the 2015 NCAA Champion team is putting in some hard work, and maybe one day he’ll find a role in the NBA game.
3. Best – JJ Redick
Redick is one of the best players in Duke Blue Devils history, having won two First Team All-American honors and one Third Team. He was the National College Player of the Year in 2006, which helped make him the 11th pick in the draft by the Orlando Magic. In Orlando, Redick supplied scoring off the bench for some good Magic teams that were powered by big man Dwight Howard, including a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals. After a short stay in Milwaukee, Redick found himself with the Los Angeles Clippers where he earned a starting role besides Chris Paul, forming what many consider one of the best backcourts in the NBA. In LA, he has averaged 15.8 points on 2.5 three point field goals made per game, while shooting 43.7 percent from beyond.
2. Worst – Michael Gbinije
Gbinije actually only played sparingly at Duke before transferring to Syracuse to conclude his college career. In one season at Duke, he played 5.8 minutes per game and added 1.7 points per game. He did finish his college career strongly at Syracuse, averaging 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists his senior year. It was good enough for the Detroit Pistons to use a second-round pick on him.
His NBA career looks a lot like his Duke career. Gbinije has appeared in nine games during the 2016-2017 NBA season and is seeing an average of just 3.6 minutes in those games. He has scored four points, pulled three rebounds and recorded two assists thus far in his NBA career.
1. Best – Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving played just eleven games at Duke due to an injury that occurred in his ninth college game. He would return for the NCAA tournament, as the Blue Devils fell in the Sweet Sixteen. Irving won 2012 Rookie of the Year after being drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and upon LeBron James’ return back to Cleveland, has continued to grow alongside James to form one of the best duos in the NBA. Irving sports career numbers of 21.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.3 steals. He has taken on more of a scoring load in 2016-2017, currently averaging 25.5 points per game.
Irving is a four-time NBA All-Star and helped the Cleveland Cavaliers win the 2016 NBA Finals. By the looks of things, he will hold on to this number one spot for the immediate foreseeable future.
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