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Duke in the NBA: Kyrie Irving shines as Blue Devils impress to start the regular season

<p>In his first game with Brooklyn, Irving scored 50 points, most ever in a Nets season opener, and did not turn the ball over.</p>

In his first game with Brooklyn, Irving scored 50 points, most ever in a Nets season opener, and did not turn the ball over.

With the NBA regular season now underway, the Blue Zone gives you an update on how some former Blue Devils fared in their season openers:

Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets

The 2011 No. 1 pick made his Brooklyn debut after a disappointing second round exit last year with the Celtics. Irving dropped a staggering 50 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in an agonizing overtime loss to the Timberwolves. The six-time All-Star had a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left in overtime, but stumbled just before time expired and missed a midrange jumper.

 

With fellow superstar Kevin Durant sidelined for the year with an Achilles injury, Irving will need to carry the load for a Nets squad that shattered expectations in 2019 on the road to the playoffs. He has some support in the form of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and DeAndre Jordan, but he will need to maintain a high level of production in order to help Brooklyn obtain a high playoff seed in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. 

R.J. Barrett, SG, New York Knicks

The third overall pick from this year’s draft shined in his NBA debut, putting up 21 points, five rebounds, and two assists in a loss to the Spurs. To the surprise of many, head coach David Fizdale started Barrett at point guard, however, the offense struggled to start the game. After the Canadian moved to his favored position at shooting guard, he found his stride, scoring his first bucket with a smooth Euro step. 


Barrett also seemed to assuage criticisms of his poor shot selection, sticking mostly to attempts around the basket on his way to an impressive 69.2 percent shooting. As the surrounding team starts to take shape, look for Barrett to lead the Knicks in scoring while they rebuild around him.

 

Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics

Following Irving’s departure, the Celtics need someone to step up and shoulder at least some of the scoring load left by the former Duke guard. The offseason addition of Kemba Walker will help, but Boston needs efficient production from someone else as well. Tatum should step up to take that role as he looks to become a premier scorer in the league. In Wednesday’s opening night loss to the 76ers, Tatum managed to put up 21 points, but on just 36 percent shooting from the field and with four turnovers. 

It wasn’t all bad for the 2017 No. 3 pick though, as he hit four threes at a 50 percent clip. However, he will need to improve his efficiency and ball security significantly in order to help the Celtics overcome the loss of Irving. 

Justise Winslow, SF, Miami Heat

The arrival of All-Star Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade’s retirement stole headlines in Miami during the offseason. However, with Butler out for opening night, Winslow stepped up to lead the Heat to a home win against the Grizzlies with 27 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. 


Butler will soon return to the small forward spot, pushing Winslow either to a different position or a bench role. Either way, last night’s production likely won’t be the norm for the former first round pick. Still, he’ll maintain some level of offensive production as he looks to fulfill the flashes of offensive potential he showed last season. 

Luke Kennard, SG, Detroit Pistons

The third-year guard broke out in a season-opening road win against the Pacers, putting up a career high 30 points on 61 percent shooting in just 28 minutes. Last year, Kennard averaged a little under 10 points per game, but began to shine as the season went on. 

This year, head coach Dwayne Casey said that he believes veteran Derrick Rose and the 2017 No. 12 pick can form a powerful scoring duo off the bench, and Kennard more than fulfilled those expectations Wednesday night. He was lethal from behind the arc, draining six of nine three point attempts, and hit several tough shots under heavy coverage.


While he can’t be expected to put up these numbers every night, look for Kennard to carve himself a significant role on a Pistons team that looks poised for a trip to the playoffs. 

Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans

With Zion Williamson sidelined with a knee injury, the NBA’s season opening game between the Pelicans and Toronto Raptors was expected to be a relatively dull affair. It turned out to be anything but as the defending champs barely defeated the Pelicans in a high scoring overtime contest. The 2016 No. 2 pick led the way offensively, dropping 22 points on 8 of 19 shooting from the field while keeping New Orleans in the game late.


After being sent to the Bayou from the Lakers in a trade for Anthony Davis, Ingram faced high expectations as a go-to scorer on a young team looking to make a splash in an absolutely stacked Western Conference. If Tuesday night was any indicator, look for the fourth year veteran to take over as one of many key contributors to the Pelicans offense. 

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

After getting arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the No. 1 overall pick will miss between six to eight weeks at the start of the season. However, Williamson looked like a star when playing in the preseason, scoring at a high efficiency and bullying players in the paint. 

While his regular season debut may have been significantly delayed, he will still look to maintain the high-level explosive play that he showcased during his time at Duke. In his absence, New Orleans looked well-rounded offensively with Ingram, Jrue Holiday, and J.J. Redick all putting up impressive numbers. During the preseason, Zion also showed good chemistry with new Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball.


Should he stay healthy after his return, look for the Pelicans to contend for a playoff spot as they begin the early stages of their rebuild.

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