Ever since March 18, 1980, when Mike Krzyzewski became the Blue Devils’ head coach, Duke’s program became a factory for future NBA players. Even before Coach K’s era, they did a great job producing professional basketball players.
To this day, 86 players who went to Duke played in the NBA. 26 of them are still active in the league, and some of them, youngsters, in particular, are looking like they might be able to leave a significant mark in The Association. But what about those who already did? Let’s check out the Top 5 Blue Devils who had the best runs in the NBA.
Sidenote: the list isn’t based on how good each player was in their prime. Instead, we’re looking at the totality of their NBA careers
- Luol Deng – as a Chicago Bull, Luol Deng was one of the most reliable two-way forwards in the association and an indispensable part of Tom Thibodeau’s system. He was an All-Star in ’12 and ’13 and made the All-Defensive second team in ’12 (2x All-Star, 11-12 All-Defensive, 04-05 All-Rookie, 15 seasons, 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists)
- Shane Battier – Shane Battier is often overlooked when talking about great defensive players. Over his 11-year NBA career, Battier’s locked down players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant. He made the All-Defensive second team twice (’08 and ’09) and played a big part in Miami winning back-to-back NBA titles (2x NBA Champ, 2x All-Defensive, 01-02 All-Rookie, 13 seasons, 8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists)
- Corey Maggette – prime Corey Maggette put up near All-Star individual numbers. But the lack of team success, especially with the Clippers, deprived him of having at least one selection to his name. Still, the 6-6 forward had a very good 14-year run in the association (14 seasons, 16 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists)
- Brandon Ingram – 5 years into his NBA career, Brandon Ingram already has an All-Star appearance and MIP award to his name. And BI’s best years are still ahead of him. The Pelicans forward has only scratched the surface of his NBA potential (1x All-Star, 16-17 All-Rookie, 19-20 Most Improved Player, 5 seasons, 17.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists)
- Jayson Tatum – The same can be said about Jayson Tatum. In fact, his ceiling might even be higher than Ingram’s. The Celtics forward is already a superstar in the NBA. With the great coach and great system behind him, the sky is the limit for the 23-year-old (2x All-Star, 19-20 All-NBA, 17-18 All-Rookie, 4 seasons, 19 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists)
- Zion Williamson – Zion Williamson is another one, but his ceiling might be the highest of them all. The 20-year-old superstar is already rewriting NBA record books, showing potential to one day become an all-time great. Let’s just hope he can stay healthy. That might be the only thing that can stop him (1x All-Star, 19-20 All-Rookie, 2 seasons, 25.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists)
5. J.J. Redick
As a collegiate player, J.J. Redick was amazing. He is the Blue Devils’ all-time leading scorer and even owns the highest per game average for a single season in school history with 26.8 points as a senior. But once the Orlando Magic selected him 11th in the ’06 NBA Draft, Redick became the shadow of his former self.
That’s not to say J.J. is a bad NBA player. For 15 years, he’s been one of the best, most reliable shooters in the league, climbing up all the way to No. 15 on the NBA’s all-time list in three-pointers made. He just hasn’t been as dominant as people might’ve expected, based on his run at Duke.
The current Maverick has played in 936 NBA games, averaging 12.8 points on 41.5% shooting from long range. He was never a star in the league, but J.J.’s consistency and longevity are enough to put him at No. 5 on this list.
4. Carlos Boozer
2x All-Star, 07-08 All-NBA, 02-03 All-Rookie
Fresh out of Duke, Carlos Boozer – the 34th pick in the ’02 NBA Draft – had a great two-season run with the Cavaliers. But it wasn’t until he signed with the Jazz that the 6-9 forward began his breakout campaign.
In 2006-07, Booz made his first All-Star Game. The very next season, he was an All-Star again, averaging career-high 21.1 points and 10.4 rebounds on 54.7% shooting from the floor. At that point, Carlos was one of the best power forwards in the entire NBA. He and Deron Williams were one of the deadliest duos in the association. But they never made it past the Conference Finals.
Still, prime Carlos Boozer was one of the best products of Duke’s basketball factory. He finished his NBA career averaging 16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, becoming a Blue Devil with the most rebounds in the NBA. Only Grant Hill and Kyrie Irving scored more points than Booz in their NBA careers.
3. Elton Brand
2x All-Star, 05-06 All-NBA, 99-00 All-Rookie, 99-00 Rookie of the Year
Through the first eight seasons of Elton Brand’s NBA career, the 6-8 power forward was a legitimate superstar averaging 20.3 points and 10.2 rebounds on 50.5% shooting from the floor. Then, before the start of the 07-08 NBA season, the 27-year-old big man ruptured his Achilles and was never the same player.
Brand, who the Bulls selected first overall in the ’99 NBA Draft, played nine more seasons in The Association before retiring in ’16. He finished his career averaging 15.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists with 2 All-Star appearances, 05-06 All-NBA selection, and the Rookie of the Year award to his name. But the lack of team success – he has played in only 30 postseason games – changed how people perceive his individual stats.
Still, he’s the third greatest NBA player who went to Duke. Although unofficial, that’s an accolade he should definitely be proud of.
2. Grant Hill
Hall of Famer, 7x All-Star, 5x All-NBA, 94-95 All-Rookie, 94-95 Rookie of The Year
If it weren’t for injuries, not only would Grant Hill be a lock for the No.1 spot on this list, but he would also be regarded as one of the all-time greats in general.
Through the first six seasons of his career with the Pistons, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, posting a standout 22.4 PER during the stretch. But instead of taking the next step, the 28-year-old forward, who was traded to the Magic, only played in 47 games in his first three years in Orlando. Injuries intervened, and Hill was never really able to recover.
He finished his career as a 7xAll-Star and 5x All-NBA, averaging 16.7 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 1026 games played. On September 7, 2018, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame along with another former Duke basketball player Charles “Lefty” Driesell, as the two became the first Blue Devils to be inducted individually.
Overall, Grant still had a great NBA run. But you can’t help but wonder; what if he stayed healthy? Would Hill become one of the greatest to ever do it? He sure was talented enough.
1. Kyrie Irving
7x All-Star, ’16 NBA Champion, 2x All-NBA, 11-12 All-Rookie, 13-14 All-Star MVP, 11-12 Rookie of the Year
Ten years into his professional career, Kyrie Irving is undoubtedly the best NBA player to come out of Duke. And although his college career didn’t suggest it – Kyrie only played in 11 games, and Duke fell to Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament – his NBA accolades speak for themselves.
After being drafted 1st overall in the ’11 NBA Draft, Irving secured the Rookie of the Year Award, averaging 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists with the Cavaliers. The very next season, he made his first All-Star Game and even won the Three-Point Contest. Fans chose Kyrie to be the starting point guard in the ’14 All-Star Game as well, and the 21-year-old responded by winning the ASG MVP, recording 31 points, and 14 assists as the East beat the West 163–155.
Since then, Irving secured five more All-Star appearances playing with the Cavaliers, Celtics, and the Nets. But his biggest accomplishment remains winning the ’16 NBA championship, hitting one of the greatest shots in the league’s history to complete the comeback against the 73-win Warriors after being down 3-1 in the series.
If there was any discussion about who is the greatest NBA player from Duke, Kyrie ended it when he drained that clutch three over Steph Curry in a decisive Game 7. And he still isn’t done. Irving’s case keeps on building itself. When it’s all set and done, it’ll be hard for anyone to overtake him.