Dukies in the NBA are stronger than ever

J. J.  Redick has become a solid pro, and he has the best chance of any Duke alum to win an NBA championship, Cusack writes.
J. J. Redick has become a solid pro, and he has the best chance of any Duke alum to win an NBA championship, Cusack writes.

Basketball season has returned.

But if this week’s games against Division II opponents—Cal Poly Pomona for the men and Wingate and Carson-Newman for the women—don’t exactly whet your appetite, turn your attention to the early stages of an NBA season full of Duke-related story lines.

In fact, even without placing any of its 2009-2010 national championship roster in the NBA, Duke still has more players in The League than any other college, and many who will likely play major roles on playoff teams. 12 ex-Blue Devils are members of NBA rosters, and eight are projected to start.

For a school that used to have the reputation of not producing enough NBA talent, that’s a pretty sizable number.

The best place to find Duke alums is Indiana, where ex-Blue Devils Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts will start on a team that finished last season with a 32-50 record. Duke fans will be happy to note that Pacers coach Jim O’Brien recently announced that McRoberts will start over ex-Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough, whose poor preseason doomed him to the bench.

Considering the painful memories of Hansbrough’s triumphs in Cameron, it’s got to be cathartic for those fans to see him sitting on the bench in favor of a former Duke player—even if it is the oft-villified McRoberts.

“[Hansbrough] was behind coming in because he didn’t have a training camp last year, then he missed most of the season, and the more times he misses five-on-five, the further behind he gets,” O’Brien said early in October. “There’s no way of sugar-coating it. He’ll start to catch up once he’s able to go in every drill we do.”

Hansbrough and McRoberts will be joined courtside by 2003 All-ACC first-teamer and former Blue Devil Dahntay Jones. They all take on another former ACC guy and Dukie, Corey Maggette, and his new team, the Milwaukee Bucks, on Nov. 5.

Maggette has moved from one rebuilding squad to another over his career, arriving in Milwaukee this year after stints with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic. He will likely be the primary offensive option on the team after finishing in the league’s top-20 in points-per-game and field goal percentage last season. Plus, a top-heavy Eastern Conference will provide an opportunity for Maggette to make the playoffs for the second time in his career.

J.J. Redick and Chris Duhon likely have the best chance of any ex-Blue Devil to win an NBA championship. Both will come off the bench for the Orlando Magic, which will compete with LeBron and Co. in Miami and the Boston Celtics for top seeding in the playoff bracket.

It’s been quite the turnaround for two Blue Devils who were widely expected to be busts at the professional level.

If you’re interested in the stronger Western Conference, there are even more Blue Devils to follow. Three potential playoff teams employ Blue Devils at key positions: the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, and Phoenix Suns.

Grant Hill will team up with Steve Nash to lead a young Suns team reeling after the offseason loss of Amare Stoudemire. Seeing if the 38-year-old Hill can make it through the rigors of an 82-game season is worth watching by itself—it’s a far cry from the dominating athlete Hill was in his days as a Blue Devil.

Shane Battier is in a similar situation in Houston, pairing with fellow veteran Yao Ming to lead the youthful Rockets. Watching Battier is not for a fan new to the game, though. Battier has averaged 9.8 points-per-game and 4.7 rebounds-per-game in his nine NBA seasons, but is known mostly for his defense and intangibles. While Battier’s defensive abilities provoked awe in the Cameron Crazies years ago, the strength of his game are not exactly made for SportsCenter, explaining his relative obscurity to the casual fan.

More exciting will be the Chicago Bulls, with two ex-Blue Devils in the starting five: Luol Deng and offseason addition Carlos Boozer. Boozer will be out until late November with a hand injury, though, and by that point Michigan State will be headed to Durham as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge on Dec. 1.

There’s plenty of Duke basketball to watch in the next few weeks, even if waiting in line for a few hours to see an inter-division pummeling seems like an anticlimactic start to a national title defense. But the good news is the NBA season will still be here in April to help let you down slowly from March Madness, regardless of how far the actual 2010-11 Blue Devils advance in the tournament.


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