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Duke in the NBA: Banchero leads surging Magic, Tatum continues MVP-level production

Paolo Banchero has continued to impress in his rookie season.
Paolo Banchero has continued to impress in his rookie season.

With the holiday season upon us, the Blue Zone takes a look at some former Blue Devils excelling at the next level:

Paolo Banchero continues historic rookie campaign

Until Wednesday night, only Michael Jordan and Zion Williamson had scored 20 or more points in at least 20 of their first 26 games. Now, that exclusive group includes former Blue Devil Paolo Banchero. In his 26th game in the NBA, the Orlando rookie tallied 23 points en route to a 116-110 away win against the Houston Rockets. This dominant performance was one of many this week. The 20-year-old Seattle native completely dismantled Boston last Sunday—totaling 31 points, six rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes—and showed off the diversity of his game. Banchero drained several 3-point shots when guarded by big man Robert Williams III and dominated the paint when guarded by Malcom Brogdon. The rookie’s consistent production comes in part from his aggressiveness and ability to get to the free-throw line; his 8.4 free throw attempts per game ranks fifth among all rookies in NBA history. Because of these stellar performances, the Magic has won eight of its past nine games, and the ex-Duke star is solidifying his case for NBA Rookie of the Year.

Jayson Tatum leads comeback effort against Pacers

After missing the Celtics’ Dec. 18 clash against the Magic due to personal reasons, Tatum returned to action with a bang. After falling behind 71-43 at halftime to the Pacers Dec. 21, the former Blue Devil rallied with 28 second-half points, cutting the final deficit to just five points. The St. Louis native was also on the wrong end of a controversial call with 10 seconds left when the referees ruled out his potential four-point play to bring the game within one point. Despite the loss, Tatum is still on pace to become the first Celtics player to average 30-plus points per game in a season, and is in a strong position to become the first Celtic to win MVP since Larry Bird in 1985-86. 

Austin Rivers shoots lights-out for Timberwolves

Despite a slow start to his first season with Minnesota, the 2011-12 Blue Devil has scored double-digits in four of his past five games. Rivers has the hot hand, knocking down 73.5% of his total field goal attempts and 70% of his 3-pointers over this stretch. Perhaps the 30-year-old’s most impressive moment came when he drained a contested 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds left against the Thunder to give Minnesota a 111-107 lead, precipitating a win that snapped a three-game skid. Much of Rivers’ playing time has come at the expense of injuries to Jordan McLaughlin and Kyle Anderson, but even when they return, his play has warranted a larger role. 

Kennard dominates from deep for Clippers

Former Duke sharpshooter Luke Kennard is on pace to once again lead the NBA in 3-point percentage. Thus far, Kennard has connected on 48.9% of his shots from deep and has proved to be an instrumental piece in a talented Clippers team. The 26-year-old’s surge to the top of the 3-point board comes after two stellar performances this week. Kennard trailed only Kawhi Leonard in scoring with 20 points in the Clippers’ win against the Wizards Dec. 17, and the shooting guard dropped double digits in a 126-105 victory over the Hornets Dec. 21. As a near-50% 3-point shooter, Kennard is a consistent option off the bench for head coach Tyronn Lue and seemingly never fails to provide an offensive spark. 


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