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Duke in the NBA: Big week in 'The Big Easy'

Brandon Ingram is emerging as a potential All-Star for the Pelicans
Brandon Ingram is emerging as a potential All-Star for the Pelicans

From the Blue Devil haven down in New Orleans to Luke Kennard's emergence in Detroit, the Blue Zone dissects another week of Duke in the NBA:

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Zion is still a while away from his professional debut, but we got a clearer picture of how long “a while” is. New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said Friday that Williamson, who underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery October 21, is “on schedule” for the normal eight-week recovery time. Our Christmas present might be the No. 1 pick dunking on Nikola Jokić.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Renowned Ringer NBA reporter Kevin O’Connor called Ingram “better than Ben Simmons” this week, as his rise to stardom continues to reach new heights.

Ranking 14th in game score over the past week was a fitting way to cap a November that has seen Ingram force his name in the Most Improved Player conversation and keep New Orleans in the playoff hunt. Averaging over 25 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent shooting from downtown is a great way to do that. He’s commanded the offense both from the point and from the post, proving a physical and technical force to be reckoned with. As of yet, nobody has figured out how to reckon with him.

Though the Pelicans are still five games under .500, the talent on their roster suggests a playoff berth is in the cards, with FiveThirtyEight seeing their playoff odds as just under a coin flip. Sitting a large portion of their games won’t help—Ingram has missed four of their 12 games this month—but it does give other Pelicans more time to play, including…

Jahlil Okafor, New Orleans Pelicans

Generally, Okafor stands to benefit from the nights Ingram sits, taking a share of the available frontcourt minutes. He couldn’t recently, however, as a left ankle sprain kept him out for nearly two weeks before the former ACC Player of the Year returned Sunday against the Clippers.

That hasn’t kept him out of the news, however. Okafor spoke briefly with TMZ about the New Orleans Pelicans and the team's six former Blue Devils, a number that includes general manager Trajan Langdon.

“It's a brotherhood — we're all connected no matter when he played at Duke," he said. “It's amazing that we're all together on the Pelicans.”

J.J. Redick, New Orleans Pelicans

Redick continued what has been a phenomenal season for the 14-year veteran, shooting exactly 50 percent from deep for a tad below 20 points per game this week. Though most of his numbers are down across the board from last year in Philly, he is still improving upon his career averages, and his 3-point shot is hitting almost 10 percent more often this year than it did last.

That’s great news for New Orleans, which has plenty of interior threats and a few reliable perimeter shooters, but need true marksmen to give its young stars room to breathe and develop their skills. The defensive capability he flashed last year has mostly dissipated, but that’s quite alright for a Pelicans team not too focused on the here-and-now. And it shows in his minutes, which are at their per-game lowest since his 2011-12 season with the Orlando Magic. That’s likely to lead to a drop-off in his points per game at some point, but for now, his signing is paying dividends for New Orleans.

Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons

Kennard came out of Duke labeled as someone who “can only shoot,” and so far, he can still only shoot.

For a hot minute this fall, it looked like he could get by with only being able to shoot. But a very cold run in recent weeks (just 35 percent from the field and 27 percent from three over his past four games) has brought him down below his career averages, which is quite all right considering he’s still shooting like one of the best in the league and his minutes and attempts have seen massive jumps this year.

The Pistons continue to go nowhere fast, which is unfortunate for a player who can be as valuable as Kennard. On the bright side, he can play 30-plus minutes a night, despite his non-existent defense and lack of passing ability. The foreseeable future looks to heavily feature Kennard and plenty more inconsequential points.

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