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Are Cavaliers taking a risk with taking a Duke player No. 1?

Jun 23, 2011, 1:47 AM EDT

Arizona v Duke Getty Images

For the last couple decades, Duke has been the best, most consistent college basketball program in the nation. They have the Final Fours, the NCAA titles to prove it. And they have sent a lot of players on to the NBA.

But Duke players have not thrived at the next level. In fact they have often underwhelmed. There certainly have been good players — Grant Hill and Elton Brand (both especially before they got injured) to name a couple — but Duke has not sent on the percentage of superstar NBA players that other elite programs have. They have had more than their share of bad breaks and flameouts.

Is Cleveland taking a risk drafting a Duke player? Some in Cleveland are wondering.

I say no. They are taking the best player on the board. Which in the end is all a team can do.

But in a decade that may not be the perception. Irving is not expected to be a Derrick Rose or Chris Paul by NBA personnel, but because he is going to go No. 1 — to Cleveland after the loss of LeBron James — there will be a lot of pressure and hopes heaped upon him.

A lot of the perception of Duke’s struggles in the NBA go back to Danny Ferry, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Clippers in 1989, and he then promptly bolted for Italy for a year rather than play for that franchise. He ended up with a 13 year NBA career (10 of it in Cleveland) and he never came close to living up to the hype that followed him into the league.

For fun, let’s look back at some of the other top 20 picks out of Duke (by year they were drafted).

1992: Christian Laettner (No. 3 overall): He played 13 years in the NBA, made one All-Star team and frankly was a good player for much of that. But he also did not live up to the hype coming out of Duke.
1993: Bobby Hurley (No. 7): A car accident ruined his career before it really got started.
1994: Grant Hill (No. 3): Maybe the best NBA player ever to come out of Duke, he was a dynamic pro until ankle injuries did him in. He has bounced back some late in his career.
1995: Cherokee Parks (No. 12): Played parts of nine NBA seasons but was a journeyman. At best.
1999: Elton Brand (No. 1): Duke’s only No. 1 overall (over Steve Francis and Baron Davis). He was the Rookie of the Year for the Bulls, a two-time All-Star and has had a good career that injuries have slowed in recent years.
1999: Trajan Langdon (No. 11): He was out of the league after three years as he struggled to adapt to defenses.
2001: Shane Battier (No. 6): Not a superstar, but he has carved out a very nice career as an NBA role player and one of the best wing defenders in the league.
2002: Jason Williams (No. 2): A motorcycle accident robbed all of us of what may have been a very fun career to watch.
2002: Carlos Boozer (No. 34 overall): We found one Duke player who outperformed his draft status. Nobody was terribly high on Boozer coming out of Duke but the Cavaliers drafted him in the second round and he is a two-time All-Star and a key cog previously in Utah and now in Chicago.
2004: Luol Deng (No. 7): Maybe the vintage example of a Duke player to their critics — incredibly athletic but has had a good-but-not great career for the Bulls.
2006: J.J. Redick (11): To his credit, he is not the star he was in college but he has worked hard to make himself a defender and adapt his game to fit the league. Again, not a superstar but a solid pro.

  1. gastonly - Jun 23, 2011 at 2:14 AM

    Kurt, you totally forgot about Corey Maggette and William Avery! O.o

    • Kurt Helin - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      I couldn’t get to them all, there were a lot left on the list. But i needed to write about trades that were never going to happen.

  2. 00maltliquor - Jun 23, 2011 at 3:41 AM

    I like Kyrie Irving a lot, but i’m definatly not as high on him as the rest of the world seems to be. That being said, don’t compare him to former Dukies and their misfortunes. He’s a different guy, and not really a prototypical Duke player. ( Hell, he left after the 1st year!)

  3. joj0420 - Jun 23, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    I’m just not sure how someone who didn’t even prove himself imo gets to go number 1. He will be a bust and the cavs will be terrible for many years to come.

  4. bigtrav425 - Jun 23, 2011 at 6:16 AM

    Anytime anyone drafts a Duke player they should be concerned.There is not a good track record at all there.But as a Cavs fan ya kinda got to take Irving this yr.a severe lack of Impact players in this draft.Irving is about as close as your going to get unless Thompson or Leonard step up

    • flapjack3285 - Jun 23, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      Out of that list two players had their careers ruined by injuries outside of basketball, and their are two actual busts. Everyone else was either an all-star or at least a decent player for years. Plus, if add Dunleavy and Maggette to the list, the number of draft busts is even lower. Have any of these players become superstars? No, but it more times than not you’re getting at least a decent player.

  5. fishmatt - Jun 23, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    Question: why do I never hear anything about the possibility of the Cavs trading up from 4 to number 2?
    Ok let me start by saying that I am neither a Cavs or T’wolves fan (I am a Sixers fan). So I have no dog in this fight. Nor do I have any motive in suggesting this trade other than I think it would be a damn good idea for both teams.

    Here is how it could work:

    The Cavs send the number 4 pick and Anderson Verajao to the Wolves for the number 2 pick and a player (really any big guy, it could be Darko, Pekovic, or Tolliver). This deal works on ESPN trade machine.
    For the Wolves this works b/c they have been asking for a veteran for the number two pick and Verajao would be a perfect compliment (defense and rebounding) playing next to Love. If the deal went down this would likely be the Wolves staring five and second five:

    C- Anderson Verajao C- Darko, Pekovic or Tolliver (whoever doesn’t get traded)
    PF- Kevin Love PF- Anthony Randolph
    SF- Michael Beasley SF- Martell Webster
    SG- Wesley Johnson SG- Wayne Ellington
    PG- Ricky Rubio PG- Luke Ridnour

    Plus they would have the 4th pick to take someone like Enes Kanter or whichever PG the Jazz don’t take (Knight or Walker) in case Rubio doesn’t work out. I am not saying that roster wins a championship but it should resemble a real NBA roster. And make them at the very least respectable.

    For the Cavs this works because they are in complete rebuilding mode. By the time they are good again Verajao is likely to be past his prime and this deal gives the Cavs two very good building blocks. With Kyrie Irving at the point, Williams at the SF (where I think he’ll end up in the NBA) and Hickson at PF they have something to work with. Furthermore after two years Antwan Jamison is gone and a year later Baron Davis is gone. So they would have the money to sign a big time free agent just as these guys are hitting their stride as NBA players.

    I think it’s a dream scenario for both teams if you ask me, but it won’t happen b/c teams in the NBA don’t make trades like this. It’s always to shed a salary or get rid of a player who is a problem. It’s a shame, maybe that’s something they can work on in the next CBA.

    • sknut - Jun 23, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      As a T-Wolves fan that is a decent trade, although both Verajao and Kanter are a little redundant in my opinion and I don’t think the Wolves would take a PG there.

    • sguy2130 - Jun 23, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      That’s a good deal for Minnesota, and a terrible deal for the Cavs. Verajao is worth more than moving up 2 spots in a weak draft and picking up a throw away big man. I agree that the Cavs should move him if the price is right, but that would be a fleecing. No thanks.

      • zacmonte - Jun 23, 2011 at 11:47 AM

        Maybe add Minny’s other 1st to the deal?

      • themanchine - Jun 23, 2011 at 12:17 PM

        I think Varejao & a 2nd for Bargnagni would be gold for both teams. V would be a defensive 5 next to Davis & Johnson in Toronto. Bargnagni would be a nice scoring 4 in Clev where they have some bodies at the 5 from missing V last year…

  6. nvr4gt12 - Jun 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    Look how many duke players have a NBA title…….I’ll wait for you too look it up……I’ll give you a hint…..less then 3

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