Duke Basketball: Power Ranking All of Their NBA First-Round Draft Picks
When college basketball legacies are discussed, several teams immediately come into mind. Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA all have storied histories and tradition, places where the three most important things are basketball, basketball and basketball.
All have had star players and national champions and Final Fours. All have had high-profile coaches and programs since, it seems, the beginning of time.
Duke University belongs with this group.
Because of their commitment to continuity and excellence, the Blue Devils brought home their fourth national championship last season, solidifying their spot as one of the all-time great programs.
Many tremendous college players have seen action with the Blue Devils. Most of these players have gone on to successful careers in something other than basketball. Some were fortunate enough to play basketball professionally and a handful (a few handfuls) were taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
For some, it was a blessing, and for others it seemed a curse, reminding us as fans that the two levels of basketball are very difficult to compare.
With apologies to Dick Groat and Art Heyman, here is a graded list of Duke first-round picks and how they fared in the NBA. Based on production, longevity and success, this is one person's look at how the first-rounders rate overall.
25. Tate Armstrong: 1977, 13th Overall, Chicago Bulls
Armstrong played just two seasons with the Bulls, averaging 3.8 points and 1.1 assists per game. He did play for the U.S. team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal before his brief stint in the pros.
24. William Avery: 1999, 14th Overall, Minnesota Timberwolves
The fourth Blue Devil drafted in the first round of the 1999 draft, Avery played only three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves before moving to Europe to play professionally with a long list of teams. Avery averaged just 2.7 points and 1.4 assists in 142 games with the T-Wolves.
He never panned out and wasn’t offered a contract by anyone after his third season in Minnesota. Avery left Duke early, possibly hoping to cash in on a weak draft. It didn’t work out.
23. Trajan Langdon: 1999, 11th Overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
Langdon played parts of just three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 5.4 points per game in 119 contests. He never really found his niche in the NBA.
At 6’3”, he really wasn’t a true point guard and was too small at the two-guard spot. He has played in the Euroleague since 2003 and currently plays for CSKA Moscow, with whom he won the Euroleague Final MVP in 2008.
Simply a case of a player’s game not being suited for the NBA. In a “down” draft year, Langdon was probably worth the risk.
22. Jay Williams: 2002, 2nd Overall, Chicago Bulls
The most promising guard that Duke has seen had an NBA career that lasted only 75 games—or one season. Williams was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash that ended his career. Tryouts in 2006 and this season with the Miami Heat were unsuccessful.
Williams will not be in the NBA again. It was a good pick by the Bulls, but it was unfortunate circumstances or poor judgement on Williams’ part that ruined it.
21. Bobby Hurley: 1993, 7th Overall, Sacramento Kings
One of the most decorated Blue Devil guards of all-time, Hurley’s career was cut short due to injuries sustained in a car accident in his rookie season. He played three years after recovering but retired in 1998 at the age of 27.
On leadership alone, Hurley was worth the pick. He might never have been a star but would have certainly been a contributor. Another tragic professional ending for a Duke point man.
20. Alaa Abdelnaby: 1990, 25th Overall, Portland Trail Blazers
Abdelnaby averaged 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in five-year career with Portland, Milwaukee, Boston, Sacramento and Philadelphia. Big men are often a gamble and the late first-round selection suggests that he was just that.
Abdelnaby was a decent backup who never found a home in the NBA.
19. Mark Alarie: 1986, 18th Overall, Denver Nuggets
Drafted by the Denver Nuggets, Alarie played one year there and four in Washington before knee problems forced his retirement at the age of 27. He averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds for his career.
18. Cherokee Parks: 1995, 12th Overall, Dallas Mavericks
The 12th pick overall of the Dallas Mavericks, Parks saw action with seven teams, none of which contended. He averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game his career as a journeyman with a high of 7.1 ppg for Minnesota in 1997-98.
Using the 12th pick for Parks was questionable. However, this year in particular was known for big draft busts. Kevin Garnett was the fifth player taken that year. Hmmm.
17. Dahntay Jones: 2003, 20th Overall, Boston Celtics (to Memphis)
Jones has been a career role player for four teams, including the Indiana Pacers, where he currently plies his trade. He had career highs in minutes played (24.9) and points (10.2) last year with the Pacers, but has been slowed by injuries this season.
Jones will be a support player in the NBA. There isn’t one specific aspect of his game that sets him apart from others that play the two-guard or small forward spot. As a first-round pick, more was expected of Jones, but the draft is always a bit of a crapshoot after the first 10 or 15 picks. The first, fourth and fifth players taken that year are now on the same team (Miami Heat).
The second player taken was Darko Milicic.
16. Sheldon Williams: 2006, 5th Overall, Atlanta Hawks
Picked by the Atlanta Hawks, Williams played in 81 games his rookie season but has since played in no more than 54 games in one season. He averages 14 minutes, 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game for his career that includes stops in Sacramento, Minnesota, Boston and Denver.
Williams may yet find his niche in the league but doesn’t have the size to play where he is most comfortable—down low. The fifth pick was way too high for Williams, but this draft had a paucity of big men and the Hawks were trying to fill a need.
15. Jim Spanarkel: 1979, 16th Overall, Philadelphia 76ers
Spanarkel played five years, averaging 9.7 points per game, including 14.4 per game in 1980. He retired after the 1984 season. He later became a basketball broadcaster/analyst for NBA games.
Spanarkel was, like many Duke players, a leader and well-grounded in the fundamentals of the game.
14. Danny Ferry: 1989, 2nd Overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
A bench player for all but two of his 13 seasons in the NBA, Ferry had career averages of seven points and three rebounds per game. He played 10 seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who picked him second in the 1989 draft and finished his career with the San Antonio Spurs, winning a championship in 2002-2003.
Longevity and a couple of good seasons keep Ferry off of the huge bust list. There was some head-shaking when the pick was made, though.
13. Gerald Henderson: 2009, 12th Overall, Charlotte Hornets
Henderson has seen limited minutes for the Hornets so it is difficult to project how things will go for him. He is undersized for the small forward spot, which he is suited to, but is not a good enough shooter to play the two guard.
His shooting and decision-making need to improve for him to find his niche in the NBA.
12. J.J. Reddick: 2006, 11th Overall, Orlando Magic
J.J. Reddick has spent his entire career with the Orlando Magic and has gradually seen his playing time increase each season. He averaged a career-high 9.6 points per game last year and has become a reliable and important bench player for the Magic.
The most improved part of his game? His defense.
The Magic have a solid team and Redick’s role has expanded due to the way he has worked to make himself a better all-around player. He could average over 10 points per game on what should be a contender.
After an outstanding college career, expectations that this would translate immediately to the NBA were too lofty.
11. Mike Dunleavy: 2002, 3rd Overall, Golden State Warriors
Grabbed by Golden State one pick after Jay Williams, Dunleavy has enjoyed a steady, if unspectacular career, first with the Warriors and now with the Indiana Pacers.
His scoring average spiked in his first full season in Indiana as he hit for 19 per game. For his career, Dunleavy averages 12 points and close to five rebounds per game.
A serviceable player who understands the game and can do a number of things well, Dunleavy probably didn’t warrant the three spot in the draft but will enjoy a long and consistent career.
10. Mike Gminski: 1980, 7th Overall, New Jersey Nets
Gminski was a durable, productive big man for 14 seasons in the NBA, playing for New Jersey, Philadelphia and Charlotte before ending his career with a brief stint at Milwaukee. He averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for his career but in his prime with the Nets was good for 16 and 10.
As the game was changing and big men were at a premium, Gminski consistently displayed the value of a good big man.
9. Shane Battier: 2001, 6th Overall, Memphis Grizzlies
After his 14.4 points per game in his rookie season for the Memphis Grizzlies, expectations were high.
Two seasons later, Battier was coming off of the bench. Other than 2003-04, he has been a starter every season. His strengths aren’t on offense but on team play and defending. Battier averages 10 points and five boards for his career.
Battier will continue to be “glue guy” on teams he suits up for. He is not flashy but understands the game and the team concept. I’d love to see him in San Antonio. He was probably a mid-first-round pick but has always had a big upside.
8. Jack Marin: 1966, 5th Overall, Baltimore Bullets
The fifth pick (of only 10 drafted) of the 1966 draft, Marin was taken by the Baltimore Bullets where he played six seasons. He helped lead Baltimore to the NBA finals in 1971, where they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.
A career 15 point-per-game scorer, Marin had a 22.3 ppg average in his last season with the Bullets. He was traded to Houston for Elvin Hayes following the season.
Buffalo and Chicago followed for Marin, who played a total of 11 seasons in the NBA. Ironically, he was traded by Buffalo to Chicago in 1975 for a future first-round pick, which turned out to be Tate Armstrong.
7. Christian Laettner: 1992, 3rd Overall, Minnesota Timberwolves
Best known for “The Shot,” Laettner had a good NBA career, averaging 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game spanning 868 contests.
He also played in 45 playoff games and saw action with Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington and Miami. And, despite some mixed reviews, seems to be a good guy. In 2000, he donated $1 million to his high school.
Laettner performed as well as a top pick could be expected in his first three years with the T-Wolves. This draft year also featured Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, who were picked first and second.
His stock with the team was compromised when the Wolves drafted Kevin Garnett, who essentially played the same position.
6. Johnny Dawkins: 1986, 10th Overall, San Antonio Spurs
Dawkins had a solid career with San Antonio, Philadelphia and Detroit, averaging 11.1 points and 5.5 assists per game.
He played nine seasons, although he was limited in one year to four games. He was a good scorer and excellent distributor before injuries began to limit his minutes. He retired relatively early and is now head coach at Stanford after serving his apprenticeship with Coach K at Duke.
A good pick at No. 10, Dawkins was unfortunate not to have had a longer and more productive career.
5. Jeff Mullins: 1964, 5th Overall, St. Louis
Mullins had a fine 12-year career with St. Louis and San Francisco/Golden State.
He averaged just over 16 points and four rebounds per game and appeared in the NBA finals twice, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967 as a member of the San Francisco Warriors and winning the title as a member of the Golden State Warriors with a 4-0 sweep of Baltimore.
4. Corey Maggette: 1999, 13th Overall, Orlando Magic
Now in his 12th NBA season, Maggette has been a starter for about 60 per cent of his 727 games for Orlando, the Clippers, Golden State and now Milwaukee. He has done one thing consistently and that is score. His career average sits at 16.5 points per game, and despite averaging only 21 minutes this year, he is still getting 12 points per game.
Maggette appears to be on the down side of his career despite his nearly 20 ppg last year with the Warriors. He is 31, though, and may only have a couple of good paydays left. With what was available in this draft, teams could have done a lot worse.
3. Elton Brand: 1999, 1st Overall, Chicago Bulls
Numbers-wise, Brand has had a solid career. He has averaged over 20 points per game in a season six times, and over 10 rebounds per game six times as well. HIs career averages sit at 19 points per game and 9.7 boards.
However, while playing for the Bulls, Clippers and 76ers, he has seen playoff action just once.
Brand has always logged heavy minutes for bad teams, which tends to inflate numbers. Was he worth the No. 1 pick overall? In that draft year, yes. Over the past 11 years, expectations of the first overall pick (or first 10, for that matter) have changed.
2. Luol Deng: 2004, 7th Overall, Chicago Bulls
Now in his seventh season with the Chicago Bulls, Deng has been a starter virtually his entire career.
He has a solid mid-range game and is a decent three-point shooter, though he doesn’t take many. His point and rebound averages haven’t fluctuated much over his first six seasons and he owns career marks of 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Deng will have a home somewhere for a long time. He is consistent, athletic and can score in bunches. His worth may not be truly known until he plays for a team that contends for a title. Athletically, he was a legitimate lottery pick.
1. Grant Hill: 1994, 3rd Overall, Detroit Pistons
Still going after all of these years—and all of those injuries.
Hill’s career was in serious jeopardy as he played in only 43 games from 2000-2004 and missed three quarters of the 2005-2006 year as well. He has persevered though, and at the age of 38, is still a productive player, logging around 30 minutes per game and averaging close to 14 points for the Phoenix Suns, the third stop of his pro career.
Hill has solid 18 ppg and six rebounds per game averages for his career.
Only Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson and Jason Kidd were selected ahead of Hill, who could have been the top pick. He has had a fine career, despite the obstacles, and is the most successful Blue Devil first-round draftee.