After roughly three months in the Orlando bubble, the NBA has begun the offseason process. This means preparing for the draft, free agency and of course, figuring out how next season is going to be played amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, it means we can talk about what the future looks like for former Blue Devils who have taken their talents to the sport’s next level.
Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics
After an extremely successful third year in the NBA, the nation is starting to understand what Blue Devil fans always thought: Jayson Tatum can be a superstar in this league. At just 22 years old, Tatum was forced into the lead role for a Celtics team dealing with the loss of another Blue Devil star in Kyrie Irving. Tatum upped his scoring from 15.7 points per game to 23.4 and raised his three-point percentage to 40 percent while notably increasing his attempts from beyond the arc. He did all of this while leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals. All of that has thrust him into extremely high expectations for next year. In some NBA odds sites, the 22-year-old has the seventh-best odds in the whole league to take home the MVP trophy. Look for another all-star season from Tatum.
Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson lived up to the hype he received before he was selected first in the 2019 NBA Draft. Not only did he meet expectations, but he was so good that in just 24 games of play he impressed the world enough to be voted third for Rookie of the Year, finishing behind Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn. As good as Morant was, Williamson did enough in his limited opportunities to seriously contend for the award. In just 27.8 minutes per game, Williamson averaged 22.5 points, as well as continuing to deliver the highlights that originally thrust him into the national spotlight. Next season, he is expected to be fully healthy, with a year of NBA experience under his belt. On top of this, the Pelicans have four picks in the 2020 draft to build around Williamson.
Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
Yet another Blue Devil turned Pelican is a large reason why New Orleans is being called “Duke South.” Brandon Ingram struggled in the league for his first few years while he was on the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that never won more than 40 games in his time there. However, New Orleans gave him the chance to shine. They understood his role, giving him experienced guards like J.J. Reddick and Jrue Holiday that allowed him to generate offense at a high level. Even without Williamson for much of the year, New Orleans had its Blue Devil star in Ingram. He went on to win the Most Improved Player award thanks to increasing his scoring from 18.3 to 23.8 points per game and making a six percent jump in his three-point shooting average. Ingram is going to benefit greatly next season from Williamson’s return, giving him more options in tough matchups. Similar to Williamson, New Orleans has the capital to build a team exactly how they want, and newfound star Ingram is going to be a large part of their plans.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets
The 2019-2020 season was always expected to be a rough one for Brooklyn. Despite an incredible summer of free agency in 2019, they knew they would be without Kevin Durant for the whole season as he recovered from a torn achilles. The bulk of the responsibility was put on Kyrie Irving, while he was healthy. Irving also struggled with some lingering injury problems throughout the season, making the whole thing a wash. However, the Nets still managed to make the playoffs in the East as a seven seed. Last month, they hired former league MVP Steve Nash as their head coach. For Irving, this could be a match made in heaven. Nash is regarded as one of the greatest point guards ever, making him a perfect mentor for Irving. With Durant back healthy, Brooklyn is expected to make the huge leap into finals contention, and Irving should up his game in a similar fashion.
R.J. Barrett, SF, New York Knicks
In the aftermath of the announcement that Williamson would miss a lot of time at the start of last season, many expected R.J. Barrett to be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. However, with limited talent around him, Barrett struggled. He finished last season scoring 14.3 points per contest, shooting just 40 percent from the field. While those numbers should be impressive as a rookie, being in New York and the third overall draft pick comes with a lot more expectations. Barrett did play well at times, showing flashes of the player he’s expected to become. This season, the Knicks have another lottery pick which will likely be used to match Barrett with more young talent to help him succeed. The Knicks and Barrett need to have a better understanding of his role this coming season, and getting Barrett some veteran mentors would help too.
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