Blog Entry

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

Posted on: June 21, 2011 1:46 pm
Edited on: June 21, 2011 2:00 pm
By Matt Norlander

Used to be that Duke was seen as the school that got the most out of guys in college but couldn't prep prep stars for the NBA. Grant Hill was the exception; Christian Laettner also was exempted for those who didn't have their blinders on.

But beyond that? Nothing, really. A bunch of underachieving NBA afterthoughts, those Dookies. Or so many thought.

Since Coach K is putting three more proteges into the NBA this Thursday night -- Kyrie Irving, plus Nolan Smith (at left) and Kyle Singler (right) -- Dan Wiederer of the Fayetteville Observer did some fine research recently and looked at who Duke has put into the association in the past two decades.

His findings?

Duke is truly one of the most proficient schools at not only sending guys to the top level, but having many of its former players have a decent, if not exemplary, amount of success once they establish their NBA careers.

Wiederer points out that Krzyzewski has had 33 of his players drafted in his 31 years at Duke. Despite the fact that Hill, Laetnner, Carlos Boozer and Elton Brand are the only four players who've made an All-Star Game, that's mighty impressive. And the All-Star stat is a bit misleading, too.
For context, consider this breakdown. Since 1992, 147 different players have played in the NBA All-Star game. The school that has had the most all-stars in the last 20 years is North Carolina, proudly able to claim seven all-stars: James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Brad Daugherty, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.

Sure, that gives Tar Heel fans some local bragging rights. But behind UNC, Duke is one of eight schools that has had four of its former players reach all-star status in the last 20 years. The other programs able to make that claim: Georgetown, Connecticut, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Michigan State and UCLA.
The Duke star ≠ NBA star issue stems from the fact so few Duke players that get drafted to lottery teams have come up short. Jason Williams' career abruptly ended because of a motorcycle accident; Cherokee Parks was considered a stiff of the highest order; Trajan Langdon could never develop his  shot in the NBA as he could in college; Shelden Williams clearly hit his peak while at Duke.

But for every one of those lottery busts, Wiederer correctly points out that second-round picks like Boozer and Chris Duhon have had buoyant NBA careers. And there's something to be said for a guy like Luol Deng, who so frequently gets forgotten in this conversation.

The other trump card Duke haters point to is undeniable -- Devils don't win NBA titles. But even if that's still the case now, Duke's winning ways have pretty clearly embedded themselves into a number of teams that made this year's playoffs.

Duke bashers often like to mention the manner in which NBA championship glory has evaded former Blue Devils. Of Krzyzewski's former stars, only Danny Ferry has won an NBA championship ring. And Ferry claimed his jewelry as a seldom-used reserve with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Meanwhile, since 1980, rival North Carolina has had 11 players combine to win 25 NBA championships. It's no wonder Tar Heel fans love to bring that trivia up as often as possible.

Looking at this past season's data, Duke has far more to boast about. The 2010-11 NBA season started with 12 former Blue Devils on active NBA rosters, putting Duke behind only UCLA (13) in that category.

A pretty great stat, and I wouldn't have guessed UCLA at the top of that list, though it's not surprising it's there.

As for this year's Draft, there's an interesting wrinkle with the Blue Devils. Ironically, Duke could become the first team in 23 years to not have a player from a national title-winning squad (2010) picked in the first round. If Smith and Singler get their names called by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver instead of the Almighty David Stern, that means it's the second round and Duke's 2010 title becomes all the more ... impressive?

Unlikely? Bolstering to Coach K's already-sterling legacy?

It's unlikely this year's triumvirate of Blue Devils will reach multiple All-Star games and change the casual basketball fan's perspective of Duke players in the NBA. But the ignorance to Duke alumni persevering with long careers at the NBA level speaks to just that -- the casual basketball fan's continued hatred and bias toward the most polarizing college basketball team. Long after the Duke jerseys are disposed of, the connotation still lingers, sometimes incorrectly.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Duke, NBA

Since: Jan 7, 2008
Posted on: June 23, 2011 4:33 pm

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

The Heat should draft some of these Duke guys to bolster thier "diving" strategy.

This article is pretty lame as the debate only exists between UNC and Duke and it just points out the ways in which the Heels still dominate the NBA by comparison.

The best player Duke will have in the league for the forseable future is Irving who coincidentally only played in what, 11 games for the Dukies.

Since: Sep 27, 2010
Posted on: June 23, 2011 12:53 pm

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

Ok great school, great coach, great basketball college system but NBA talent
not so great!

So if you are a NBA scout looking at NBA ready talent and the history of the
Duke drafted players what conclusion? Duke players are overarted, overvalued
and rarely deliver in NBA based on where they are taken in the NBA draft.

It is like a discussion about NFL system quarterbacks. Is the the Duke system or the
individual talent. Clearly the Duke system wins out here.  Frankly the
conclusion that many Duke players have an extended NBA without excelling just supports
the system first assessment.


Since: Mar 18, 2008
Posted on: June 23, 2011 12:46 pm

Who cares?

I'm a confirmed Duke hater but, why is this a negative?  Just shows how much the program gets out of merely decent athletes.  I'd look harder at the reverse, what college programs chronically underachieve despite rosters loaded with future NBA stars?

Since: Dec 17, 2007
Posted on: June 23, 2011 12:20 pm


Duke also had ten players in the NBA playoffs this year, I am not sure what the other breakdowns are but
I am sure they are right up there.  These guys that come out of Duke are system players. They are intelligent and understand the
game. The reason why they dont seem to flourish in the NBA is simply that. NBA teams lose sight in drafting of what type of system they play.

Cleveland will draft Kyrie, is that good for te system? absolutely not. they dont have the strength or speed at the wings or SG
to keep up with Kyrie, so he will beat everyone down the floor and be there alone wondering where everyone else is at.
Kyrie was gerat when he played in the transition game, when he ran the pure point, you could tell he was a freshman.
 But the cavs will draft him because of his hype!      

Since: Dec 17, 2007
Posted on: June 23, 2011 12:11 pm

What about Battier

Hello! he is one of the best defensive shut down guys!!

Since: Nov 23, 2007
Posted on: June 23, 2011 4:31 am

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

To quote...As for this year's Draft, there's an interesting wrinkle with the Blue Devils. Ironically, Duke could become the first team in 23 years to not have a player from a national title-winning squad (2010) picked in the first round.?

-- Huh???

In the history of college hoops?...or just Duke...nice....

Since: Jan 12, 2009
Posted on: June 22, 2011 7:51 pm

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

Duke has always been near the top in NBA players salary totals.  And I don't think that the NBA pays players BECAUSE they went to Duke.  I think the GM's pay for what they at least THINK they are getting.

Since: Jan 6, 2011
Posted on: June 22, 2011 5:55 pm

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

Think about this.  If you carefully watch the "selection" of McDonald's all-americans, often players are selected because of the school they have pledged to.  In other words, I believe there are a good number of McDonald all-americans who would not have advanced to the NBA level regardless of the school they attended.  They never would have been McDonald's AA's were they not headed to an "elite" college basketball program.  They were selected because they had pledged to Duke.  This is at least one factor in the "failure" You cite.  Really now?  Coach K doesn't know how to develop talent for the NBA?  I think he knows how to develop whatever talent he has on his roster.  Why don't you ask Kobe or Lebron or Derrick.

Another factor.  Probably only 30% or so of the players in the NBA could have ever qualified academically to attend Duke, even with somewhat relaxed standards for athletic admission.  In light of that, I would say Duke's recent NBA record stands up very well. 

Since: Jul 23, 2008
Posted on: June 22, 2011 1:00 pm

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

One thing I didn't see mentioned, well because it doesn't help your position at all, is that Duke's roster is LOADED with McDonalds All-Americans, meaning they have multiple NBA talented players on their team every year. The FACT they haven't had much NBA success, no matter how much you spin it, is VERY surprising, period.

Since: Mar 29, 2010
Posted on: June 22, 2011 10:03 am

A closer look at Duke players' NBA careers

Thanks for putting some perspective on another erronous myth about Duke and its mens basketball program, but this could have been pointed out years ago. It would be interesting to see some real data, but it seems Dookies have had more than their fair share of injuries, especially of the more serious nature, such as Jay Williams and Bobby Hurley, as well as Grant Hill. Also, I think the case could be made that number a of Duke players have overachieved at the professional level, or at least done much better it was expected they would.

However, regardless of how many players a college program puts into the NBA, or how many championships or All-Star games they end up with, that seems completely irrelevant to their college careers or to the college programs. Duke is not a minor league team for the NBA. I hated the day the NBA essentially forced athletes to play at least one year in college, whether they want to or not. So now, lots of schools are going to claim one and done players as part of their alumni pool, when it has to be questioned how much the school contributed to their later success. Of course, Duke is going to affected like all the rest, Kyrie Irving a prominent case in point.

Nevertheless, thanks for giving this essential irrelevant issue the time and attention it deserves.

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