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Duke in the NBA: 2021-22 Season preview

Kyrie Irving's outlook for the 2021-22 season depends largely upon his vaccination status.
Kyrie Irving's outlook for the 2021-22 season depends largely upon his vaccination status.

The NBA is finally back in action starting Tuesday evening, and before tipoff, the Blue Zone is here to preview a few former Blue Devils' prospects in the association this upcoming season:

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

2020-21 Stats: 26.4 PTS, 7.4 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 45.9% FG, 38.6% 3P

Jayson Tatum is still just 23 years old, but in just four short years he has already made his mark on the league. From the moment he led a young Boston Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Finals as a rookie, his immense potential was clear. Tatum has steadily developed and is now regarded as one of the league's best players. As an all-around package who gets it done on both ends of the floor, he is among Duke's brightest stars in the NBA.

Last year, Tatum built off his 2019-20 All-NBA season with another All-Star appearance and a statistical rise across the board. He attempted more shots than ever and became a much-improved playmaker but unfortunately, Tatum's Celtics underperformed. In the playoffs, however, Tatum starred by averaging more than 30 points per game in a series loss to Brooklyn. If his team can bounce back this season after a down year, Tatum could easily find himself in the MVP discussion.

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

2020-21 Stats: 26.9 PTS, 4.8 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.4 STL, 50.6% FG, 40.2% 3P

Kyrie Irving is, without a doubt, among the league's most talented players. He certainly has the most storied career among current Duke basketball alumni across the association, but injuries and off-court storylines have taken center stage of late. Irving's unwillingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with city-wide mandates has put his future with the Brooklyn Nets in serious jeopardy, and unless he has a change of heart, we likely will not see him in action anytime soon.

Even more unfortunate is that Irving is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Alongside fellow superstars James Harden and Kevin Durant, Irving was more efficient than ever, joining the prestigious 50/40/90 club last year, a feat that only nine players have ever accomplished. If Irving can lace up this season, his Nets will likely be heavy favorites to win it all.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

2020-21 Stats: 27.0 PTS, 7.2 REB, 3.7 AST, 0.9 STL, 61.1% FG%, 29.4% 3P

Duke's latest legend has already taken the league by storm. Although Zion Williamson’s career got off to a rocky start due to injuries—he played just 24 games his rookie year—he reminded everyone of his ability with his outstanding 2020-21 season.

Williamson—whose surgically repaired foot will cause him to miss the start of the season—has often lived up to his billing as the best player in his draft class. In his second season, Williamson improved in all five major statistical categories by shooting an outstanding 61.1% from the field and leading the league in paint points. Williamson is the youngest player on this list, but the sky remains the limit for the rising star.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

2020-21 Stats: 23.8 PTS, 4.9 REB, 4.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 46.6% FG, 38.1% 3P

Brandon Ingram is Williamson’s All-Star partner in New Orleans. After a slow start to his career in Los Angeles, Ingram’s future was resurrected with a trade to the Pelicans in 2019, where he promptly earned Most Improved Player honors. Last season he picked up where he left off, averaging nearly identical stats across the board. While his role has changed alongside Williamson, his steady production has proved that he is capable of thriving in any situation.

Ingram is a key piece of a budding young core in New Orleans. Expect him to once again average over 20 points per game and continue to complement Williamson’s paint dominance with his own dynamic scoring ability. 

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

2020-21 Stats: 17.6 PTS, 5.8 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 44.1% FG, 40.1% 3P

RJ Barrett’s rookie season was a bit of a disappointment, as he shot poorly by nearly every metric. But he took a major leap with the New York Knicks last season in a bigger role, shooting far better in the process. He and All-Star teammate Julius Randle played the second and first most minutes in the league, respectively. 

Although Barrett and New York underperformed as the fourth seed against Atlanta in the first round, the team's young core is well ahead of schedule. Barrett could be poised for a breakout season in New York with a team on a positive trajectory.

Cam Reddish, Wendell Carter Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr., Seth Curry

At 31 years old, Seth Curry is still a critical piece for a contending Philadelphia 76ers team. Although his team disappointed in the playoffs, Curry shot the lights out. He proved his value as a role player by shooting 58% from the field and 51% from three. 

Last season, Gary Trent Jr., averaged over 15 points per game before being traded from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Toronto Raptors midseason. His low field goal percentage is concerning, but if he can adjust to a bigger role, he could see his role grow with the Raptors. 

The Atlanta Hawks' Cam Reddish, Orlando Magic's Wendell Carter Jr., and Sacramento Kings' Marvin Bagley III all have room to grow. However, the youngsters each have plenty of time to come into their own—Reddish has to find his shooting stroke, Bagley must overcome his injury woes and Carter needs to capitalize on his expanded role after being traded to Orlando. All three players could make impressive strides this season.

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