The 2018 NBA Draft is right around the corner, and former Duke Basketball stars such as Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Grayson Allen are all hoping to take the next big step in their basketball careers as they transition to the professional level. Despite being one of the most successful college basketball programs of all time, Duke alums are notorious for turning into NBA busts. From the guys that simply didn’t live up to the hype like an Elton Brand, to the career-ending injury suffered by former Blue Devils phenom Jay Williams, there is plenty to be said about the shortcomings of those that used to grace the floors of Cameron Indoor Stadium. That being said, there are those Duke alums that have had successful pro careers. Here is a list of the top five Duke Basketball alumni in NBA history:
1. Grant Hill
After winning multiple national titles alongside Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner and becoming a two-time consensus All-American selection, Hill was selected with the third overall pick of the 1994 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. It is easy to forget just how dominant Hill was in his first six seasons in the league. From 1994 to 2000, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists for the Pistons while racking up a Rookie of the Year award as well as five All-Star selections and five All-NBA selections. Although knee injuries would derail his career with the Orlando Magic, he repurposed his game in Phoenix to become a more efficient scorer and defender, often checking Kobe Bryant for nearly all 48 minutes in the Suns’ playoff battles against the Lakers in the late 2000s. But the greatest validation Hill could receive came just this past March, when he was selected as a member of the 2018 class in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Hill is the only Duke alum to receive the call to the Hall.
2. Kyrie Irving
Yes, Irving played just 11 games in his one and only season at Duke. And yes, his NBA career is still in its early stages. But at just 25 years of age, Irving has already accumulated quite the trophy case: Rookie of the Year, All-Star Game MVP and, most notably, an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Irving is undoubtedly the most talented backcourt player to come out of Duke since Williams, and is widely regarded as having the best ball-handling ability in the league to match his tremendous scoring ability. Irving struggled with injuries this past season with his new team, the Boston Celtics. However he remains one of the best players in the league when healthy, and after already earning five All-Star selections in his first seven seasons, he seems destined to join Hill in the Hall when all is said and done.
Boozer won a national title with Duke in 2001 and was selected in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers. After making the All-Rookie team in his first season, Boozer averaged 15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds for the Cavs in a breakout year before being dealt to the Utah Jazz, where he established himself as one of the better power forwards in the league. Boozer had consecutive seasons of 20 points and 10 rebounds in Utah, and made the All-NBA third team in 2008. Although Boozer and point guard Deron Williams helped make the Jazz a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference, he struggled to make the same impact upon moving to the Chicago Bulls in free agency in the summer of 2010. While Boozer posted respectable numbers in Chicago, he never again surpassed more than 18 points or 10 rebounds in a season, and was often a defensive liability for a Tom Thibodeau team that demanded defensive intensity.
4. Elton Brand
Brand was a consensus All-American and Wooden Award winner for Duke before he was selected with the top overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Bulls. Despite winning Rookie of the Year with the Bulls and averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds in both seasons in Chicago, Brand could not elevate a franchise that had been sunk by the losses of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He was traded to the Clippers following the 2001 season, and would make a pair of All-Star teams as well as an All-NBA team in 2006, but the team success eluded him once again. Brand would never be the same after rupturing his left achilles in the summer of 2007, failing to score more than 15 points in a season and often filling the position of role player on most teams. Despite respectable career averages of 15.9 points and 8.5 boards, Brand’s career is mostly remembered from a “What If?” perspective.
5. Luol Deng
While not the flashiest, Deng was one of the better two-way small forwards in the league during the prime of his career, making an All-Defensive team after the 2011-2012 season and earning a pair of All-Star slections. Deng became a fan favorite in Chicago after the Bulls traded a future first-round pick and cash to the Suns to acquire the young swingman after the 2004 draft. The small forward out of Sudan would come to be a focal point of the gritty Bulls teams in the mid-2000s, while later becoming a sidekick to Derrick Rose and a defensive stalwart against LeBron James during the Rose era for Chicago from 2010 to 2013. For his career, Deng has posted averages of 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, but it is his humility and class that has made him one of the best ambassadors for the game.