Since the new year, several former Duke men's basketball players have played pivotal roles in shaping the NBA season. The Blue Zone takes a look at how these Blue Devils have fared:
Paolo Banchero strengthens case for Rookie of the Year
Since entering the NBA, former Duke star Paolo Banchero has had continued excellence from his single season as a Blue Devil and is currently the projected favorite for the league's Rookie of the Year award. The Orlando Magic starter has averaged 19.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists since the team's first matchup of 2023 although he has only made 39.4% of his field goal attempts since then. One of Banchero’s best performances this season came against Joel Embiid and the 76ers Jan. 30, when he scored 29 points and added nine rebounds in a 10-point victory against Philadelphia, a team competitive for the NBA title. Regardless of whether Banchero can string together enough wins to lead the Magic to the Play-In Tournament, his rookie year will likely be a foundation for an excellent career.
Kyrie Irving traded to the Mavericks
When he’s on the court, Kyrie Irving is among the NBA’s best. The former Blue Devil has averaged 28.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 14 games in 2023. Against the Utah Jazz Jan. 20, Irving had a masterful performance, scoring 48 points on 29 shot attempts while adding 11 rebounds and six assists. Trade rumors from before the season reappeared recently, which culminated in a formal trade request by Irving Feb. 3. The Brooklyn Nets dealt Irving to the Dallas Mavericks a few days later, pairing him with MVP candidate Luka Dončić.
Jayson Tatum builds on MVP contention
If any former Blue Devil is to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in the near future, Jayson Tatum is the most probable option. Tatum has averaged 30.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Boston Celtics in 2023, and has put the team in control of the Eastern Conference ahead of the All-Star break. The St. Louis native has had his share of spectacular performances this season, including a 29-point triple-double in a blowout victory against the Mavericks Jan. 5. More recently, Tatum had a monster 51-point game in a win against the Hornets Jan. 16 while no other Celtic had more than 20 points. Tatum will have to inch past the league’s best bigs to capture the MVP trophy, but the All-Star has proven his place among the NBA's best players in his dominant sixth season.
AJ Griffin continues sharpshooting ways
After a relatively relaxed start to the year in terms of shot efficiency, AJ Griffin has become a walking bucket from outside the arc. Since the start of 2023, the Atlanta Hawk has connected on 52% of his 3-point attempts and has shot 55.6% from the floor overall. Griffin's minutes and volume have varied since the year began, but he has still made an impact off the Hawks’ bench. Against the Hornets Jan. 21, Griffin scored 13 points and connected on all three of his shots outside the arc, including two shots in the fourth quarter. However, the Hawks ultimately came up short and blew a 16-point halftime lead. Griffin's hot shooting is an effective asset for any team to have and one that the Hawks will likely look to capitalize on.
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