As we get to the midway point of the season, it's time for another update on the former Blue Devils in the NBA.
Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
In his sophomore campaign, Zion Williamson is making his impact in the NBA, averaging 25.1 points per game and 6.8 rebounds. From his posterizing dunk against the Kings, to a career-high 36-point performance on 14-of-15 shooting from the field against the Mavericks, Williamson is meeting expectations as the first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. Despite the Pelicans struggling with a 13-17 record, Williamson has been incredibly efficient in the minutes he’s played, shooting 61.6% from the field and holding the sixth-highest player efficiency rating.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets
After missing two weeks of games for personal reasons, Kyrie Irving returned in late January and showed no signs of rust. The former No. 1 overall pick was recently named a starting guard for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, averaging 27.7 points per game and shooting 40.9% from 3-point range.
Over a week ago, Irving told reporters that new teammate James Harden would be the point guard of the team moving forward, and since then the Nets have thrived, beating the Lakers, Warriors and Clippers twice in the past few weeks. With Kevin Durant still sidelined, Irving has put his ridiculous ball-handling skills and finishing abilities on full display as his team closes in on the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Gary Trent Jr., SG, Portland Trail Blazers
When you think about the former Duke players that are in the NBA, Gary Trent Jr. is most likely not one of the first players that comes to mind. In his rookie season, Trent averaged 2.7 points per game in 7.4 minutes of action, shooting only 23.8% from the three-point line.
However, the second-round pick began to turn heads in the NBA bubble last season, hitting 22 threes and shooting a staggering 62.9% from distance in a four-game span. This year, with CJ McCollum injured since mid-January, Trent has started for the Trail Blazers and is averaging 15.2 points per game on 43.1% shooting from three-point range.
The shooting guard is the prototypical “3-and-D” player, thanks to his ability to connect from distance and put pressure on the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Even with the eventual return of McCollum, Trent will surely remain an integral rotation piece on a deep Blazers team.
Vernon Carey Jr., C, Greensboro Swarm
After being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Vernon Carey Jr. was soon sent down to the G League to play for the Greensboro Swarm on assignment. Carey has proven to be a dominating interior presence, averaging 19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the floor along the way.
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In recent games, Carey converted on a game-winning layup against the Iowa Wolves, and in a matchup against the G League Ignite team that has top NBA Draft prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, the former ACC Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Year tallied 15 points. Although the Hornets have depth at the center position, Carey’s recent performances have certainly warranted him at least consideration to be pulled up.
Tre Jones, PG, Austin Spurs
Despite Tre Jones’ collegiate success, he dropped to the second round and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, later being sent to the G League to play for the Austin Spurs. In seven games, the Apple Valley, Minn., native impressed by averaging 18.1 points per game and a league-high 9.7 assists. His efforts were rewarded Monday when the Spurs called him back up to their active roster, and we will see the kind of role head coach Gregg Popovich has in mind for the rookie guard.