Duke in the NBA: Williamson and Tatum off to elite starts, Banchero leading Magic's impressive turnaround

Zion Williamson is healthy and excelling, averaging 24 points per game.
Zion Williamson is healthy and excelling, averaging 24 points per game.

The NBA season is well underway, and there are a number of Blue Devils with impressive starts to the 2023-24 season. The Blue Zone identifies a few of these standout players:

Zion Williamson has near-perfect outing for Pelicans

Two-time All-Star Williamson is so far healthy and playing solid basketball, much to the relief of Pelicans fans. The former Blue Devil is averaging 24 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 56.6% shooting from the floor. Against the 76ers Wednesday, Williamson lit up the stat sheet, scoring 33 points on 11-of-12 shooting from both the floor and the charity stripe. The 23-year old added eight boards and six assists for good measure, showcasing his enormous potential. Alongside fellow former Blue Devil Brandon Ingram, Williamson will hope to keep the Pelicans in the win column down the stretch.

Jayson Tatum emerges as MVP candidate, etches further into history

During last season’s playoffs, Tatum proclaimed “Humbly, I’m one of the best basketball players in the world.” This season has reinforced this confidence, as the former Blue Devil has averaged 27.7 points and 8.8 rebounds on 49.4% shooting from the floor. Across the last several weeks, Tatum has garnered a few marquee performances. On Nov. 4, Tatum became the youngest player in Boston Celtics history to score 10,000 points with a 32-point performance against the Nets. Most notably, he scored 45 points, grabbed 13 boards and dished out six assists in a close loss to the Hornets Nov. 20. With the Celtics having qualified for the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals, Tatum will attempt to live up to his pedigree for Boston to secure the first-ever NBA Cup.

Paolo Banchero leads youth movement in Orlando

A season ago, the Orlando Magic were the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference. So far this year, they are the exact opposite — third in the conference with a 13-5 record. Many factors are at play for their unexpected early-season success, but leading this streak is the former Blue Devil Banchero. The Seattle native has largely upped his game in year two, shooting 43.6% from outside the arc compared to 29.8% last season. Across the Magic’s current eight-game win streak, Banchero has averaged 19.3 points and 5.8 rebounds while making 50.0% of his treys. As the regular season progresses, the Magic will hope for Banchero to continue to elevate his game into All-Star contention.

Mark Williams mans the five in Charlotte

The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the NBA’s worst-performing teams this season, but they seem to have found at least one bright spot in Williams. The former Blue Devil center has started in all 17 of the Hornets’ contests, averaging 13.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. In a surprise victory against the Celtics Nov. 20, Williams had one of the best performances of his young career, scoring 18 points, garnering 16 rebounds and blocking three shots. With star combo guard LaMelo Ball out for the near future, Williams will hope to lead the Hornets to victories in his absence.

Grayson Allen starts for Suns

Among offensive talents in Phoenix such as Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, it may come as a surprise that Allen has started in 16 contests for the Suns thus far. The former Blue Devil is having the most productive season of his career thus far, averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds. Allen has also planted himself among the best shooters in the league, with a 47.5% clip from behind the arc this season. In a close win against the Bulls Nov. 8, Allen hit a career-high eight threes en route to a 26-point performance. The Suns have qualified for the In-Season Tournament knockout stage, and Allen will look to do his part against the Lakers Dec. 5.


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