Duke basketball’s top 10 role players of the last decade

Duke basketball (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
3 of 11
Tyler Thornton
Tyler Thornton (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The best Duke basketball role players since 2010: Tyler Thornton

434. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. 2010-14. Guard. Tyler Thornton. 9. player

Only the real Duke basketball fans remember Tyler Thornton. Thornton was the ultimate role player. He was limited both offensively and athletically. Despite those limitations, Thornton was in the regular rotation for three out of his four years in school. He didn’t have the blinding speed or quickness of some other Duke point guards, and he certainly didn’t have the athleticism. I am not sure if Thornton ever dunked during his career. What Thornton did have was poise. For me, Tyus Jones is the only other Duke PG to show the type of poise that Thornton had.

Thornton always played at his own pace, which was never too fast or too slow. He always seemed to be under control. He was a steady ball-handler, who made good decisions and could initiate the offense. Thornton really earned his stripes by playing hard on defense and not turning the ball over on offense. Thornton was an extension of the coaching staff out on the floor, a guy Coach K clearly trusted considering he would play in key moments over guys who have gone on to have good NBA careers.

Over the last 10 years, Thornton is one of the few players to be a regular rotation player that had no shot at playing in the NBA. Thornton’s best season was probably when he was a sophomore. He averaged a staggering 4.1 points that year. As I mentioned earlier, he was not a scorer. However, Thornton still managed to play over 20 minutes per game despite having to share a backcourt with Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Quinn Cook.

Thornton will forever have a place in the heart of Duke basketball fans everywhere. Thornton hit an unbelievable 3-pointer from the deep right wing to beat Kansas for the Maui Invitational championship. He was one of the last guys you would expect to beat you with a game-clinching shot, which made the shot that more improbable.

He also hit some big shots on the road against UNC to help Duke complete a miraculous comeback victory, which was capped off by a buzzer-beating three from Austin Rivers.

Tyler Thornton never played in the NBA and went on to serve as an assistant coach under former Duke basketball guard Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette and now serves as an assistant coach under former Duke basketball guard Kenny Blakeney at Howard.