Duke in the NBA: Ranking the 2016-17 Blue Devils as NBA Prospects

The 2016-17 Duke basketball team is loaded with talent. With as many as six potential first round picks over the next two NBA Drafts, it’s easy to see why the Blue Devils are still viewed as a favorite to win the national championship, despite being riddled with injuries and a lack of continuity.

In this post, we take a closer look at the guy’s projected to reach the next level and evaluate who will have the most NBA success.

  1. Jayson Tatum

Draft Projection: Top 5

In our preseason NBA predictions, I initially tabbed Marques Bolden as the current Blue Devil who will have the best NBA career. To be completely honest, that was just to deviate from the common choice, which was Jayson Tatum. We still have yet to see what Bolden can do with Coach K slowly working him back into action but I think we have a solid sample size from Tatum. It’s difficult to describe Tatum’s game without using the word smooth. He’s arguably the most skilled wing in the 2017 draft class and he’s bound to make an immediate impact on the team he’s drafted by. As Coach K said, Tatum will be leading an NBA team in scoring one day. Standing at 6’8, he’s displayed great footwork and ability to breakdown a defender with his array of isolation and post moves. He also utilizes his length well offensively to shoot over defenders and he creates mismatches with guards and frontcourt players. Tatum has also shown versatility defensively as he’s shown comfort switching on to smaller guards on the perimeter and battling with bigs on the block. He does get a little shot happy at times and often embellishes the degree of difficulty of his shots but it shouldn’t be a major concern on the next level. Tatum’s game will translate to the pros and when it’s all said and done, he’ll likely be one of the best NBA players to come out of Duke. I see a lot of Paul George in Tatum.













2. Harry Giles

Draft Projection: Lottery

Harry Giles is obviously not the same player you’ve watched on YouTube numerous times. It may be awhile before we see that Giles as he’s still getting acclimated to being on the court after a two-year layoff. After two serious knee injuries, Giles’ draft stock has plummeted from his previous projection as a top 3 pick of the 2017 draft but it could be a blessing in disguise for a team outside of the top 5. His situation draws some similarities to Joel Embiid’s draft situation in that a team may be taking a risk with Giles’ medical history but in the end you could be getting a franchise player. Before his injury, Giles was certainly one of the faces of the draft class, which has been compared to the 2003 class in terms of depth and star power. His skill and athleticism to go along with his explosiveness, agility, and physical traits had scouts drooling. If he regains that explosiveness and returns to his former self, a team will be very lucky have him on its roster but there’s not much to judge off him right now so I’ll keep him at No. 2 behind Tatum.

3. Marques Bolden

Draft Projection: Lottery to late 1st-round.

Bolden is in a tough situation as a draft prospect because of the dying breed of traditional bigs in the NBA. When you look at the up and coming frontcourt studs in the league, their skillset goes beyond a post game. There are a plethora of young big men who can beat you with an inside and outside game: Joel Embiid, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Myles Turner, and Kristaps Porzingis. The other common prototype for a big is a mobile, lengthy, high motor, athletic big who plays defense and protects the rim. Guys like Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan, and Rudy Gobert fit that criteria. Now Bolden isn’t a terrible athlete and we have yet to see that motor he would need at the next level due to playing time and injury but one of his strengths is his back to the basket game. He’s an effective post scoring option and has a solid feel for the game. He has solid footwork in the post and is comfortable shooting with any hand. From the brief time I’ve seen him at Duke, he does need to get deeper position in the post and stop settling for shooting over the defender. Scouts have also raved about his passing ability. Fellow Blue Devil Jahlil Okafor has struggled to find his niche on the Sixers as a traditional post player but Bolden does have the defensive potential that Okafor doesn’t to go along with much better physical tools. At the end of the day, Bolden is 6’11 with a 7’6 wingspan; not many teams are going to pass on a chance to develop him.

4. Frank Jackson

Draft Projection: Lottery (2018), Late 1st round (2017)

Right now, I don’t have Frank Jackson leaving for the NBA Draft. That could change by the end of the season. Jackson’s success on the next level will all depend on his ability to run a team at point guard. He’s freakishly athletic, quick, and at 6’3, 205 pounds, he’d be a tough cover for most point guards in the NBA. He can score in a variety ways whether it’s slashing or shooting. He’ll be a solid on-ball defender as well but could struggle due to size against NBA shooting guards. Although Jackson has had a lot of time at point guard for Duke, he’s still adjusting to facilitating for others and easing up on his scoring mentality. The quicker he assimilates to that role with comfort, the more likely you’ll see his name in this year’s draft. His combination of size, athleticism, and shooting reminds me of Deron Williams without the deadly crossover.

5. Grayson Allen

Draft Projection: Late 1st round

To settle this now, Grayson Allen’s continuous tripping antics shouldn’t cost him a spot in the first round. Some NBA GMs prefer a player with the fiery passion Allen has. He’s not getting in trouble off the court and he isn’t a cancer in the locker room. It’s as simple as this: if you’re playing against him, he doesn’t like you and he sometimes goes too far. An NBA locker room with multiple veterans will help him avoid matters like this on the next level. From a basketball standpoint, Allen may never be a star in the pros but he’s capable of contributing to a team immediately. He’s improved greatly as a facilitator but still needs work with his ball handling skills. He still struggles finishing with his left hand but his ability to draw contact while slashing to the rim has bailed him out often there. His shooting ability is the foundation of his game as he can hurt opponents with the catch and shoot or off the dribble. Of course, we all know the athleticism he brings to the table. Put him in the right organization with a strong player developmental system and he could be an everyday starter eventually in his career.

6. Luke Kennard

Draft Projection: Late 1st round

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve said that Luke Kennard is the more complete offensive player between him and Allen. Kennard just simply gets buckets and he does it in so many different ways. He can come off double screens and curls, hit stepback jumpers consistently, and utilize his pivot and footwork to create space for shot. He’s been an efficient scorer and a willing passer. He’s been able to find teammates on the drive as well as anyone on the team. He’s not a great athlete and not the quickest guy on the court but he finds ways to put the ball in the hoop. He’s also comfortable using both hands to finish. He shows great effort on the defensive side of the ball but he may struggle keeping up with NBA guards. Like Allen, Kennard’s shooting ability should help him stick around in the association and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him averaging 13-15 points per game in a season down the road. He’s been an elite scorer at every level.

7. Amile Jefferson

Draft Projection: Undrafted

Amile Jefferson has had a terrific year but as a fifth-year senior, teams will likely shy away from picking him in the second round. To be on a NBA team, he needs to improve his jumper first and foremost. Improving his jump shot changed Lance Thomas from a solid D-League player to a rotational player on the New York Knicks. Jefferson is not a great athlete but he’s a smart player who brings defense and effort to the table. He is also quietly one of the best finishing big men in the country. He will also need to bulk up a bit from 224 pounds to bang down low with modern day power forwards like a Paul Millsap or Draymond Green. If he puts on the weight and finds that jumper, I think he can he be a Trevor Booker-type player. He’ll be 24 years old by the start of next year’s NBA season so he’ll have to make quick improvements. 

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2 Replies to “Duke in the NBA: Ranking the 2016-17 Blue Devils as NBA Prospects”

  1. Rob Mac says:

    Good talking piece. With all due respect for your good breakdown of your projected NBA picks, let’s wait a few months before this is discussed. The first conference game is yet to be played, and the season is still young. Frankly I could care less where they go come summertime, my main focus is what they do for the team that they’re all on at this moment. I also hope Allen gets himself right mentally, cause I want to see that kid help lead this Duke team to its 6th title.

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