Duke Basketball: Ranking the 5 Greatest Point Guards in Blue Devil History
Playing point guard at Duke is one of the more prestigious positions in all of sports. As a point guard himself, Mike Krzyzewski has recruited and tutored some truly great players at that position.
Point guard play, therefore, has been at the center of Duke’s rise to a national power. This list of the top five point guards to ever play at Duke evidences how important point guard play has been to the Blue Devils.
The point guards on this list not only combined talent and high basketball IQs, but also they led Duke to some of the program’s most successful years.
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In order to sort out the long list of candidates for the top five, there have to be some hard and fast guidelines. So the list that follows is based upon a few things.
First, the person had to play point guard. Second, the person had to be extremely talented at that position. Third, the person had to contribute to the tradition of excellence associated with playing point guard at Duke.
In short, to make the list the player had to combine talent, stats, team accomplishments and leave a legacy at Duke.
The result is that Kyrie Irving, for all his talents, didn’t make the top five due to the limited number of games he played as a Blue Devil. Others who just barely missed the cut are Chris Duhon, Nolan Smith/Jon Scheyer, Steve Wojciechoski, Quin Snyder and Jim Spanarkel.
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Dawkins might not immediately come to mind as a point guard. However, he played point guard for a season before moving to shooting guard to accommodate the arrival Tommy Amaker.
Though Dawkins was just a freshman, he handled the pressure of playing point guard extremely well. He averaged 18.1 points per game. Beyond the scoring, Dawkins totaled 134 assists to only 103 turnovers (via GoDuke).
Despite Dawkins’ great play, the Blue Devils weren’t particularly good in 1982-83. Duke was 11-17 that year and finished seventh in the ACC. But it was Dawkins playing point guard that year that set Duke on the path to success.
Duke won 24 and 23 games in Dawkins’ sophomore and junior seasons. In his final year at Duke, Dawkins led the 1985-86 team to the NCAA championship game. Even though he only played point guard as a freshman, Dawkins was an integral part of establishing Duke’s rise to national prominence under Coach K.
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Since it was Amaker that moved Dawkins out of the point guard position, it makes sense to rank him ahead of Dawkins in a list of top five point guards. In truth, the fact that Amaker ranks fourth on this list says a great deal about the quality of point guards Duke has enjoyed.
Over his career, Amaker amassed 708 assists (via GoDuke). At the time, that was the highest assist total ever put together by a Duke player. The teams Amaker played on had a lot of talented players. Amaker’s job was to run the offensive sets and distribute the ball. He did it like a maestro conducting an orchestra and the likes of Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Danny Ferry all benefited from his offensive mastery.
Amaker also set a new record for career steals with 259. It gets lost in Amaker’s ability to run the offense, but he was a phenomenal defensive player. In 1987 Amaker was named Defensive Player of the Year.
By the end of his Duke career, Amaker had started every game played in and seen the Blue Devils rise to a national power with him at the helm. He also set the precedent for Duke point guards as playmakers and facilitators.
Dick Groat might be the greatest athlete the Blue Devils ever had.
After being named an All-American twice and setting the season scoring record, Groat went on to play short stop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St Louis Cardinals. As impressive as his professional baseball career was, Groat was one of Duke’s best point guards.
On the hardwood, Groat led the Blue Devils in both scoring and assists. As the focal point of the Duke teams he was apart of, Groat became one of the nation’s best players.
In 1951 he was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year and the UPI National Player of the Year in 1952. As one of Duke’s first truly great players, Groat has to be on any list regarding all-time Duke legends. As a point guard, his skills, stats and legacy are more than enough to earn him the No. 3 spot.
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Like Dick Groat, Duke only got three seasons out of Jason Williams. However, the three seasons the Blue Devils got out of Williams were possibly the greatest three seasons ever put together by a Duke point guard.
On day one, Coach K made Williams the Blue Devils’ starting point guard. From then on, Williams started every game of his Duke career. As a freshman, Williams averaged 14.5 points and finished third on the team in scoring. With that first season under his belt, Williams had the experience and confidence to take over the Duke team.
As a sophomore he averaged 21.6 points and as a junior he scored 21.3 points per game. Though his assists went down each year as he took more and more of a scoring role, Williams never averaged less than 5.3 assists per game (via GoDuke). In fact, the 644 career assists that Williams accumulated are fourth most ever by a Blue Devil (via DukeReport).
That is all the more impressive considering that he did it in only three seasons and another year of 187 assists—what he had as a junior—would’ve put him at second all-time.
As one of Duke’s greatest scorers, passers and defenders, Jason Williams merits being second on the list of greatest Blue Devil point guards. Also, unlike any of the point guards ranked below him, Williams was a point guard for a Duke championship in 2001.
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When you think of the quintessential Duke point guard, the image of Bobby Hurley comes to mind.
Hurley combines all the positives of the other players on this list. He played the point guard position for Coach K for four full years. Over that time, his scoring ability increased, but his assist totals never suffered to accommodate his scoring role. Hurley’s senior year he had highs in both assists per game and points per game (via GoDuke).
Even though he’s not generally regarded as one of the Blue Devils’ best scorers, only as a freshman did Hurley average single-digit points per game. Over his career, he actually had a high three-point shooting percentage than Jason Williams.
Hurley is also ninth on Duke’s career steals list, so his defense was also of a high quality.
Of course, it wasn’t Hurley’s scoring prowess or defense that was the defining feature of his Duke career.
As great as a Jason Williams was, his best season in assists was 237. Hurley’s lowest season assist total was 237. So Williams’ best was Hurley’s worst. Famously Hurley is Duke’s all time leader in career assists. His 1,076 assists are over 200 more than second place (via DukeReport).
Beyond all the stats, Bobby Hurley is the only Duke point guard to have lead his team to two national championships. At the end of the day, Hurley could facilitate for other and score when he needed to. He was the picture of offensive efficiency and his winning legacy and talent make him the greatest Duke point guard of all time.