The wealth of talent produced by Duke men's basketball has already started to display its richness in the NBA. Even though Zion Williamson still sits out with an injury, the rest of the former Blue Devils impressed. The Blue Zone takes you through some of the more notable performances:
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Duke’s brightest former star on the court this season continues to be the league’s leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. The former Blue Devil is averaging an astounding 37.7 points per game, doing all he can to make the Nets contenders. Unfortunately, that still may not be enough. The Nets currently sit at 1-2 and 14th in the first week of power rankings. With Kevin Durant expected to miss the season and DeAndre Jordan playing limited minutes, the responsibility falls to Irving to carry this team to a playoff run.
Along with the Nets’ struggles on the court, Brooklyn officials have started to worry about Kyrie’s mental state. His infamous and unpredictable mood swings are an issue that reportedly make Nets management “queasy.” According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen, when Irving enters one of these states, he isolates himself, complicating his relationship with his teammates and team management. Since these reports came out, Irving’s teammates have defended him and Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has dismissed these reports as “completely untrue.”
R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
Meanwhile, in Duke’s rookie class, R.J. Barrett has taken over the Knicks. Averaging 20.5 points per game, he is the team’s leading scorer by a margin of five points. This Monday, Barrett got his first NBA victory in dramatic fashion against the Chicago Bulls. After being down the entire game by as many as 18 points, the Knicks pulled ahead in the final two minutes, aided by Barrett’s 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The future of this season is grim for the Knicks as a team, but Barrett will surely benefit from his leadership position. Considering his time at Duke was to an extent overshadowed by Zion’s star power, he has been given a golden opportunity to lead and be the face of a franchise at the highest level.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The third overall pick from 2017 continues to play at the level we’ve come to expect from him. His offensive proficiency has carried over from past seasons. He’s shooting 34.4 percent from the field, including an impressive 45.5 percent from three-point range, and averaging 20.3 points per game. On top of scoring, he is also the team’s leading rebounder with 9.3 rebounds per game. While some of these stats will surely even out as the season progresses, Tatum is starting off on the right foot.
The only substandard facet of Tatum’s play so far has been his inside scoring ability. He is currently shooting below 50 percent from the paint, a percentage inexcusable for a player of his size. Improving this percentage will come with better court vision and driving, namely changing direction and speed as opposed to just running straight to the basket.
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
This rookie may have started off quiet, but he was anything but quiet this week. Cam Reddish came out and made the first highlight play of his professional career, throwing down a monstrous dunk on Heat rookie Tyler Herro.
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Reddish has seen plenty of minutes, but can’t quite find his shot, as he’s currently at an abysmal 21.9 percent from the field. On the bright side, he is leading the team in steals with 1.8 per game. Trae Young is out for at least a week with mild ankle injury, which will give Reddish a chance to shine in a rematch with the Heat and some winnable games against the likes of Chicago, San Antonio and New York.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Among the Pelicans players rising to the occasion in Zion’s absence, Brandon Ingram has found the most success. He is leading the team in points (27.2), rebounds (9.5) and blocks (1.5). While the Pelicans are still winless and not expected to amount to much until Zion returns, these past weeks have shown what Ingram is capable of. When the team is healthy again and Ingram can get some help from Zion and his other supporting players, like Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, the Pelicans will have the potential to be a playoff contender in the Western Conference.