Ranking Duke's 5 best NBA players of the Coach K era

Kyrie Irving has made three All-NBA teams in his 10 years in the league.
Kyrie Irving has made three All-NBA teams in his 10 years in the league.

In honor of the NBA Draft coming up Thursday and Coach K's final season, we decided to do the one thing that never fails to spark some debate—a ranking! This time, we're counting down the top five Blue Devils of the Coach K era based on their NBA careers. Only pro accomplishments were considered, and sorry for fans of Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson, but their careers just haven't been long enough to land on this list. With that, here goes nothing:

Honorable mentions: Carlos Boozer, JJ Redick, Corey Maggette

5. Luol Deng

For all the talk about the successes of more recent Blue Devil one-and-dones, Deng was one of the first after leaving Durham after his freshman season in 2004. After getting drafted seventh overall by the Bulls, Deng’s worst season statistically in Chicago was his rookie campaign, during which he averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest en route to a bid on the All-Rookie First team. As the Bulls emerged as an Eastern Conference contender in the early 2010s, Deng was a key reason why, collecting All-Star nods in 2012 and 2013. The Blair Academy product parlayed a consistent jumper and defensive grit into a 15-year pro career.

4. Shane Battier

You favorite glue guy’s favorite glue guy. Originally drafted sixth overall by the Vancouver—later Memphis—Grizzlies, Battier did not quite rack up the hardware at the rate he did as a Blue Devil, but still built a career on his defensive prowess, knockdown shooting and stellar intangibles. Battier was named to two All-Defensive Second teams, and shot 38.4% from deep in his career thanks to seemingly always being in the right spots. His final three seasons netted two rings with the Heat, with the 2001 national champion notching 18 points on six triples in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals to help knock off the Spurs. 

3. Elton Brand

One of the most underappreciated Blue Devils, Brand had a run from 1999 until 2007 that way too many people overlook. The former top overall pick had eight straight seasons averaging at least 18 points and nine rebounds, despite being traded from the Bulls to the Clippers in 2001. Brand was twice an All-Star, and finished seventh in MVP voting in 2006 in the wake of a 24.7-point, 10-rebound year. His numbers began to flatline after signing with the Sixers in 2008, but Brand was able to extend his career until 2016, overcoming achilles and shoulder injuries along the way. Ultimately, that run during his prime is what lands him here. 

2. Grant Hill 

Does five straight seasons of at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists a night sound any good? Hill, with a blend of size, length and versatility, was the next iteration of the point forward role that Scottie Pippen popularized in the early 90s, becoming one of the top players in the league in short order. However, after making five All-Star teams in his first six years with the Pistons, the two-time national champion saw his potential take a nosedive due to an ankle injury in 2000. Hill was an All-Star just twice the rest of his career, but managed to prolong his stay in the association until 2013. He remains one of the true “what if’s” in recent NBA history, yet 16.7 points and six boards for a career—to go along with five All-NBA teams—was enough to land Hill near the top of this list. But just behind…

1. Kyrie Irving

When you look at the entire picture, this isn't too difficult. At 29, his career is far from over, but the New Jersey native has already made seven All-Star teams and became the ninth member of the 50-40-90 club this past season. Irving often makes headlines off the floor, but his blend of ballhandling and shot-making is up there with the best guards in recent memory and the 2012 Rookie of the Year has three All-NBA teams in his first decade in the league. Sure, the most team success Irving has achieved came in Cleveland alongside LeBron James, but the three time All-NBA member was no slouch in those 2016 Finals, dropping 27.1 points per game on 46.8/40.5/93.9 splits. Plus, there was this little shot: 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said Luol Deng was the first one and done out of Duke. Corey Maggette was the first. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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