The 2021-22 NBA season is in full swing, and a variety of storylines involving former Duke men's basketball players have emerged across the league. The Blue Zone takes a look at who's doing what:
Tatum, Ingram producing on teams struggling to find consistency
With his All-Star teammate Jaylen Brown sidelined the past two weeks, forward Jayson Tatum has been placed at the forefront of the Celtics’ rough start to the season. The former third-overall pick is averaging a respectable 24.2 points per game, but the increased offensive responsibility caused by Brown’s absence has hurt his efficiency. In the month of November, Tatum has shot 36.6% from 3-point range and 39.3% from the field overall. Boston is now 7-8, and with a much improved Eastern Conference, including surprising starts from the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, it is reasonable to predict that seeding for the play-in games will be how their regular season ends. With Brown expected to be out for another week, this will be an important time for Tatum to assert his stardom and reinstill hope for a scrupulous Celtics fanbase.
Reaching the play-in games already seems unrealistic for the New Orleans Pelicans, who currently hold a record of 2-14, the second-worst in the league. Brandon Ingram, the sixth-year small forward out of Duke, is leading the team in scoring, averaging 24.3 points per game. After missing games for two weeks due to a right hip contusion, Ingram has returned to action showcasing his length and versatile shot-making. The woes of the Pelicans mostly come on the defensive side of the ball, as they currently allow an average of 111.4 points per game, fifth-worst in the league. Offense has not been an issue for Ingram throughout his career, as he is currently on pace to continue his trend of an improved scoring average each season.
Williamson, Bagley in difficult situations
Two days ago, news broke that Zion Williamson had been cleared to participate in contact drills, including one-on-one workouts. The 2021 All-Star has not yet played this season due to a right foot fracture suffered during the summer, as the entire NBA eagerly awaits his return. There has been a lot of noise surrounding Williamson’s weight after his appearance in a Mountain Dew commercial during the offseason, creating speculation that he has now surpassed 300 pounds. Regardless of these rumors’ validity, it remains utterly essential that Williamson returns only when absolutely ready, both injury and conditioning wise. He will need to determine and maintain the optimal physique that will allow him the strength, agility and durability to be the headlining player that fans expect. The 2019 first-overall pick averaged 27.0 points per game while shooting an absurd 61.1% from the field last season, so if he can return to form, Williamson still has the potential to be the face of the NBA.
The Pelicans have clearly prioritized Williamson as an integral part of their future. However, the same cannot be said for the Sacramento Kings with power forward Marvin Bagley III. In a recent report, Bagley’s agent publicly criticized the decision of the Kings organization to not place him in the opening night rotation. The 2018 ACC Player of the Year declined to sign an extension on his rookie contract, and, though Bagley’s agent claims that the Kings have no intent of keeping him long term, appealing trade options have seemingly been scarce. It is a difficult situation in which both parties want to end the relationship, but the timeline depends on how much the Kings want in return for the former second-overall pick.
Allen, Trent quietly solidifying their place in the league
While at Duke, Grayson Allen was a polarizing player. He became notorious in sports media for his tripping antics, for which he was at one point given an indefinite suspension, and was widely considered one of the dirtiest players in college basketball. In comparison to his college career, the 2015 National Champion had a relatively mundane beginning to his journey in the NBA. Allen was a key contributor for the Grizzlies last year, averaging 10.6 points per game, but he was traded to the Bucks who extended his contract prior to this season. With Donte DiVincenzo sidelined, Allen has had the opportunity to start at shooting guard for the reigning NBA champions. He is truly flourishing alongside superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 42.9% from three. Allen will cement and increase his value in the league if he is able to continue playing at this level.
A former Duke player with a similar role to Allen is Gary Trent Jr. of the Toronto Raptors. Through the beginning of his first full season with the Raptors, Trent is averaging 16.1 points per game, a continuation of his production over the past two years. The sharp-shooting Ohio native is the type of player that can be plugged into the system of any NBA team. He has a solid frame for a guard, is an elite shooter and can defend at a high level. Trent first burst onto the scene in the 2020 NBA bubble, shooting an astonishing 62.9% from 3-point range through the first four seeding games. Now starting with Toronto, Trent is quietly producing in volume for a young and feisty squad, adding to the list of former Duke players flourishing in the league.
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