The calendar year may be drawing to a close, but the NBA season is just hitting its stride as 2022 nears. With plenty of action in recent weeks, the Blue Zone is back with a look at how former Blue Devils are performing at the professional level:
The Jones brothers are back
Memphis point guard Ja Morant may have been the second pick in his draft class and remains an up-and-coming star, but his backup, 2015 national champion Tyus Jones, has also proven to be a key player for the Grizzlies. After Morant sustained a left knee sprain in late November, the former Blue Devil took the helm at point guard. With Jones starting in Morant's absence, the Grizzlies compiled a 10-2 record while the older of the two Jones brothers has boasted an impressive 5.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the month of December. Memphis now holds the fourth seed in the Western Conference after defeating the Lakers Wednesday night, a game which Jones himself sealed with stellar late-game defense against Lebron James.
Meanwhile, former ACC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Tre Jones is playing more than double the minutes for the Spurs in December the amount he was in October— he is up from 5.4 minutes per game to 14.6 minutes per game and recently tied his career-high of 12 points against the Nuggets Dec. 11. On Boxing Day, the former Blue Devil point guard found opponents everywhere on the court, dishing out 11 assists to go with only a single turnover against the Pistons in a 144-109 win at home.
Blue Devils heat up from long range
After a significant dropoff in production last season, Clippers guard Luke Kennard is once again one of the most efficient shooters in the NBA. The 2017 lottery pick is making 44.2% of his 6.3 3-point attempts per game, good for the seventh-best rate in the league. He hit seven threes Dec. 11 against the Magic, another seven Dec. 18 against the Thunder and another five on Wednesday against the Celtics to snap a five-game losing streak. In his 27-point performance in Oklahoma City, the two-year Blue Devil also notched seven rebounds in a one-point loss.
In the absence of longtime Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons, shooting guard Seth Curry is having the best season of his career as a starter for the 76ers. His 16.0 points per game are a career-high, and he recently had back-to-back performances of 26 points or more against the Nets and Celtics. Much of the talk this year has centered around Curry's brother Steph’s prolific performance this season, but the younger Seth is shooting 40.8% to his older brother’s 39.7% in 2021-22.
Elsewhere, Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish and Milwaukee Bucks forward Grayson Allen have also been converting triples with efficiency—the two are shooting 42.1% and 41.3% this season, respectively. Reddish has enjoyed somewhat of a breakout in December, stepping up for the shorthanded Hawks with two 30-point games in that time.
Tatum drops 42 points
Celtics star Jayson Tatum continued his excellent campaign with a season-high 42 points against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a Dec. 13 win. He splashed 7-of-13 threes in the performance to bolster his current 25.6 points per game mark on the season.
More recently, Tatum has also spent his last four games on double-double watch, notching 9 rebounds in each of them, but the Celtics are struggling with a three-game losing streak and currently hold only the 10th seed in the conference. At only 23 years old, Tatum—who recently entered COVID-19 protocols—has already performed at the highest level in his young career, famously pushing James' Cleveland Cavaliers to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals as a rookie, but this year's Celtics are still trying to figure out how to get over the hump in terms of winning.
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