The Best Duke Basketball Players to Ever Play in the NBA

  • Kyrie Irving

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    10. Kyrie Irving

    When it’s all said and done, Irving might end up as the best Duke player to ever play in the NBA. He certainly has the talent, having scored at least 20 points per game in every season since winning Rookie of the Year. He’s proven himself as one of the league’s most clutch players and won tournament MVP after leading Team U.S.A. to a gold medal in last summer’s 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

    While he hasn’t played in a playoff game yet, Irving will have a huge opportunity this year. The Cavs have to be considered the favorites, along with Atlanta, to make it out of the Eastern Conference and onto the NBA Finals.

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  • Mike Gminski Philadelphia 76ers

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    9. Mike Gminski

    A 6-11 big man who was the No. 7 pick during the 1980 NBA Draft, Gminski was good enough to average at least 16 points and eight rebounds during a season four different times. He was also an excellent free throw shooter, canning 84 percent for his career, and actually played a vital role on a couple of solid playoff teams. During the ’86 Playoffs, Gminski even averaged 19.3 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Nets.

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  • Christian Laettner Atlanta Hawks

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    8. Christian Laettner

    Was Laettner ever the player everyone dreamed he could be while he was at Duke? Was he ever worthy of being included on the original Dream Team? No and no. Laettner never reached superstar status at the highest level, though he did play in one All-Star Game. He retired at the age of 35 with career averages of 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Not bad numbers at all…just not what we expected when he was the third pick in the 1992 NBA Draft behind Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning.

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  • 7. Corey Maggette

    Maggette got a bad rap for being a stat-stuffer that played no defense and had a one-dimensional game. All things told, the 6-7 forward was never really used in the role he should’ve been in all along: As a high-scoring, aggressive sixth man. Instead, he got stuck playing bigger roles on awful teams and his reputation probably suffered for it.

    Maggette left after one season at Duke and nearly became an All-Star with the Clippers, averaging over 20 points per game three times. He nearly did it again later with Golden State. He was a physically imposing forward who was a bull to stop from the wing and he racked up free throws at will. That was probably his best skill of all as he had seven straight seasons during his prime where he averaged right at eight freebie attempts per game or higher. James Harden territory.

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  • Shane Battier Houston Rockets

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    6. Shane Battier

    Battier’s best statistical season might’ve only seen him put up averages of 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds — it was actually his rookie year — but the 6-7 forward was one of the best defensive players of this generation and made the All-Defensive Second Team twice. He was smart, an invaluable teammate, and always took the hardest assignments. He was actually one of the first players of the “analytical” age to see his value increase as decision makers started to see the impact he had on the court.

    It’s no wonder he played key roles on 10 different playoff teams.

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  • Luol Deng Miami Heat

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    5. Luol Deng

    Still a decent third banana in Miami this year, Deng had spent the entirety of his career with Chicago before playing half a season in Cleveland last season. In the Windy City, he developed a reputation as a tireless, team-first worker who would play through injury, a glue-guy who still had enough talent to make two All-Star Games and average over 17 points four times.

    Deng’s biggest moments came during the Bulls’ 2007 Playoff run. Through 10 games against Miami and Detroit, the 6-9 forward played 41 minutes a night and averaged over 22 points and eight boards per contest. He’ll probably never reach those heights again now that he’s with the Heat and nearing 30 years old.

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  • Jeff Mullins


    4. Jeff Mullins

    Jeff Mullins played at Duke before the Coach K era, which makes him sort of an anomaly on this list. However, he did win an NBA title in 1975 and later played on three straight All-Star teams. A fifth overall pick, the 6-4 shooting guard finished his career with averages of 16.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.

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  • Carlos Boozer Utah Jazz

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    3. Carlos Boozer

    Ever since turning his back on Cleveland after the 2003-04 season and signing with Utah instead, a large continent of fans have disliked Boozer. The rest just find him funny, an easy target. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s some scrub. Scrubs don’t score nearly 15,000 career points. Scrubs don’t last 13 years, starting in basically all of them. Scrubs don’t make two All-Star Games. Boozer isn’t the game’s greatest player — he’s not a good defender and often can’t finish inside because of his limitations — but he’s still had a great career.

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  • Elton Brand Philadelphia 76ers

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    2. Elton Brand

    Brand was perennially one of the game’s most underrated players, soldiering away his best years on some awful Chicago and Clipper teams. The undersized Brand — who made due with a gigantic wingspan of nearly 7-6 — started his career with five straight years averaging at least 18 points and 10 boards. Then two years later, finally on a good team in L.A., he had the best season of his career. He dropped almost 25 points and 10 boards per game for one of the NBA’s most talented teams. He made the All-NBA Second Team. Then he led the Clippers to within one game of the Western Conference Finals.

    The No. 1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft eventually ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon with the Clippers. That was the beginning of the end for him. He was never the same after signing a mammoth deal with Philadelphia in 2008.

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  • Grant Hill Orlando Magic

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    1. Grant Hill

    Hill would’ve been an all-timer if it wasn’t for ankle injuries robbing him of what amounted to nearly four full seasons with the Orlando Magic — right in his prime too. Still, the most talented player to ever play at Duke amassed some pretty impressive accolades in the NBA, making the All-NBA Second Team four times and the First Team once while also averaging over 20 points per game in five straight years with the Pistons. He appeared in six All-Star Games, and was voted into a seventh, and has to be one of the biggest what if? scenarios of all time. Remember, this dude was once the “next” Jordan.

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  • Kyrie Irving
  • Mike Gminski Philadelphia 76ers
  • Christian Laettner Atlanta Hawks
  • Shane Battier Houston Rockets
  • Luol Deng Miami Heat
  • Jeff Mullins
  • Carlos Boozer Utah Jazz
  • Elton Brand Philadelphia 76ers
  • Grant Hill Orlando Magic

Everyone loves to hate on a Dukie. Duke has been good for so long, so dominant, and utterly annoying that some fans just can’t help themselves. From Christian Laettner to J.J. Redick, these are all the cats you wish you could’ve been and to see them stunting on the basketball world like bigger versions of Kanye West is tough. It is.

Hating is one thing. Every fanbase does it. Just don’t be unrealistic. Duke has had NBA busts just like every other school. But contrary to what some haters believe, they’ve also had some incredible NBA players.

Even though his time in Durham lasted all of 11 games because of injury, Kyrie Irving is the latest player to add to this list. In just four NBA seasons, Irving has already racked up three All-Star appearances, one of them being an MVP, as well as three years averaging 20 points per game or more and the unofficial title of best ball-handler in the world. (Sorry, Steph.) Remember when your boy was saying the Cavs needed to take Derrick Williams over him? Yeah, what’s he saying now?

He’s been good enough to warrant Nike giving him his own signature sneaker, the Kyrie 1, and tomorrow we’ll see a Duke-themed colorway of the shoe dropping at Champs Sports. Complete with inspiration taken straight from Australian architecture, as well as Zoom Air cushioning in the forefoot, Hyperfuse construction, and 360-degree dynamic traction on the sole and side walls, this is the sneaker we’re expecting to takeover the next generation for Nike. And this Duke “Brotherhood” colorway is going to be a hit. No doubt about it.

To prepare you, we’re ranking the greatest talents to ever come out of Coach K‘s program. These are the Best Duke Basketball Players to Ever Play in the NBA.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney

image via Christian Petersen/Getty Images