The 2016-17 season came to an end earlier than expected for the Duke Blue Devils. Picked by many to win the National Championship at the beginning of the season, in large part to their talented freshmen, Duke fought their way through various injuries and incidents en route to an ACC Championship but ultimately fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
With the season over, there are lots of decisions to be made. Some may involve players transferring but most are centered around the NBA Draft.
Let’s take a look at the most important questions facing the Blue Devils:
We know Amile and Matt are graduating but who could test the waters in the upcoming NBA Draft?
There is a possibility of a mass exodus at Duke. First and foremost, Kennard, Allen, Giles, and Tatum will be the most likely to put their names in the draft. Jackson and Bolden should choose that option as well with the new rules for declaring. Kennard, Giles, and Tatum are first round picks as of right now while Allen’s stock has taken a major blow since last summer. Although we didn’t see much of Bolden this year, let’s not forget he did impress many scouts at Duke’s pro day before his injury. He’s still an NBA prospect and could improve his stock at the combine and with workouts. Jackson has pro tools and skill but as I stated in the previous draft article I wrote, his stock will rely on his ability to run an offense at point guard. He hasn’t shown much improvement in that area yet or at least enough to leave.
Of those you mentioned, who do you see deciding to keep their name in the draft?
Jayson Tatum: This is the obvious name and needs no explanation.
Grayson Allen: Allen should not come back to Duke. There’s nothing left to accomplish and it’s not worth it to risk decreasing your stock from early to mid-second round to un-drafted. Don’t forget this was a miserable season for Allen before Duke started winning because of the constant criticism from national media, nagging injuries, and on-the-court issues. He’s on pace to receive his degree this year so the education factor is out of the conversation. Coming back won’t help either especially if Duke lands Trevon Duval and Kevin Knox to go along with Gary Trent, possibly Kennard, and likely Jackson.
Harry Giles: The general consensus from Duke fans is that Harry Giles should return because he’s not ready for the NBA. Well, that’s not the mindset of the NBA teams or scouts. At times, Giles showed flashes of what he was in high school and he was without a doubt the No.1 pick of this year’s draft before his injuries. It’s not like he played the whole season as Giles pretty much missed the entire non-conference portion of the season in addition to the preseason. When he made his return, it took awhile for him to be comfortable on the court. He’s a freakish athlete who’s 6’11 with a 7’3 wingspan and could end up as a steal for a late first round team. He could also jump back into lottery conversation with solid workouts and combine performance. Why come back to Duke and risk an injury that would derail any chance of getting drafted?
Luke Kennard: I’m torn with this one so I’ll provide both sides of the argument. I initially had Kennard staying after the buzzer sounded against South Carolina. His performance in the NCAA Tournament was abysmal but I don’t think it takes anything away from his tremendous season. He’s been great as an individual but his two teams at Duke have a combined record of 3-2 in the tournament. You also have factor in that the draft class won’t be as deep in 2018. Finally if Kennard returns to Durham he will assume the role of team captain as he’ll likely be Duke’s only experienced upperclassman.
Despite all that, I think Kennard should pack his bags. He can look at Grayson’s situation this year and see that coming back to school could hurt you. I think the possibility of adding Knox, Duval, and the imminent return of Jackson hurts Luke’s chances of duplicating or improving on his numbers from this year. You have a ball dominant point guard in Duval to go along with Jackson, Trent, Knox, and Carter as scoring options. The reason the 2015 team went so far was because each player fulfilled a specific and different role. There were no conflicts in terms of playing style or responsibility. If Kennard comes back to Duke, it creates another lineup logjam if the aforementioned recruits commit. With Matt Jones’ departure, Kennard will also take a larger role defensively and from the eye test this year, Kennard couldn’t keep a soul in front of him. It’s a decision that can go either way but I’m guessing Kennard played his final game in a Duke uniform.
Where in the draft do you see those players being selected?
Tatum: Boston Celtics/Orlando Magic
Of the teams projected to pick in the top five, Tatum’s best fit would be in Boston. He’ll jump into a winning system immediately and he provides another scoring option for a team that relies heavily on Isaiah Thomas to score. Obviously, they just drafted Jaylen Brown but it’s clear that Tatum is the better prospect so I don’t think there will be much conflict there. I added the Magic because there is still a possibility that the Celtics trade that pick away. If that’s the case, Orlando isn’t a bad fit either. A spiraling front office is in desperate need of a franchise-changing rookie and Tatum could be that guy. Tatum will fill the void of a small forward and primary scoring option on the wing. Tatum and Aaron Gordon would be a nice young duo to build off for the organization as Gordon continues to develop his game.
Kennard: Oklahoma City Thunder
We’ve all seen what Russell Westbrook has done without shooters around him so Kennard’s presence can only help. OKC desperately needs a scoring option off the bench, and Kennard is exactly that. Kennard was one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Many are likely to undermine Luke and label him as a spot up shooter comparing his role to the newly acquired Doug McDermott but Kennard can hurt the opponent in so many ways offensively. His improved ball handling skills to go along with his passing ability makes him a much better option than McDermott and Alex Abrines right now.
Giles: Indiana Pacers
If the rumors of Paul George’s imminent departure are true, the Pacers might as well start rebuilding a team around Myles Turner. If Giles starts to return to his former self, a possible young front court duo of Turner of Giles would be fun to watch. Two athletic, freakishly-long bigs who’ll eventually be interchangeable at the four and five is not a bad start for an organization in limbo. I don’t see much conflict down low as we saw with Embiid/Noel and Okafor, they’re much more flexible offensively and defensively. Two bigs that can work with a hi-lo action.
Allen: San Antonio Spurs/New Orleans Pelicans
Due to their projected spot in the draft, the Spurs will likely be unable to draft Allen but the thought of what Gregg Popovich can turn him into is fun. The player developmental system in San Antonio is by the far the best in the league. Not to mention, former Dukie and Spurs assistant Chip Engelland can help Allen become a better shooter than he is now. New Orleans is also a solid fit for Allen especially after picking up DeMarcus Cousins. Its roster is depleted of shooting and talent for that matter so Allen could help them immediately off the bench.
Do you see Amile or Matt getting drafted at all? If not, where do you see them continuing their basketball career?
Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson will not be drafted. Out of the two, Jefferson has a better shot to find a team. It may not be immediate but if he works on his jumper as Lance Thomas did, he definitely has a shot down the road. Amile will be limited to one position in the NBA but if he develops a shot, he can be a stretch big that plays defense which is rare in the league. They both could eventually end up in the NBA D-League if Jones doesn’t opt for the overseas route immediately.
Looking at our recruiting class coming in (including Trevon Duval and Kevin Knox who Duke is a finalist for), which players do you see being a one-and-done?
Knox, Duval, and Carter are all one-and-dones. I’ve watched some tape on Wendell Carter and IO think he has the potential to be Duke’s best big man in the NBA… ever. First, he’s 6’10 with a 7’5 wingspan. He’s around 255 pounds but it’s a lot of muscle which is rare for a kid coming out of high school at that weight. He’s an explosive athlete that has a developing post game but my favorite part of his game is that he can shoot the ball. Not to mention, he can protect the glass and cause some havoc defensively. He can play the five at Duke but I’d love to see him slide to the four to play alongside another big.
With the players potentially coming in and coming back, who could possibly be headed to the NBA next season?
If I had to guess right now, it’ll be another mass exodus of players Carter, Duval, Jackson, and Bolden. I think Gary Trent may be a one-and-done talent like Jackson was this year but ultimately, there will be too much talent around him to make a case for that.