As the NBA season creeps closer to the holiday season, the Blue Zone takes a look at some former Blue Devils who are making strides at the next level:
At this point, it would be wrong not to include Jayson Tatum in every Duke in the NBA blog. At just 24 years old, Tatum is firmly in the conversation for NBA MVP. Riding a three-game win streak, the Celtics are cruising, and a lot of the team’s 21-5 record has to do with the former Blue Devil's play. In those three games, Tatum averaged 28 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Perhaps his most impressive night came Monday against Toronto. A 31-point showing, along with All-Star guard Jaylen Brown’s 22 points, was enough to beat a frisky Raptors team 116-110. Year after year, Tatum’s two-way play elevates, even when it seems impossible to do so. For a Boston team with high expectations of getting back to the NBA Finals, the former Duke star must continue to excel.
Coming into the league with all of the hype in the world, the former No. 1 draft pick has come alive this year, flashing his superstar potential. This week, Williamson has been on a tear, averaging 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his last three games. Arguably, his best performance was a 30-point, 15-rebound double-double Dec. 2 in a 117-99 win at San Antonio. However, Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons, Williamson put his athleticism on display through multiple highlight-worthy plays, including a spinning, and-one finish on former Blue Devil forward Marvin Bagley. On a Pelicans team looking to take the jump to title contention, Williamson, alongside former Duke forward Brandon Ingram, will look to step up to the task, continue to improve his game and take advantage of a weaker Western Conference.
Although he started the season slowly, as most rookies do, former Duke forward AJ Griffin has come into his own. After having a heavy catch-and-shoot role on last year’s loaded Blue Devil roster, Griffin has expanded his arsenal, and it was on full display this week. In Atlanta's 117-109 win against Denver last Friday, the 19-year-old exploded for 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Griffin’s minutes are starting to increase as well, as he averages more than 31 minutes per game so far in December in a starting role. As the Hawks look to push up the ranks in a stacked Eastern Conference, Griffin will need to continue leveling up as the season progresses.
Although a backup to star point guard Ja Morant, Tyus Jones has had a fantastic season in his own right. Averaging 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists, the former national champion plays an important role on a Grizzlies team looking to contend. This week, Jones undoubtedly played his best game of the season in a 101-93 victory against Miami. Jones totaled 28 points, five rebounds and 10 assists in a fantastic 36-minute performance. While Jones does not have the star power that many former professional Blue Devils have, his performances this year have proven that he is set for a long NBA career.
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