Will any Duke basketball players get drafted this year?

Former Duke basketball standout Matthew Hurt (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
Former Duke basketball standout Matthew Hurt (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball’s draft presence should pale in comparison to recent years.

The 2021 NBA Draft is fast approaching as we are only two days from the next generation of NBA stars hearing their names. Over the past decade or so, Duke basketball has dominated the top of the draft board. For the second year in a row, though, it is unlikely that any former Blue Devils hear their name in the first round.

Just two years ago in 2019, Duke had three players go in the top 10 and two go in the top three. Last year, Duke had three second-round picks in Vernon Carey Jr., Tre Jones, and Cassius Stanley.

This year, it’s possible that Duke may not have anyone drafted.

You may be thinking, what about Jalen Johnson? In my opinion, I don’t consider Johnson a “Duke guy.” While I wish him the best and hope he develops into his full potential, his partial season in Durham wasn’t enough to earn him the title of a former Blue Devil.

Johnson played just 13 games and quit on the team with a month to go. He showed signs of potential but only had a few games where he played at a high level.

The Blue Devils also seemed to play much better as a team without Johnson, beating then-No. 7 Virginia just a few days after he left the squad. His effort level was not always where it should have been, and foul trouble plagued the few games he did play.

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There seemed to be something going on behind the scenes, but we can only speculate about that. Whatever it was, it led to Johnson deciding to leave the team to focus on himself.

It was a bad look for Johnson, and it’s one of the reasons he is no longer projected as a top 10 pick like he was coming into college. He chose to stop being a Blue Devil, so why should Duke fans claim him as one of theirs?

Assessing the stocks of Duke basketball’s two legit products in the draft

Matthew Hurt and DJ Steward are the only former Duke basketball players outside of Johnson who entered their names in this year’s draft.

Hurt has the better chance of getting drafted between the two, but it most likely will not be in the first round. Some team should take the Minnesota native in the second round, given his 6-foot-9, 235-pound frame and proven outside shot. He could be a stretch big at the next level who can make shots from all over the floor.

As a sophomore last season, Hurt was one of the best scorers and shooters in the conference, taking home honors as an All-ACC First Team selection and the ACC Most Improved Player.

Typically, all of those accolades alone would be enough to earn a first-round selection. But Hurt’s inabilities on defense plus his overall lack of athleticism have put a big dent in his draft stock. Given these factors, it’s hard to see the former five-star recruit ever becoming a reliable rotation player at the next level.

The NBA loves versatile players who can defend multiple positions, something that Hurt may struggle with at the next level. He will have to develop into a Ryan Anderson type of player who can bring size and knockdown shooting from the outside.

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While it would be surprising to see Hurt go undrafted, that outcome would not be such a surprise for Steward. The 6-foot-2 guard is near the bottom of the list of all the best one-and-done Duke players over the years. He will likely join 2017-18 point guard Trevon Duval as the only one-and-done Blue Devils to go undrafted.

Steward really would have benefited from another year in college.

Now, that isn’t to say Steward will never be an NBA player. I do think he will be, just not yet. The Chicago native will likely need a year or two in the G League to get stronger, become more athletic, and develop his skills. At just 19 years old, though, he has plenty of time to develop his game further and someday become a solid NBA player.

Steward had a lot of good moments as a freshman but struggled with consistency. He shot just 34.1 percent from three and 42.6 percent overall.

While the former five-star prospect does have a strong feel for the game to go along with solid ball-handling and scoring instincts, he never quite put it all together as a Blue Devil.

Instead, Steward’s lack of strength caused turnover issues and was a liability on the defensive end. He struggled to contain opposing guards off the dribble. And despite his quick first step, he wasn’t strong enough to be a consistent finisher around the basket.

Both Hurt and Steward could become good players in the NBA, but both of them could have benefited from another year in school. That said, it is hard to blame a kid for wanting to get paid and become a professional.

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Both of these guys will probably end up on NBA teams, although they might spend most of the time on the bench or in the G League. Regardless, I will be tuned in on Thursday night to see if we hear their names called.