From an array of injuries to the surprising resurgence of one former Blue Devil one-and-done, the Blue Zone takes you inside another week of Duke in the NBA:
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
After a blistering start to the season in which he averaged 35.3 points per game in October, Irving has returned to Earth and cooled off over the last couple of weeks. The former Blue Devil currently stands at sixth in the league in scoring with a career-high 28.5 points per game, but over his last three games has put up 15, 27 and 17 points, respectively, as well as a total plus/minus of -33. Some of those recent struggles can be contributed to an injury, however, as the Brooklyn star missed the last two games with a shoulder injury and the team has already announced that he won’t suit up for Wednesday’s game against the Hornets.
The Nets need Irving to stay healthy to have any hope for success in the coming weeks. The team currently sits at 5-8, making them the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. Even with a healthy Irving, Brooklyn is thin up front with Caris Lavert projected to miss four to six weeks with a thumb injury. In order to keep the Nets competitive, Kyrie will not only have to stay healthy, but he’ll have to carry the team with the astronomical production he showed he was capable of last month.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
The theme of injuries ailing former Duke stars continues down in the Bayou with Brandon Ingram. After missing the last four games with knee soreness, Ingram returned Tuesday night against the Trail Blazers. While the Pelicans' outlook for the rest of the season is bleak, it’s important that Ingram is able to get healthy and build off of his strong play so far this year.
The second overall pick in 2016 is finally showing his potential. In his third year in the league, Ingram is posting career highs in every major category. By averaging 25.9 points per game while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and 46.9 percent from three, Ingram is proving himself to be an elite scorer and dynamic offensive weapon. While his production might slow down with the return of Zion Williamson in the coming weeks, the two former Duke stars should complement each other well on the court and give New Orleans fans hope going forward.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Tatum has helped lead the Celtics to the best record in the NBA so far despite a relatively inefficient start to the season for his standards. While he’s still averaging 20.2 points per game, Tatum is only shooting 40.3 percent from the field, and his PER of 16.86 puts him at 106th in the NBA. The Celtics' depth will allow Tatum to focus on playing better without experiencing the pressure of carrying the team, which bodes well for his ability to improve on his slow start.
A strong performance against the upstart Suns on Monday indicates that the former Blue Devil could already be well on his way to better play. Tatum helped lead the Celtics to a 99-85 win with a season-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. As the season progresses, the third-year pro should shake off his early season rust and be an integral part of Boston’s title pursuit.
R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
This year’s third overall pick is proving to be the glimmer of hope that Knicks fans desperately need. While Barrett isn’t putting up earth-shattering numbers, his solid play has shown that he can be a cornerstone New York can build around. Barrett’s most impressive showing of the season came on Saturday against the Hornets, when he posted 22 points on 50 percent shooting, keeping the Knicks competitive in a one-point loss. Free throws have plagued the forward in the pros as they did at Duke, however, as he’s shooting an abysmal 50.6 percent from the charity stripe. Improvement in that area will be a key indicator of Barrett’s work ethic and willingness to improve his game to become a star in the league.
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Jabari Parker, Atlanta Hawks
The sixth-year NBA veteran has gotten off to a surprisingly solid start this season. Parker has been hot in the month of November, averaging 19.4 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the floor. The forward went through a stretch of four consecutive games with above 20 points last week, posting a season-high 27 in an overtime loss against the Trail Blazers last Sunday. After struggling with injuries for a good portion of his career, Parker's consistent quality play so far is a good sign that the former Blue Devil has turned a corner and can make an impact as a solid player in the NBA.