Duke Basketball: Six-year streak in jeopardy for Blue Devils next year

Duke basketball point guard Tre Jones (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Duke basketball point guard Tre Jones (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The 2019-20 Duke basketball roster will perhaps lack one distinction the previous six had.

Three former Duke basketball players will be lottery picks next month — no doubt about that. One will go No. 1 overall. And all three could be off the board within the first half hour.

Next year, though, not even one may be selected within the first half of the first round. If so, next year’s draft will be the first since 2013 with no Dukies as lottery picks (including the upcoming draft, four of the six drafts since will have included at least two).

While it’s true a lot can change in a year, one can peruse the abundant supply of 2020 mock drafts to see the prognosis at the moment: when it comes to lottery picks, there appears to be a deficiency of incoming and returning Blue Devils. In fact, one of the most recent mock drafts projects only one first-rounder coming from next season’s squad (incoming freshman Vernon Carey Jr. at No. 23).

And not one mock draft put out this month has listed even one member of the 2019-20 Duke roster among the first 14 picks.


One explanation is each of the top candidates has at least one of the flaws at his position best known for scaring off NBA franchises.

First, Carey Jr. fits the mold of a dominant college center. His combination of power and touch should overwhelm most opponents, making the 6-foot-10, 275-pounder a key weapon for the Blue Devils next season — particularly on offense.

But when compared to bigs of late who have become lottery picks, Carey Jr. is lacking in wingspan (only a couple inches greater than his height) and in terms of athleticism (his hops are not exactly breathtaking, and his feet are not exactly the quickest at shuffling around the post).

Next, even as a freshman, fellow five-star 2019 signee Matthew Hurt has the potential to perfect the stretch-four position on offense in a way that brings back memories of a few former Duke greats — notably, Danny Ferry.

Hurt even has the off-the-charts scoring power to possibly have a night or two where he flirts with Ferry’s single-game program record for points (58), which has stood for 30 years. If not, his in-the-zone splashing ability from inside and out should at least reward him with several nights scoring at least half that amount.

However, at 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds with a glaring need to eat more spinach and live a few months in a weight room, Hurt would currently resemble a pinball within the arc at the NBA level. Also, like Carey Jr., Hurt has neither the wingspan nor the athleticism to force drool to fall from the lips of NBA scouts.

As for the four-star 2019 signees headed to Durham, small forward Wendell Moore has plenty of substance but lacks the flash to force NBA eyeballs to spring out of their sockets. And shooting guard Cassius Stanley seems to lack the overall substance to match his ability to entertain YouTube viewers with the flash from his vast selection of fastbreak dunks.

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Finally, returning point guard Tre Jones would likely be a late first-rounder or early second-rounder next month had he followed the one-and-done path of teammates Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. And some franchise will surely one day be more than happy to regularly benefit from his textbook on-ball defense and his unselfish offense, which includes his habit of making pinpoint passes and the right decisions.

That being said, despite his older brother, Tyus, having steadily improved his stock across his four NBA seasons and the fact he shares many of the same strengths, if Tre does not drastically improve his outside shot — 26.2 percent from downtown as a freshman — then his draft position is destined to be in the vicinity of his sibling’s (Tyus went 24th overall in 2015).

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What all this means is that the recent one-and-done trend in Durham may temporarily slow down — before probably picking right back up again the season after next, assuming Duke’s haul of 2020 recruits is as five-star-laden as fans are hoping.

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Four of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s past five recruiting classes have included at least three players who left for the NBA after just one season. The lone exception was the 2015 class, which contained only one one-and-done player: Brandon Ingram.

If the latest mock drafts hold their validity in terms of Duke players, though, then all but one or two of the incoming freshmen may have little choice but to stay in college for more than one season in order to continue working out their kinks.

And it’s even possible — yet highly unlikely — the one-and-done count will match the 2012 class, the last one without a single Blue Devil splitting for the professional ranks after only one season.

Even more unlikely — yet highly encouraging considering the national championship preceding the last time it happened — is next year will be the first year since 2010 without a single Blue Devil hearing his name in the first round (not counting Elliot Williams, who went No. 22 that year but had transferred from Duke to Memphis two years prior).

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The most likely scenario of all, though, is one or more of the above players will prove early mock drafts dead wrong by showing off strengths that easily outweigh any weaknesses, thereby extending the Blue Devils‘ streak of producing at least one lottery pick to seven years.