The Duke Blue Devils NBA draft class hasn’t gathered much buzz, contrary to recent years when they touted an aurora of high-fliers and potential franchise changers. With the Covid pandemic changing the entire landscape of college basketball, the season was cut short during the first round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro several months ago. Nevertheless, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all decided to forgo their upcoming seasons and chase their child-hood dreams by placing their names in the NBA draft early entry protocol.
This year’s Blue Devil NBA draft class includes three projected first and second round picks – arguably the best big man in the ACC last season in Vernon Carey, the best on-ball defender and floor general in the country in Tre Jones and the best overall prospect and complete athlete in Cassius Stanley.
The last time a Duke prospect wasn’t selected in the lottery was 2013 (Mason Plumlee-Brooklyn Nets). This year that seems to be the inevitable – with a Duke player rumored to not be chosen until the middle of the first round. But that doesn’t mean one of the three Dukies won’t make an immediate impact on one of the thirty NBA teams.
Let’s evaluate Duke’s draft prospects.
NBA Comparison –Michael Conley, Jrue Holiday
Strengths- Ball hawk on defense, similar to Pat Beverly; frustrates the ball handler 90 feet, baseline to baseline. Ability to set tone on offense and pace. True floor general with the ball in hand, not allowing the defender to dictate the flow of the game. Able to finish at the rim and hit free throws – shooting 77 percent last season. Tre is coachable and willing to be coached. Shot 42 percent from the field his sophomore season, including 36 percent from downtown; a 10 percent differential from his freshman season. A pass first point guard with a 6 to 2 assist to turnover ratio demonstrates Tre’s ability to not become turnover prone. Jones has a beautiful midrange game and can attack off the dribble at first glance. Tre (like his brother and national champion Tyus “Stones” Jones) wants to win at any cost, willing putting stats behind him. Defensively, Tre doesn’t gamble, communicates on all facets full court and half-court defense. Defends the pick and roll and times the passing lane like no other.
Weakness- Athleticism and explosion from the guard position needs major improvement when guarding athletic point guards at the next level (Lillard, Westbrook, Walker). Improvement on creating his own shot. Tre in Coach K’s system his freshman season was more of the setup guy and rightfully so playing alongside the NPOY Zion Williamson; demonstrated his sophomore season ability to create his own shot at times, but could improve when forced to attack the bigs in the paint. Streaky shooter needing more consistency from downtown.
Projection- Early second round
NBA Comparison–Terrence Ross, Derrick Jones Jr.
Strengths- Stanley makes a great argument on being the most athletic overall player on both ends of the ball in this year’s NBA draft. Long wingspan averaging over 6 foot 7. Stanley has the highest vertical ever for a player coming from Duke (46’; Yes that includes Zion). Brings the energy on both ends of the floor. Talks on defense. Ability to finish at and above the rim, through contact. Cassius runs the floor exceptionally well, with great lateral speed guarding the opposing team’s best player in crucial moments. Capable of hitting the 3, shooting 36 percent from downtown in his only season at Duke. Ability to guard multiple positions (1-3)
Weakness- Cassius needs to put on 10-15 pounds of muscle his rookie season in the league. Skinny frame could force Stanley into pick and roll mismatches against bigger, athletic wings. Improvement creating his own shot, attacking the lane with more control against a set defense. Improvement on moving without the ball for easy shots. At times seemed to disappear within the offense; More consistency and urgency finding his shot.
Projection- Mid first round
NBA Comparison- Al Horford, Al Jefferson
Strengths- Vernon was a force inside the paint at Duke averaging 17 points & 8 rebounds with ability to drop 30 on any given night. The number 1 option at Duke and best big man in the ACC, Carey often intimidated opposing opponents with his big frame and wingspan. Capable of shooting the trifecta (38 percent at Duke). Runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man and gets back on defense. Performs best against superior competition. Plays tough and finishes at the rim. Can knock down the 10-15 ft. midrange, which will expand his game at the next level. According to NBA Central, Carey has worked on his physique this offseason shedding 30 pounds. Carey has the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack them rim with control.
Weakness- Pick and roll defense was subpar while at Duke, often forcing Duke to run zone to protect his blemishes moving his feet on defense. Perimeter defense could use improvement at the next level. Being a traditional NBA center, Carey will have to expand his midrange game and perimeter shot in the league. Today’s NBA centers play outside the paint, so Carey’s ability to move laterally on defense will be paramount. NBA teams will force Carey to hit the outside jump-shot consistently. Carey’s ability to hit the jump-shot respectively will increase his minutes on the floor.
Projection- Early second round (with potential to go late first round)