Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Devils That Never Were

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July 14, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; United States forward Carmelo Anthony (15) dribbles the ball in front of United States center Anthony Davis (14) as United States head coach Mike Krzyzewski (l) watches during USA team training at the DC Armory. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

5 NBA stars that could have been legends, had they gone to Duke

Most players and people will never reach their full potential, it is a harsh truth in sports and life. Below, is a list of the NBA’s five most frustratingly talented players. I use the word frustratingly because their accomplishments don’t do justice to their boundless talents and potential. These are players who could have been absolute legends with optimum development and grooming. As high school standouts, all of these guys, could have, should have, but didn’t, attend a college like Duke for four years under the tutelage of Coach K. Sure, any basketball player would benefit from four years with Coach K, but these five might be the dominant players of this generation and all-time greats if they had done so. Especially, through the Duke system.

# 5 Josh Smith:

Talents:

Athleticism

Natural lefty

Versatility

Shot-blocking

Weaknesses:

Shot selection

Defensive consistency

Maturity

Passing

Why he shoulda’ went to Duke:

Josh Smith is an all-star caliber player who most fans associate with highlight blocks and dunks. Smith came straight out of high school and has played for a variety of different coaches and systems in his career. Had he gone to Duke, Smith might be a Lebron James type of defender (all-time great). He has uncanny instincts when it comes to timing blocking shots (youngest player in history to reach 1,000 blocks) but is undisciplined in his approach. Smith is late helping and often gets blocks after getting beat off the dribble. Four years of Coach K could have grown Smith into a bulkier version of Scottie Pippen and perhaps the elite defender of this generation. Smith also takes an absurd amount of bad shots for a lefty of his size with his athleticism. He can get shots close to the rim off the dribble or in the post, but regularly settles for perimeter jumpers. Coach K would have gotten him the ball where he does the most damage (the paint) enough for Smith to embrace where he can score more efficiently. Add in a touch more of maturity and Josh Smith could be halfway through a hall of fame type career.

# 4 JR Smith:

Talents:

Shooting

Ball-handling

Making difficult shots

Athleticism

Weaknesses:

Shot selection

Decision making

Defensive intelligence

Stability

Why he shoulda’ went to Duke:

JR Smith is like a spectacular super car that is phenomenal to drive and seems like the best thing in the world, but occasionally the breaks stop working and you die in a 100 mph wreck. Anyone who has watched him on a nightly basis for a full season knows that Smith can heat up and become unstoppable against any defender or defense in the league. The problem is he has absolutely no discipline or self-control. He takes bad shots so regularly that regular shots seem like great decisions and easy shots seem like miracles. Coach Mike Woodson has had some success in getting through to Smith, leading to his sixth-man of the year award last season. Defensively, Smith can be a menace for the opposition when he is focused and in the right position, because his athleticism enables him to cover lots of real-estate. The issue on defense once again is discipline. One can only imagine how much more JR could have accomplished to this point in his career if he had discipline instilled in his game from the get go. He might be the best two-guard in the league. He has Kobe-esque talent, minus the mentality.

# 3 Amare Stoudemire:

Talents:

Athleticism

Shooting touch

Leadership

Maturity

Weaknesses:

Defense

Rebounding

Defense

Did I mention: Defense?

Why he shoulda’ went to Duke:

Amare has enjoyed a wonderful career. In his prime, he, Steve Nash, and the Phoenix Suns pushed championship teams like the Spurs to the brink. Amare could do it all offensively and always had the DNA of a leader. He has never had maturity issues, despite coming straight out of high school and can handle the spotlight like a pro. He has however, had one major gaping hole in his game: defense/rebounding. It isn’t a lack of effort (like some of the guys on this list) it is a lack of instincts (something you develop early on). Amare has never had a natural feel for defense. If he had worked with the Duke staff for four years, his development could have been elevated tremendously on the defensive end. With his jumping ability, Amare should have been first or second in the league in blocks and rebounds every year of his prime. Instead, he will likely be remember as a one-dimensional player who could always finish strong around the hoop. Amare doesn’t have a good sense of defensive spacing on the court, anticipation, or when to slide into the help. These are fundamental skills all Blue Devils must master from the get-go. Amare has had a great career, but he’ll never be looked at as a legend. Shoulda’ coulda’.

# 2 Dwight Howard:

Talents:

Athleticism

Strength

Rebounding

Shot-blocking

Weaknesses:

Maturity

Shooting

Humility

Passing

Why he shoulda’ went to Duke:

Dwight has been getting star treatment since he was a teenager. It has never been more obvious than these last couple of years as he has destroyed his reputation by handling free-agency like a flirtatious teenage girl juggling potential prom dates, then crying because it is too stressful to choose one. Dwight’s game has always been elite on the defensive end (the only player on the list with such a distinction). I wonder if he would have been even greater (or the GOAT) defensively if he had gone to Duke. More importantly, would he have learned true leadership and accountability? And if so, just how great could Dwight have been? Imagine if Dwight went about basketball like Shane Battier, focused on team success and working as hard as possible. Wouldn’t that be scary? I know Coach K isn’t Jesus, but maybe he would have forced D-12 to practice his free-throws more and develop a mid-range jumper. A humble version of Howard with enhanced defensive tendencies and an improved jumper? That might have actually been superman. Man, the possibilities.

# 1 Carmelo Anthony:

Talents:

Scoring

Clutch

Strength

Shooting

Weaknesses:

Defense

Shot selection

Hustle

Passing

Why he shoulda’ went to Duke:

This choice is tricky. I know Melo went to Syracuse and Coach Boeheim is considered one of the greatest ever. I know he won a national championship, which certainly helped shape the star he is today. But one very detrimental fact remains from Melo’s Cuse experience, he learned nothing from that damned zone defense. In fact, it solidified his horrid habits. Zone defense, especially in college, can mask terrible defensive tendencies. It enables players to float in and out of engagement without being singled out or embarrassed. As a Knicks fanalyst, I will always wonder what Carmelo could have become after four years in the Duke defensive system. He has the athleticism, strength, and intelligence to be a great defender, but Melo has tragically never seemed to understand the necessity to a total commitment on that end of the floor. If his career ends with no championships and few playoffs runs, it will be because of this flaw. A flaw that never would have developed under Coach K. Duke’s commitment to solid man-to-man team defense is their trademark, along with hard work and doing things the right way. If you sprinkled these principles on top off Melo’s spectacular offensive game, he might be legitimately in the conversation with Lebron as this generation’s premier player. Instead, he is somewhere between a Bernard King and Dominique Wilkens career arc.

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