Duke in the NBA: Former Blue Devils prepare for the postseason

Former Duke guard Kyrie Irving prepares to take a free throw
Former Duke guard Kyrie Irving prepares to take a free throw

As the NBA playoffs begin, several former Blue Devils will seek to lead their squads to a championship. The Blue Zone takes a look at the regular-season performances of some past Duke basketball stars:

Tatum hopes to lead NBA-best Celtics to ring

With an early April win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics accomplished two noteworthy feats. They achieved a 60-win season for the first time since 2007-08, and more importantly, clinched home-field advantage throughout the NBA playoffs. At the center of Boston’s season-long success is former Blue Devil Jayson Tatum, who has a strong chance to win his first title this season.

In his seventh NBA campaign, the 25-year-old finished the season averaging 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game on efficient shooting splits. As the best player on the best team in the league, Tatum will feel the pressure to elevate his game even further in the hopes of reaching his second NBA Finals in three years. 

Williamson, Ingram perform well for Pelicans, take on play-in

Down in New Orleans, former Duke stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson led the Pelicans to their highest win total in 15 years this season. As long as New Orleans manages a single victory in the play-in tournament, basketball fans will witness Williamson’s long-awaited postseason debut, after finally remaining healthy during the entire course of a season. On the flip side, Ingram has been sidelined recently with a knee contusion injury but should be ready to contribute significantly in the playoffs. Ingram and Williamson averaged 20.8 and 22.9 points per game in 2023-24, respectively, showcasing their elite offensive skills throughout the entire season. 

Despite a 40-point effort from Williamson, the highest total of his season, the Pelicans were unable to beat the Lakers in the first round of the play-in tournament Tuesday. In order to clinch a playoff berth and take on the No. 1-seed Thunder, the Pelicans must now defeat the loser of the Warriors-Kings play-in matchup in a win-or-go-home contest Friday. With Williamson suffering a leg injury in Tuesday’s loss, Ingram will need to step up regardless of whether the Salisbury, N.C., native plays.

Banchero rallies young Magic squad 

After a stellar Rookie of the Year campaign last year, Paolo Banchero has continued to showcase his talent for an up-and-coming Orlando Magic team. The former Blue Devil played his way into an All-Star nod this season, joining Tatum in the Eastern Conference lineup. Thanks in large part to Banchero, the Magic earned 47 wins this season and the fifth seed in the East. Orlando is an underdog against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Banchero’s emergence as a star means the Magic have a solid chance of pulling off the upset. 

Irving showcases dynamic skillset for red-hot Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks enter the NBA playoffs with as much momentum as any team in the Western Conference. In its last 20 contests, Dallas is 16-4, due in large part to superstar guard Kyrie Irving. In his 13th professional season, the Duke alum averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting just short of a 50-40-90 season. As one of the most skilled offensive players in the NBA, his pairing with MVP candidate Luka Doncic helped the Mavericks earn 50 wins and the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Irving will hope to continue to shine in the postseason, starting with a first-round matchup against the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

Allen earns sharpshooter status with Suns

After providing quality minutes as a role player for several seasons, Grayson Allen finally seems to have found a home with the Phoenix Suns. During the regular season, the Duke alum shot a league-leading 46.1% from 3-point range, well above his professional and even collegiate career highs. It’s no wonder that Phoenix recently rewarded Allen with a 4-year, $70 million extension. 

By ending their season on a three-game win streak, the Suns avoided the play-in tournament and will now face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round. To prevail against one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA, Phoenix will need to fight fire with fire through Allen’s prowess from outside the arc. Alongside one of the league’s all-time great shooters in Kevin Durant, as well as an All-Star guard in Devin Booker, Allen will look to continue to excel in his role this postseason.


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