It’s time to lace up the sneakers and put on a jersey: the NBA is back in business.
After suspending play March 11 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The Association returns with an unconventional venue and format. Twenty-two teams have made their way to the Orlando bubble, with seeding games slated to begin July 30.
Duke has a noticeable presence in Disney World, as nine teams in the bubble have at least one former Blue Devil on the active roster. Interestingly, three of the six squads battling for the eighth seed in the west—the Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Kings—have multiple active players who spent their college days in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Here are a few key storylines regarding how former Duke stars will play a role in the race for a world championship.
On-court reunion halted for Grizzlies: Memphis brought the 2015 national championship winning triumvirate of Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow to Orlando. Jones and Allen displayed clear signs of progress for the upstart Grizzlies, posting remarkably similar stat lines off the bench. Both players are anticipated to play. However, Winslow suffered a hip injury in practice earlier this week and will be unable to suit up for the remainder of the restarted season. This is an unfortunate development for the versatile wing, who was recently traded to the Grizzlies after nearly five years in Miami.
Anticipation out of the Big Easy: New Orleans might as well be "Duke South", with five former Blue Devils contributing toward one of the hottest teams in the entire league. Rookie phenom Zion Williamson, who recently returned to Orlando after attending to a family emergency, most-improved candidate Brandon Ingram and sharpshooter extraordinaire J.J. Redick will all be major factors in crunch time for the Pelicans. Williamson will especially find himself under the microscope, as his dazzling display in limited action before the season suspension likely played a role in the NBA deciding to expand the bubble. Jahlil Okafor and Frank Jackson, while not providing as many minutes as the other three, are also valuable young pieces that will assuredly be looking to prove that they fit into future plans.
Is it Tatum’s time: In terms of the Eastern Conference, multiple clubs are jockeying for the title of top challenger to Milwaukee, with Boston making a compelling case. A major reason for this, you might ask? The emergence of Jayson Tatum as a legitimate star, evidenced by averages of 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and an Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for February. The St. Louis native has become a deadly scorer with an array of moves to create separation. If the Celtics are to challenge the Bucks, Tatum must continue his ascension toward potential superstardom, especially in the fourth quarter of playoff contests.
Overall, the return of professional basketball will be uplifting for sports fans across the country as the public health crisis continues. It will be interesting to see which former Blue Devils come out of the gates firing on all cylinders.