Duke in the NBA: Irving's play uneven, but several early entrants high on draft boards

Duke's former stars have struggled to make a consistent impact in the postseason thus far, but several 2016-17 Blue Devils have made waves on draft boards. 

 Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson

The early entry candidates for the 2017 NBA Draft have been released, with several Duke players finding themselves listed high on potential draft boards. 

Jayson Tatum is at the top of the list for the Blue Devils, No. 4 overall behind Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson in DraftExpress' rankings. Following Tatum for Duke is Kennard at No. 20 and then Giles at No. 27. 

At No. 46, Jackson is ranked the lowest of the four, but also has a strong chance of returning to Durham for his sophomore campaign. 

It is important to note these rankings only consider early entry candidates, meaning any seniors in the draft are not included. Jackson turned some heads when he declared for the draft, but did not hire an agent and may still return to Duke after the pre-draft process by May 24.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

After spending much of the last three months hearing about how their defensive struggles could spell trouble in the playoffs, the Cavaliers breezed through the first round with a sweep of the Pacers. 

Irving averaged 25.3 points per game in the series including a 37-point outburst in Game 2, making 14-of-24 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers. In Game 3, however, Irving was seemingly absent for long stretches of the game, scoring just 13 points in 28 minutes of play. Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue benched Irving in the fourth quarter, giving LeBron James space to finish off a 41-point outburst that brought Cleveland back from a 26-point deficit for an 119-114 win.

Irving’s Game 3 performance was, unfortunately for the Cavaliers, more representative of his playoff showing thus far than his Game 2 scoring masterpiece. He has struggled from downtown, shooting just 3-of-22 from beyond the arc in Games 1, 2 and 4. After averaging nearly six assists per game during the regular season, he topped his season average just once with six assists in Game 1, before making six in the next three games combined, including zero in Game 4. 

Toronto’s close victory against Milwaukee in Game 6 of their first-round series means Cleveland will now face the Raptors Monday night at home. In three games this season against Toronto, Irving averaged 24.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. With the Pacers series now in the rearview mirror, the Cavaliers are hoping Irving can return to peak form as the Eastern Conference Playoffs begin to heat up.

J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers

While Irving’s Cavaliers are already looking ahead to the next round, Redick and the rest of the Clippers are fighting to keep their season alive against the Utah Jazz, who lead their first round series 3-2 as the series moves back to Salt Lake City for Game 6. 

Redick started the series quiet from the field, shooting roughly 40 percent on just 18 shots spread across the first three games. Although he put up more shots in Game 4, he still struggled, putting up 12 points and shooting just 27.3 percent from the floor. 

But in Game 5, he finally had the breakout performance the Clippers have been waiting for. Redick was 7-of-12 from the field and made 3-of-7 3-point attempts, good for 26 points as Los Angeles looked to take a 3-2 lead in the series. Joe Johnson and the Jazz, however, clamped down on the Clippers late, and a clutch Johnson jumper from the elbow late in the fourth quarter sealed Utah’s 96-92 victory. 

Now, the series heads back to Utah with the odds stacked against Los Angeles: Teams down 3-2 in the postseason have come back to win the series just 15.6 percent of the time. 

Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

After struggling to find his touch in the first three games of the series, Hood got going in Games 4 and 5, combining for 34 points to help the Jazz swing the series back in their favor after going down 2-1. Hood, who shot 37.1 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season, has found his stroke from downtown against the Clippers—the swingman is shooting 42.3 percent on triples in the postseason. 

In Game 5, he knocked down 4-of-10 3-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter alone to help put away Los Angeles. The Jazz has already set a franchise playoff record for 3-pointers attempted in a game with 36 in Game 5, with Hood contributing 10 on his own.

The Jazz has benefitted from his presence off the bench throughout the series, and especially in Game 4, when former Butler star Gordon Hayward was forced to sit after suffering a bout of food poisoning. Hood stepped up to help Johnson key a critical stretch late to put the game out of reach and tie the series.

Now, with the series headed back to Salt Lake City, Hood hopes to continue his recent scoring success and put the Jazz in the second round with a shot to unseat the dominant top-seeded Golden State Warriors, fresh off a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

After being sidelined with a hamstring injury, Rivers made his return to the Clippers in Game 5, appearing for 18 minutes and scoring just two points on a pair of free throws.

Even with his return, it is still unlikely he will see significant time in Game 6, or Game 7 should the series go that far. But he is still a welcome presence for Los Angeles, at the very least another body available off the bench for a team that saw one of its most important pieces, Blake Griffin, go down with a season-ending toe injury in Game 3 and has dropped both of the ensuing games.

Although Rivers and Griffin play different positions, the Clippers will be happy to have another playmaker back if Rivers is able to make a substantive comeback this postseason.

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