The Blue Zone takes a look at some recent standout performances from former Duke basketball stars:
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
The time is near. Basketball phenom/demigod Zion Williamson is expected to make his NBA debut Jan. 22 against the Spurs. Although he will undoubtedly see restricted minutes upon his return, his appearance in an official basketball game for the first time in a while will surely spark joy in the basketball community. Depending on how he plays out of the gate, Williamson may also shake up the race for Rookie of the Year, which has so far been led almost unopposed by Memphis' Ja Morant.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The former No. 3 overall pick exceeded all expectations in an outstanding performance against the Pelicans. Tatum scored a career-high 41 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists, three steals, and zero turnovers. The points also came on extreme efficiency; shooting 73 percent from the field and 67 percent from beyond the arc.
This performance from Tatum, which pairs nicely with a 39-point effort against the Hornets in December, is indicative of the well-known Mamba Mentality. His impact is not only felt on the offensive end, however, as Tatum ranks No. 12 in the NBA in real plus-minus, and his Celtics are currently the No. 2 seed in a competitive Eastern Conference.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
The former top pick began the season in dramatic fashion, scoring 50 points in a heart wrenching overtime loss to the Timberwolves. Irving continued his hot shooting for just under a month until various nagging injuries, often shrouded in mystery, derailed his season. After missing half of November and all of December to a right shoulder injury, he picked up right where he left off.
In a game against the Hawks Jan. 12, Irving shot 90.9 percent from the field, missing only the first of his 11 shots. This field goal percentage was the highest in NBA history for a player who missed his previous 10 games or more. With the very apparent return of one of their superstars, the Nets, who are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, hope to take a shot at a playoff run.
Completely overshadowed by his Duke predecessor on the other side of the court, rookie Cam Reddish was the leading scorer for Atlanta that game, chipping in a 20-point effort with five steals in the loss.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
The former No. 2 overall pick can easily make a case for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Ingram has seen significant improvements in all aspects of his game since being traded to the Pelicans from the Lakers. The most impressive increase has been his Player Efficiency Rating, which currently sits at 21.2, up from 13.4 last season. Ingram is currently averaging 25 points and almost seven rebounds per game this season. The only thing that could possibly hinder his case for MIP is his current day-to-day knee injury.
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In his absence, however, teammate and former national champion Jahlil Okafor has picked up the slack, posting a 25-point, 14-rebound performance Jan. 13 in Detroit.
R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
In an impressive win over the third seeded Heat Sunday, the No. 3 overall pick scored 23 points on 70 percent shooting. Barrett, who shouldered much of the Knicks’ scoring to begin the season, has been consistently finding ways to score and rebound at a healthy rate. Although he is a very streaky 3-point shooter and a tolerable passer, he has been building valuable experience over the course of the season. In fact, Barrett has played the third most minutes and has started the most games for New York.