Duke Basketball: NBA season opener to feature three former Blue Devils

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Three former Duke basketball players each have a legitimate shot to be the leading scorer of the NBA season opener on Tuesday night — a sign of the Blue Devils’ strong representation in the NBA.

All three are on the short list of the best former Duke basketball players in the league right now. Two will start for one squad; on the other, the third is a popular preseason pick to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Yes, when the Boston Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night to tip off the 2018-19 NBA season — a rematch from the second round of the playoffs last season — #TheBrotherhood will be influential.

In fact, if you click over to TNT to watch the game at any random moment, there is a high probability that the ball will be in the hands of one of the three.

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The oldest of the bunch, Philly sharpshooter J.J. Redick, averaged 17.1 points per game last season, the highest mark of his 14-year pro career. However, the 34-year-old guard will come off the bench — at least at the start of the season — as head coach Brett Brown has opted to give the starting nod at his position to the first pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz. But Redick is slated to start the second halves of games.

As for the duo of former Dukies on the Celtics, both Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum will not only be in the starting lineup, but both are in the running to become the most accomplished Blue Devils of all-time at the professional level — albeit Tatum is still not even old enough to order an alcoholic beverage.

Irving, one of the league’s top point guards and one-time NBA champion, has averaged 22.0 points and 5.5 assists for his career. If the 26-year-old playmaker can stay healthy — he’s only played in more than 70 games in three of his seven seasons — he has the potential to make a strong case for MVP this season.

In terms of potential, Tatum is at or near the top of the list of all former Dukies currently playing professionally. The 20-year-old forward is coming off a rookie season where he was thrust into a starting role and did not disappoint. Although the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft only averaged 13.9 points for the season, he put the league on notice during the playoffs by joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only rookies in history to score at least 20 points in at least 10 playoff games.

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So although Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has not always had a stellar reputation for putting players in the NBA who ended up thriving, fans should be able to see from the league opener on Tuesday night that those days are in the past.