For the last couple decades, Duke has been the best, most consistent college basketball program in the nation. They have the Final Fours, the NCAA titles to prove it. And they have sent a lot of players on to the NBA.
But Duke players have not thrived at the next level. In fact they have often underwhelmed. There certainly have been good players — Grant Hill and Elton Brand (both especially before they got injured) to name a couple — but Duke has not sent on the percentage of superstar NBA players that other elite programs have. They have had more than their share of bad breaks and flameouts.
Is Cleveland taking a risk drafting a Duke player? Some in Cleveland are wondering.
I say no. They are taking the best player on the board. Which in the end is all a team can do.
But in a decade that may not be the perception. Irving is not expected to be a Derrick Rose or Chris Paul by NBA personnel, but because he is going to go No. 1 — to Cleveland after the loss of LeBron James — there will be a lot of pressure and hopes heaped upon him.
A lot of the perception of Duke’s struggles in the NBA go back to Danny Ferry, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Clippers in 1989, and he then promptly bolted for Italy for a year rather than play for that franchise. He ended up with a 13 year NBA career (10 of it in Cleveland) and he never came close to living up to the hype that followed him into the league.
For fun, let’s look back at some of the other top 20 picks out of Duke (by year they were drafted).
1992: Christian Laettner (No. 3 overall): He played 13 years in the NBA, made one All-Star team and frankly was a good player for much of that. But he also did not live up to the hype coming out of Duke.
1993: Bobby Hurley (No. 7): A car accident ruined his career before it really got started.
1994: Grant Hill (No. 3): Maybe the best NBA player ever to come out of Duke, he was a dynamic pro until ankle injuries did him in. He has bounced back some late in his career.
1995: Cherokee Parks (No. 12): Played parts of nine NBA seasons but was a journeyman. At best.
1999: Elton Brand (No. 1): Duke’s only No. 1 overall (over Steve Francis and Baron Davis). He was the Rookie of the Year for the Bulls, a two-time All-Star and has had a good career that injuries have slowed in recent years.
1999: Trajan Langdon (No. 11): He was out of the league after three years as he struggled to adapt to defenses.
2001: Shane Battier (No. 6): Not a superstar, but he has carved out a very nice career as an NBA role player and one of the best wing defenders in the league.
2002: Jason Williams (No. 2): A motorcycle accident robbed all of us of what may have been a very fun career to watch.
2002: Carlos Boozer (No. 34 overall): We found one Duke player who outperformed his draft status. Nobody was terribly high on Boozer coming out of Duke but the Cavaliers drafted him in the second round and he is a two-time All-Star and a key cog previously in Utah and now in Chicago.
2004: Luol Deng (No. 7): Maybe the vintage example of a Duke player to their critics — incredibly athletic but has had a good-but-not great career for the Bulls.
2006: J.J. Redick (11): To his credit, he is not the star he was in college but he has worked hard to make himself a defender and adapt his game to fit the league. Again, not a superstar but a solid pro.