Duke in the NBA Update

Last month we looked at former Blue Devils’ movement in NBA free agency and Dukies that were just starting their first NBA season. With the NBA season well underway and the current Blue Devils taking a few days off between their matchup against Georgia Tech and their ACC home opener against Virginia, let’s examine how our former Blue Devils in the pros are faring so far.

Irving's success at Duke has translated to the NBA (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

We have to start with Kyrie Irving, who was the top overall pick in last year’s NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and has started off his rookie year on the right foot. Irving has started all eight games for the Cavs, who sit at 4-4, and is averaging 15.0 points and 5.1 assists per game. His breakout performance thus far was on January 3 against Charlotte, when he scored 20 points on 8-of-10 from the floor and dished out six assists in just 22 minutes. Kyrie has produced for Cleveland thus far, but is taking 12.9 shots per game and is only shooting 43.7% from the floor. He’d like to see that figure increase, but I don’t think anyone would call this a subpar start for a rookie point guard that couldn’t spend the offseason with his team due to the lockout. The Cavaliers are impressed with Irving’s progress, commending him for his leadership qualities, which is not something a rookie typically exhibits in the early going. They expect him to continue to grow into an extremely productive NBA player.

Smith's transition to professional basketball has been a slow one (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Duke’s other NBA rookie this season, Nolan Smith, has played limited minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers. Smith has appeared in four of Portland’s eight games this season, averaging 6.5 minutes and 3.8 points per game. Nolan made his presence felt last Friday night in a blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns, logging 14 minutes and scoring six points and adding three assists. Despite the early retirement of Brandon Roy, Smith is at a disadvantage due to the Trail Blazer’s deep and talented guard rotation. Most of the backcourt minutes are split between Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford, and Raymond Felton, all of whom are established NBA guards. This leaves Smith and fellow former Blue Devil Elliot Williamson the outside looking in at times.

Luol Deng will be in charge of guarding LeBron James come playoff time (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Luol Deng has continued to be a consistent weapon for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are off to an 8-2 start and are arguably the best team in the NBA. Deng is putting up his usual stellar numbers– 15.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on a team with a lot of weapons. He has also been huge on the defensive end for Chicago, and consistently has to match up with the best offensive threats in the NBA. Just today Yahoo Sports published an article proclaiming Deng as “the most underrated player in the NBA“. Deng hopes to make his first All-Star team this season, but would surely settle for an NBA championship ring with the Bulls.

Deng’s Bulls teammate, Carlos Boozer is another reason for Chicago’s success in the early going. Boozer has put up a very respectable 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds this season– not bad for a player that many thought would be a victim of Chicago’s amnesty clause this offseason. He has proved to be a reliable inside threat this year, scoring double digits in all but one of Chicago’s game. His best performance of the year came last Friday, when Boozer posted 20 points and 13 rebounds in a Bulls victory over the Orlando Magic.

The line's a couple feet farther back, but Redick has made his living in the NBA from deep (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Speaking of the Orlando Magic, JJ Redick has appeared in all nine of Orlando’s games this year, scoring 11.1 points per game. He continues to develop a more versatile game, as he has actually struggled a bit from beyond the arc this season. Redick is shooting just 35.7% from 3-point range on the year, down from 39.7% in 2010-2011. He has still asserted himself off the bench as a threat to score in bunches, however. Redick had 21 points in Orlando’s victory over the Toronto Raptors on New Year’s Day and 20 points in a Magic win over the Rockets on December 26. Redick often teams up in the backcourt with his former Duke backcourt teammate Chris Duhon, who is Orlando’s backup point guard. Duhon is averaging 3.7 points and 3.0 assists per game in 19.4 minutes per game this year.

Some things never change- Henderson still throws some vicious dunks down in the NBA (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Another pair of Duke teammates are producing for the Charlotte Bobcats this year. Gerald Henderson has stepped up his game thus far, averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. Meanwhile, Corey Maggettehas been effective as well, posting 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The Bobcats have struggled on the year with a record of just 2-7. Maggette was also recently injured, and will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a strained hamstring.

Shane Battier was considered one of the top prizes of the NBA’s free agent frenzy. He found a new home this offseason with the Miami Heat and is playing a more limited role in South Beach than he is used to. Shane is playing a career-low 21.3 minutes per game for Miami and is mainly used as a defensive stopper. He is averaging just four points per game and has made just one start for the Heat this season. Clearly there’s not much pressure for him to score with guys named LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on his team.

Elton Brand is making the most of his minutes with the upstart Philadelphia 76ers. Though his time on the court has decreased due to the amount of young talent around him, Brand has helped the Sixers to a 6-2 start, their best in quite some time. Elton has played 27.6 minutes per game for Philadelphia this season, which is the least he has played in his entire career. He has contributed 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this year and still has some moves down in the post, but you can tell his history of injuries is really starting to catch up with him. Brand has just one double-double this season, coming on January 4 in a Sixers win over New Orleans when he scored 12 points and added 12 rebounds.

Grant Hill decided to return for a 17th NBA season with the Phoenix Suns, and although he too is playing a more limited role, his age doesn’t seem to be slowing him down too much. Hill has played 26.4 minutes per game for the Suns this year but has started every game for Phoenix. He is posting 9.8 points per game on the year, but it is safe to say Hill’s glory days are behind him as well. With the amount of time he has missed in his career due to injury, some are quite surprised that he is still able to play at age 39.

The landlord now resides in New Jersey, as Shelden Williams has been tearing down boards for the Nets this season. Williams, who is playing for his seventh NBA team in just his ninth year in the league, has made two starts for New Jersey this season, averaging 4.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. His best performance came in a 101-90 loss to the Miami Heat last Saturday in which Shelden scored eight points and pulled down 13 rebounds in 31 minutes of action. He did have some struggles in a recent game against the Indiana Pacers, where he went 1-for-9 from the field and dunked on himself. I think I’ll leave you at that.

2011: A Year In Review

2011 held a little bit of everything in store for the Duke Blue Devils. There were triumphs and defeats, comings and goings, and a record that will stand the test of time. As the year winds to a close let’s take a look at Duke’s 2011–the good, the bad, and the Crazie.

Unsure when Kyrie would return, Duke fans remained op-toe-mistic. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 1: 2011 kicked off for the Blue Devils without freshman sensation Kyrie Irving, who was sidelined with turf toe after suffering the injury in Duke’s victory over Butler on December 4, 2010. Irving, the team’s leading scorer after Duke’s first eight games, would miss the Blue Devils’ next 26 games with the injury. The Blue Devils were forced to carry on without Irving, and in some ways the results were positive. Kyrie’s absence allowed for the emergence of Nolan Smith as the leader of this team. Smith elevated his play to average 20.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists for his senior season.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils inside in a blowout victory. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 30: Duke suffered its worst loss of the season, falling 93-78 to St. John’s at Cameron North Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils seemed lost from the start, as St. John’s dominated Duke and used the normally Duke-friendly Garden crowd to their advantage. The Red Storm led by as many as 24 points in the second half before Duke made a small run late to keep the score somewhat respectable. Nolan Smith led the Blue Devils with 32 points in a losing effort, but Duke was doomed from the start by its long-range shooting, converting five of their 26 shots from deep. The Blue Devils had not lost to St. John’s since March 2, 2003- at that time Austin Rivers was just 10 years old. Duke would recover and win its next seven contests.

Curry's incredible second half is now stuff of Duke legend. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

February 9: The fifth-ranked Blue Devils knocked off the 21st-ranked Tar Heels 79-73 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Smith led the way with a career-high 34 points, but this was Seth Curry’s coming out party. Curry added 35 quality minutes off the bench in which he scored 22 points–his highest scoring output since he transfered to Duke. Carolina was in complete control of this game in the first half, taking a commanding 43-29 lead going into halftime. Duke came out with a different energy in the second half. They had not one, but two “Patented Duke Runs” of 18-6 and 13-1 in them to erase the 14-point halftime deficit. The second of these runs was nearly all Seth. He posted seven points in just over a minute before Ryan Kelly’s huge three-pointer gave Duke its first lead of the game. Smith added a three-point play to extend the Duke lead to five on the next possession. Curry also posted six rebounds and five assists on the night. UNC would get the best of Duke at the Dean Dome on March 5 with a convincing 75-58 win.

Duke celebrates in style after a second victory over Carolina. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 13: Duke wins its 19th ACC tournament championship in school history with a satisfying 75-58 victory over North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum. Smith led the team with 20 points and 10 assists and earned tournament MVP honors. This was just the eleventh time in school history that a Duke player had posted 20 points and 10 assists in the same game. The victory gave Duke its 10th championship in the last 13 ACC tournaments. The victory over North Carolina was Duke’s 30th in the 2010-2011 season, and would ultimately earn the Blue Devils a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s West Regional.

After three full months without him, Kyrie Irving returned just in time for the tournament. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 19: Possibly the most talked about appendage in Duke history had finally been mended. After 26 games on the bench and becoming a Twitter and internet sensation, Kyrie Irving’s toe had finally healed and he was ready to play once again, just in time for the NCAA tournament. Irving played 20 minutes in Duke’s first NCAA tournament game, an 87-45 victory over 16th-seeded Hampton. He had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting as Duke took a large step toward a deep tournament run, playing with a full roster for the first time since December. Irving would contribute 11 points off the bench in Duke’s 73-71 win over Michigan in the next round. He struggled from the floor, shooting just 1-of-4 from the field in 21 minutes.

Irving was out-dueled by Arizona's Derrick Williams in Duke's Sweet 16 loss. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 24: Duke falls 93-78 to 5th-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16, bringing the Blue Devils’ 2010-2011 season to a close. It was a matchup of the two players who would eventually become the NBA’s top two draft picks. Future #2 overall pick Derrick Williams led the Wildcats with 32 points and 13 rebounds, dominating Duke on the inside. Future #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving led the Blue Devils with 28 points of his own, coming off the bench in his final Duke game. The Blue Devils held a 44-38 lead going into the half, but Arizona came out firing after the break. It seemed as though they couldn’t miss in the second half, shooting 58.3% from the field. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils cooled down significantly, shooting just 9-of-24 in the second half.

Though he only played 11 games for Duke, it was enough to make Kyrie Irving the NBA's #1 pick. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

June 23: Three members of Duke’s 2010-2011 team are drafted into the NBA. Despite a short college career and injury-plagued season, Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nolan Smith was also selected in the first round, 21st overall, joining former Duke guard Elliot Williams as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Kyle Singler was drafted with the third pick of the second round, number 33 overall, by the Detroit Pistons. Irving and Smith have both begun their NBA careers, but spent a lot of time in Durham the following fall during the NBA lockout. Singler, who played for Alicante in Spain during the NBA lockout, elected to remain in Spain for this season. He now plays for Real Madrid. They were not the only Duke players to start their careers in the NBA, however. Lance Thomas, who went undrafted after he graduated in 2010, played his way into a training camp invite from the New Orleans Hornets after a strong showing in the 2011 Pan American Games. He made the Hornets roster on December 24 and appeared in two games before he was waivedon December 31.

Duke basketball's class of 2015: Quinn Cook, Alex Murphy, Austin Rivers, Michael Gbinije, and Marshall Plumlee. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

July 10: It didn’t take very long for the Blue Devils to get back at it, opening practice less than four months after the 2010-2011 season ended. For a year where “Duke Basketball Never Stops” has been the motto, the early start was quite fitting. The first practices brought much change for the Blue Devils, as they said goodbye to their three NBA draft picks and welcomed five new freshmen to the Duke family. This year’s freshman class included silent-but-deadly Michael Gbinije, prep-school star Alex Murphy, the youngest and goofiest of Perky Plumlee’s children, Marshall Plumlee, Nolan Smith’s god-brother Quinn Cook, and Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Duke’s newest players were welcomed to the fold with open arms, and received a fairly large gift when they entered the ranks–a trip overseas.

Only thing that's bigger than the Plumlee brothers? The Great Wall of China. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

August 15:The Blue Devils embarked on a 12-day tour, playing two games in China and one game in Dubai. The team visited Beijing and Shanghai, saw the sites in China, and made a trip to Kunshan with university officials to promote Duke’s new Kunshan campus that is currently under construction. The team used the trip as a bonding experience, and an opportunity for this young team to get some extra practice and playing time. The Blue Devils then traveled to Dubai to promote Duke’s new Dubai campus and face the UAE’s national team. They won all three games they played, and the trip concluded with a trek to the top of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. The trip spanned seven countries and 21,188 miles.

The end of an impressive introduction at Countdown To Craziness. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

October 14:The 2011 Blue Devils make their Cameron Indoor Stadium debut at Countdown to Craziness. The energy in the building was electric as the Cameron Crazies welcomed the team home from their trip abroad and got their first glimpse at all five freshmen. The game was competitive, as Austin Rivers’ White squad came out firing and held a 13 point lead at halftime. The Blue team made a run in the second half behind the play of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Curry had a game-high 28 points as Rivers struggled down the stretch and the experience of the Blue team was the difference maker in a 56-53 win. Miles Plumlee defeated younger brother Marshall in the final of the postgame slam dunk contest, sealing the victory when he jumped over 6-foot-11 Marshall and slammed it home.

The two winningest basketball coaches in Division I history, as Coach K passes Bob Knight. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 15:The Blue Devils defeat Michigan State 74-69 at Madison Square Garden for Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd career victory, passing his mentor Bobby Knight for most all-time in Division I basketball. Knight was in attendance at the game, and the two shared a long embrace immediately following the win. Andre Dawkins scored a career-high 26 points on 6-of-10 from three-point range. Coach K now has 911 career victories.

Duke celebrates its fifth Maui Invitational championship. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 23:Duke wins its fifth Maui Invitational championship, defeating Kansas in the final 68-61. Duke improved to 15-0 at the Maui Invitational all-time as it faced the most competitive field in the history of the tournament. Duke defeated Tennessee in the quarterfinal and Michigan in the semifinal in tight contests. Tyler Thornton came up clutch in the tournament’s final game, knocking down two three-pointers in the last two minutes of the game to give Duke the championship. Ryan Kelly earned tournament MVP honors with 17 points in the final.

A happy and healthy 2012 to our readers from all of us here at Crazie-Talk. 2011 was a fantastic year, and hopefully 2012 will be better (and hopefully the world doesn’t end, that would be nice). As always, stay Crazie, my friends.

The Evolution of Austin Rivers

The Duke basketball program is used to bringing in highly touted freshmen. In any given year, odds are that Duke has landed at least one of the top five high school players in the nation. The Blue Devils have been represented in every single McDonald’s High School All-American game since 1993. Last season, super-freshman Kyrie Irving needed only 11 games to take the NCAA by storm and earn the #1 overall pick in the draft. But although he’s stepping directly into the shadows of Irving, I think we all can agree that there hasn’t been more hype for a Duke freshman than for Austin Rivers.

Rivers’ story is already well known. The Winter Park, Fl. native is the son of former NBA guard and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Doc spent the first nine of his fourteen NBA seasons as a player with the Atlanta Hawks (he also played for Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs.) Living up to a father who played in the NBA is no easy task (and not an uncommon one in the Duke program, just ask Seth Curry, Gerald Henderson or Chris Collins). But being the son of a former NBA player and one of the top coaching minds in basketball means much more than that. Not only do you have to be physically gifted, you’re expected to have excellent basketball instincts.

Rivers was on display from the beginning in the Friendship Games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every fall at Duke is special thanks to the arrival of 1700 new Cameron Crazies, but more importantly it means the arrival of a handful of new campus “gods”: the freshman basketball players. As one of the most heavily hyped freshmen in the country, I can assure you that it didn’t take very long for Rivers to attain celebrity status on campus. Not only had we heard our favorite college basketball analysts raving about this kid and seen endless highlight reels of him on YouTube (my personal favorite being this one of him crossing up 2010 NBA #1 overall pick John Wall), but we were able to catch a glimpse of him playing with the rest of his Blue Devil teammates at the Friendship Games in China and the UAE over the summer. When the season finally started, however, the “Austin Rivers legend” and the 18 year-0ld player were not exactly identical.

Our first glimpse of Rivers at Cameron was at Duke’s annual Countdown to Craziness. Though the general excitement surrounding the event was the kick-off to this team’s run toward a fifth national championship, there wasn’t a soul on campus that didn’t walk into Cameron that day wondering what this kid could really do. Austin was well received by the Duke crowd- as the first player introduced, he received the loudest ovation of the entire evening. Rivers came out on fire, knocking down shots from all over the floor as his White team jumped out to a double-digit lead by halftime. In the second half, the wheels started to fall off a bit. Rivers’ shots were not falling and he became visibly frustrated, affecting his play on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, the Blue team led by veterans Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins came storming back and eventually took home the victory.

Another month of hard work and fine tuning went by, and the Blue Devils were finally ready to start their 2011 season. Even in just 11 games this year, you can examine Rivers’ season in three distinct phases. Here’s a look at Rivers’ performances to date, game by game.

[table id=21 /]

Rivers' worst performance of the season was against Michigan State (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

As you can plainly see, the first few games of the year for Austin Rivers didn’t go so hot. In fact, he looked downright out of sync with the rest of the Duke team. Part of Rivers’ struggles in the opening games of the season resulted from increased pressure for him to step into his team’s vacant role of point guard. When Austin was bringing up the ball more often, he felt more pressure to create and facilitate the offense. This combined with a slightly naïve sense of invincibility left over from his high school playing days resulted in a lot of forced shots and turnovers, and the Duke offense struggled.

Rivers earned his chances at the rim when he was the centerpiece of the offense (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Following a dreadful performance at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, Rivers finally started to slow down and trust in his teammates. In turn, he allowed other players to set him up for open looks and made sure not to waste his opportunities. The point guard responsibilities shifting toward Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton only made matters easier for Rivers, who was able to roam the perimeter in search of open threes when he was off the ball and split double teams to drive down the lane when he was on the ball. However, Rivers’ transformation into the offensive force that he now is was not complete. There were still moments where he would revert back to his old bad habits and force a bad shot or turn the ball over. This second phase of his season was still extremely important, as Duke was able to get quality wins over difficult opponents like Michigan and Kansas. Duke’s drubbing at Ohio State marked the last game of this phase. Rivers put forth one of his better offensive outputs of the season, netting a career-high 22 points while pulling off some dazzling drives.

A more patient Austin Rivers has blended into the Duke offense splendidly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The third phase of Austin’s season was an intriguing one. Rivers stepped back from his role as the team’s primary scorer and once again the Blue Devils scored by committee. However, this is when he began to play his best basketball of the year. It seemed as though the less Rivers had to do, the more he could do. In Duke’s past three games, Rivers hasn’t had to take as many shots, but has converted as a higher percentage and has not stuck out as an individual entity wearing a Duke jersey, but rather a contributing member of Duke’s fluid offensive set. This is a role he has thrived in- his scoring has not dropped whatsoever and he is contributing more to the team. I’ve watched every single Duke basketball game this year and wrote about most of them, and I’ll still contend that the Austin Rivers moment that got me the most excited had nothing to do with a steal, dunk, or 3-pointer, but rather when I got home from the Colorado State game on December 7, checked a box score and realized he scored a beautifully quiet and efficient 17 points, and then rewatched the game and witnessed how incredibly he flowed within the offense for the first time all year.

Our mission at Crazie-Talk is to bring you all aspects of Duke basketball: the good, the bad, and the Crazie. Ironically, that is exactly the way to sum up Austin Rivers’ young freshman season–the first part was bad, in the second part he became the focus of the offense and went a bit Crazie (not necessarily in a good way), and the third part has been very, very good. Let’s take a look at Austin’s averages from his three phases of this season, “The Bad” being the year’s first three games, “The Crazie” being from Davidson to Ohio State, and “The Good” being Duke’s past three games.
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So which of these would you rather have? Obviously we’re getting rid of Austin at the beginning of the year where he wasn’t playing well overall, but I’d rather have the Rivers that plays fewer minutes and shoots less, while making more, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the offense. It sounds almost like a no-brainer.

Just like last season, the Blue Devils enter the ACC regular season headlined by a stud freshman as their leading scorer. Unlike last season, this year’s stud freshman is not sidelined by an injury that will cost him 20 or so games. Just like any first-year player, the ACC  season will be another transition for Austin Rivers, so don’t go jumping off the bandwagon if he has a tough game or two, especially as he gets accustomed to the intensity of ACC road tests. But over the course of this young season, we have learned a lot about who Austin Rivers really is–he is developing, he is learning quickly. He has become an integral member of this offense and he is earning the hype. At this point in his freshman year, Rivers is nowhere near the “finished product” that Kyrie Irving was in December, but he is improving at a scary pace. And we get to watch. We see these glimpses of greatness that a year ago were only reserved for our computer screens on YouTube, as game by game the greatness begins to take over.

It will be something special to witness.

The Rookies

Howdy, folks! The NBA season is finally upon us, and as Duke fans, we are lucky enough to have plenty of former Blue Devils to watch in the league. However, there are four former Blue Devils who may be playing their first years of professional basketball this year – and I’m here to talk about each one of them. We’ll start with a guy who’s been #1 on the court and #1 in all of our hearts here at Crazie Talk for quite some time – Kyrie Irving.

Cheesin'. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

As the first overall pick in the draft (and Duke’s first overall pick since Elton Brand), Kyrie certainly has high expectations for himself for his rookie year. As we were able to see in person (albeit briefly), Kyrie’s ability to change speeds and use his instincts to control the game make him the best point guard prospect in years and earned him comparisons to none other than Chris Paul.

Irving did pretty well in his preseason debut for the Cavs, collecting 21 points on 4-14 shooting and making a living at the free throw line. He struggled in his second preseason contest, but continued to get to the charity stripe with success. Because of Cleveland’s personnel (or lack thereof), it seems likely that the majority of the Cavs offense will come from Irving penetrating and/or getting to the line, or in transition with Kyrie running the break.

From Tom Reed, of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

 The image of Irving leading the break will become a familiar one this season, as the Cavaliers find ways to manufacture offense. After years of searching for secondary scoring in support of LeBron James, they must generate it by committee in a rebuilding season.

Irving has shown the willingness and fearlessness to play that style. In preseason, he averaged 16 points and got to the line 16 times, converting 14 free throws. But is the 6-2, 180-pounder durable enough to absorb the elbows and forearm shivers that come with repeatedly driving the lane?

[Cleveland forward Antawn] Jamison said Irving is still learning some of the finer points of the position but enjoys watching him run the floor and create offense.

“Young fella is going to be all right,” Jamison said. “I try to get on him and try to find weaknesses. But he is tough and he brings it.”

Although Kyrie came off the bench behind Ramon Sessions during the preseason, expect him to get the starting nod sooner rather than later. The Cavaliers’ best chance of success lies with Irving running the show. While the post-LeBron rebuilding process will take some time, having a guy like Kyrie at the helm makes for a bright, bright future.

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Of course, Kyrie is not Duke’s only alum who plans on making his debut in the NBA next week. One of our favorite Dukies ever – Mr. Nolan Smith – will make his NBA debut with the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday against the Sixers. Unlike Kyrie, who has been forced to learn the ropes himself,  Nolan has had the opportunity to learn  under another former Tobacco Road lead guard – Raymond Felton.

Nolan wears Todd Zafirovski pajamas, too. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

From Joe Freeman, of The Oregonian:

When the Trail Blazers introduced Felton and Smith during a June news conference, they touted the duo as the franchise’s present and future at point guard, proclaiming that they would be a fixture in Portland for years to come. Tonight, when the Utah Jazz visit the Rose Garden in the Blazers’ exhibition opener, Blazers fans will get a first look at what this future holds.

There is a bubbling feeling among the Blazers that the team will be a particularly tight-knit group, that chemistry and togetherness will be trademarks of the lockout-shortened 66-game season. This is particularly evident at point guard, where Felton has pushed ego and competition aside to assume a mentorship role with the rookie Smith.

You should definitely check out the rest of Freeman’s piece on the relationship between Ray and Nolan – but it’s safe to say that Nolan is in a great position to start his career. Currently, he stands to be the backup point, paired with another former Dukie – Elliot Williams – as the backup two guard. Aside from the 27-year old Felton, Portland is young in the backcourt – Smith is 23, Williams is 22, and starting SG Wesley Matthews is 25. That core is only going to get better with time – and we know from first-hand experience that Nolan has consistently gotten better over the years. The Blazers should be a pretty decent team this year, and I’m definitely excited to watch Nolan play and progress this year.

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This guy is a beast. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

If you were to tell me that Lance Thomas would be the first player from Duke’s 2010 National Championship team to play in an NBA game, I would have thought (with good reason) that you were crazy. Lance proved the doubters wrong last week as he made the start for the New Orleans Hornets against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 7 points and grabbing 8 boards in 30 minutes of action. He was much less effective in the Hornets’ second preseason contest, but he may have a shot at making the regular season roster. Though New Orleans has brought in quite a few bodies to fill the frontcourt – Jason Smith, Gustavo Ayon, Emeka Okafor, and Chris Kaman, among others – Hornets coach Monty Williams has been impressed with Lance’s effort thus far.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“There are no issues. Guys get hit in practice, and you don’t want a small thing to turn into a big thing because we didn’t take a day or two off. We’re going to see what we have tonight. It’s an opportunity to get a look at Quincy and Al-Farouq (Aminu) at the three-spot, and Lance has earned these minutes. He’s played hard every single day in practice. All those guys have.”

As an able defender with size and a relentless motor, Lance could very well turn into a high energy glue guy in the league. Here’s to hoping he makes the final cut in N’Awlins.

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Ah, the lone wolf of the pack – Kyle Singler. As many of you know, Kyle elected to remain in Spaininstead of heading back to Detroit to join the Pistons as their second round draft selection. He signed on with Real Madrid for the remainder of the season, after averaging 15 points in nine games for Alicante.

The Kingler enjoys the rain in Spain. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

While many NBA players returned back to the U.S  from European or Chinese leagues, Singler was one of the few who elected to remain overseas.

From NBA.com:

“I thought here in Spain there was good basketball to be played. There was no rush to go to the NBA and play there,” Singler said. “I wanted to come here and play for Madrid, play for a great club and next year have the opportunity to go to the NBA.”

Moving to the Spanish capital has given Singler the chance to play in the Euroleague, where he debuted Wednesday and scored eight points in 24 minutes in Madrid’s 101-83 win over Partizan.

Singler said the Pistons were eager for him to return.

“I haven’t talked to them very much but when I decided to stay I know they were a little disappointed,” Singler said. “But I wasn’t really focused on that. I was making a decision that was best for me.”

It is great to see Kyle doing so well in Spain; his play will almost certainly earn him a raise when he does elect to return to play for the Pistons. Although he may have to deal with idiot fans like this. Either way, we wish him the best of luck for the rest of the year in Madrid.

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Well folks, that’s all we’ve got for now. We’re really looking forward to following these guys as the NBA season starts – and we’ll be sure to keep you up to date on how they’re doing.

Happy Festivus, everyone!

Au Revoir, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving has announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and forego his final three years of eligibility at Duke.

 

Kyrie's last game against Arizona was one of his best in a Duke uniform. (courtesy of BluePlanetShots.com)

Kyrie leaves behind a difficult-to-digest legacy, as he only competed in 11 of Duke’s games this season. This writer, having been abroad in the fall semester, never got to see Kyrie play in Cameron, or in a live game at all. Although it’s incredibly disappointing to see him go, we cannot blame Kyrie for chasing his dream of playing professional basketball. He is still a Blue Devil, and always will be.

We wish him a great and healthy career wherever he ends up playing, and we hope he comes back to Durham to cheer on his team, as he did throughout his difficult injury.

UPDATE: Kyrie talks about his decision in this video from GoDuke.com:

Enjoy these highlights from Kyrie’s first huge performance on a national stage–31 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against Michigan State.

And then maybe this video on Duke’s upset of UNLV in 1991 will help ease your aching spirits. Yes, it was an upset, Seth Davis.

 

Deviled Eggs: 3/28/2011

Alright, so Duke’s 2010-2011 campaign is now finished. The end of the season is always tough, but here’s your silver lining; Deviled Eggs are back!

It does stink to have to start these a few weeks early, but what’s done is done. I’m sure most of you spent the rest of the weekend trying to avoid the productivity black hole that is college basketball in March, so here are six of this week’s best links on the interwebs that might be of interest to you.

 

From blueplanetshots.com

I don't know how much attention this Duke cheerleader gets. So here you go, hon. You're famous! (Courtesy of DBP's Photo website, BluePlanetShots.com)

1. Austin Rivers on The Fab Five and Jalen Rose’s Uncle Tom comments

Not sure how much coaching AR got on this article. But good lord, man. If he wrote any of it, he’s going to represent himself well at this University. Better than half of the humanities majors at this school! #notmeanttooffend

2. SethCurrySavesDuke on the Kyrie Irving twitter saga

(Editor’s note: Good lord I’m proud to be a Duke English major when there are people like Shane at SCSD out there)

Must read for those who want one possible explanation for Kyrie deleted his twitter. He’s back, by the way. @RealKyrieIrving. Tweet a lot of things about you know. Coming back.

3. DeAndre Daniels: MORE 2011 recruits???

If you want to read a LOT about this potential power forward recruit (who’s rated 9th in the country at that position), go to The Devil’s Den message boards. More than enough wacky theories and “insiders,” right JohnTDD?

4. “Is Brandon Knight Kentucky’s best freshman ever?”

So says Cincinnati.com…maybe? I think he’s more accomplished than Wall, but there’s a guy named Jamal Mashburn who might have something to say about that title. Or not?

Neither Rex Chapman nor Sam Bowie nor Jamal Mashburn nor Chris Mills nor Kenny Walker nor Ed Davender nor Ron Mercer nor Rajon Rondo nor Keith Bogans nor Patterson nor anyone else you can think (even Alex Groza) had the statistical or even intangible impact Knight has had.

Ugh. I don’t even follow Kentucky and I can tell that’s a stupid article written by some whiskey drunk Western Ky. grad who always wanted Big Blue…but never quite made it. Sad life.

5. Charlotte Observer on Andre Dawkins’ next steps

Ah, that’s more like it! Useful articles by people who cover the Triangle instead of the “Commonwealth of Kentucky.” Man, all the Ph.D’s around here must wear off on everyone.

(Ed. note: how many of our readers have doctorates or majorly advanced degrees of some sort? Just wondering. Tweet us @crazietalker or comment below. Go Duke.)

6. Follow @DaggumRoy, @NotCoachK, @NotBradStevens and more on Twitter!

It started with @DaggumRoy. Then @FakeJayBilas. Then…in a stroke of genius, somebody made @NotCoachK. Follow them all on Twitter via @crazietalker‘s list.

Here’s K’s bio from @NotCoachK:

Almost NCAA #winning-est Duke coach. Dammit, Derrick Williams. From mean street Chicago. Don’t mess with me–I’ll buy your hometown and turn it into a charity.

 

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The offseason is going to be fun. Go Duke. Thank you seniors. We’re going to miss you, but you all have accomplished so much and there’s much left to do going forward. You’ll have a Duke diploma–you’re set. Good luck. And hopefully you’ll all be pulling for Butler this weekend…you totally screwed them over last year.

Check out Crazie-Talk TV’s video of the Kyle, Nolan and Casey doing their senior speeches below. Subscribe to us on YouTube, you connected weirdos. And if you’re on LinkedIn….well. We’re sort of hard to find there. 🙂

(Ed.’s note: UP NEXT FROM CRAZIE-TALK: The Arizona Post-Mortem. Coming once I gather my thoughts. –@JGStanley12)

 

Section 17: Road Block in Blacksburg

As the ESPN College GameDay crew cast their game predictions moments before Duke and Virginia Tech tipped last night, Bob Knight—clad in his trademark v-neck sweater—said one word. “Duke.” And proceeded to stare into space.

Duke held a six point lead with eight minutes to go, but Virginia Tech simply wanted it more down the stretch. (Photo: DukeBluePlanet.com)

The General was so close to being right. But the Hokies prevailed 64-60 in a game VT guard Malcolm Delaney called “the biggest of my life.” Delaney didn’t deliver on his promise until 2:02 left in the second half, when he hit his first 3 pointer to give his team a lead it didn’t relinquish.

In lieu of focusing on the heart of the home team, which was considerably large last night, let’s see what we can gather about our performance in our penultimate ACC road game.

  • Without Irving in the lineup, Duke’s post players are ineffective. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are a particular breed of player—winners. But while each of them are usually comfortable taking (and making) big shots, it didn’t happen last night, as the seniors combined to shoot 15-37 from the field. Nolan only had two assists against VT’s stifling perimeter defense. So what does this have to do with Kyrie? Well, Irving made this team great by getting everyone involved, including the Plumlees. Remember Mason’s 25 point performance against Marquette? You can credit Irving’s 7 assists for much of that, as he knows how to set up big men. Nolan and Kyle didn’t demonstrate that skill last night, and our interior play suffered. Particularly when the Plumlees would rather try to tip dunk misses than get an easy putback and Ryan Kelly is bricking threes.
  • It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…Not just advice from this guy. With 7:33 left in the game, Duke was up 53-47. Greenberg called a timeout, VT settled down and outscored Duke 17 to 7 the rest of the way. How did this happen? Well, our free throw woes didn’t help—Nolan and Mason went 1 for 3 with under 30 seconds to go. But that was after Miles boneheadedly missed a dunk, Kyle missed some tough contested “hero shot” jumpers, and the Hokies somehow outfought Duke for every loose ball. It was a grueling game, and the pressure was certainly more on the home team to win and (maybe) make the Big Dance for the first time in however long. But at Duke, our expectations are higher. When we play teams like VT in the Tournament, we have to step on their throats in the final 8 minutes. That ruthlessness has gotten Coach K the second most wins of all time. And it will get Duke back to the Final Four if we learn it now.
  • We must have a third scorer. Again, the Big 3 would be intact if Irving were in action. Since December, our offensive strategy has been “The Big 2″—Kyle and Nolan—plus whomever felt like stepping up that game. It’s been Curry and Kelly on the offensive end, and Mason and Thornton on defense. We’ve put together some ramshackle wins with Irving on the bench in a cast. Last night, though, it was just the Big 2—Kyle had 22 and Nolan 18. But with the seniors’ inefficient shooting and Seth Curry nowhere to be found, the offensive attack sputtered. This will not do.
  • A number one seed is still possible, no matter what ESPN tells you. Congrats to BYU for winning on the road and all, but I’ll still match our resume with theirs. A top line seed is still within our reach. Texas laid an egg at Colorado yesterday, which is a much more embarrassing loss than ours. Kansas has been inconsistent and could easily lose in the competitive Big 12 Tournament. Ditto Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, and Pitt in the Big East. Duke? Well, we play in the pitiful ACC. We should beat Clemson, and we have a good shot at North Carolina. If we win those two, we’ll sit at 28-3 and will have won the ACC regular season. We have owned the conference Tournament as well, and nobody takes that more seriously than K. With our out of conference wins looking better with the resurgence of Michigan State, Kansas State and Marquette, our Strength of Schedule will likely climb. And don’t be surprised if Jimmer Fredette somehow shoots 8-35 (gasp!) and BYU drops a game to some West coast rando.
  • Save the Toe. All said and done, we certainly hope Kyrie can come back for the Dance. At least one local yokel writer “wouldn’t be surprised” if he does. Everyone has been rumbling about it on the Twittersphere, including the man himself. Yeah, Kyrie. We’re op(toe)mistic about your comeback too. Mostly because opponents will quake in their Kobes when they think that the 26-3 Duke Blue Devils won 18 of those games without the nation’s best point guard. More importantly, the team would be complete again for the best month of the year.

That’s all from me. I always get wired after losses, and would love for some soothing words from our readers. Leave your thoughts about our beloved Blue Devils in the comments section, or give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s go Duke. Let’s keep working harder.

P.S. Vote for Nolan to win the Cousy Award!