In 2011, Kyrie Irving was selected first overall in the NBA Draft. He was the first Blue Devil taken in the first round since Gerald Henderson, two years earlier, and he started an incredible run for Duke players.
In the last eight drafts, NBA teams have chosen a Duke player every 14 picks, on average. The 31-pick gap between Brandon Ingram—chosen second overall in 2016—and Jayson Tatum—chosen third overall the following year—is the longest drought for the Blue Devils over that span. Only Kentucky, who has had a player chosen every 11 picks on average, can match Duke over that span.
Duke has been so prolific at feeding the NBA, that if you throw out the first Blue Devil selected in the last eight drafts—a group that would include Irving, Austin Rivers, Mason Plumlee, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Ingram, Tatum and Marvin Bagley—Duke has still accounted for nine other draft picks. Only Kentucky and UNC have produced as many total first rounders over that span.
When the NBA starts reading off names in this year’s draft, which takes place in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Thursday night, it won’t be long before Duke adds to its impressive streak.
Zion Williamson, the consensus player of the year this past season, is expected to be drafted first overall by New Orleans, who recently acquired Ingram in a blockbuster trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Lakers.
New Orleans also picked up the fourth overall pick in that trade. There are rumors that the Pelicans are considering trading that pick, perhaps to Atlanta, but by the time that selection is made, it’s likely that a second Blue Devil will be off the board. R.J. Barrett, Duke’s leading scorer this season, is expected to go in the top three, with New York being the most likely landing spot.
New Orleans’ plans with the fourth pick could impact another Duke player. Cam Reddish, like Williamson and Barrett a Duke freshman last season, is currently slotted to go to the Hawks at No. 8 in most mock drafts. If Atlanta pulls the trigger to move up, sending that eighth pick to the Pelicans as part of a package, it could shift Reddish’s landing spot. Still, he’s likely to go in the lottery, giving Duke three first rounders for the third straight year and fourth in the last five.
Assuming all three go as expected, that would give Duke 14 one-and-done first rounders in the last nine years
Once the Duke show begins winding down on Thursday night, the spotlight will shift a few miles across the Triangle, where UNC is also expected to have three players taken in the first round.
That would give coach Roy Williams 21 first rounders during his UNC tenure, and it would be his fourth season with three or more first-round picks.
High-scoring guard Coby White is expected to go to Chicago at No. 7. Player and team hit it off during the pre-draft evaluation process, and it appears the only way White won’t become a Bull is if another team is able to trade up to move ahead of Chicago.
Nassir Little is slotted to go in the mid first round, with most mocks having him near the tail end of the lottery (top 14 picks). Assuming there aren’t any unexpected slides, that would mean that Williams’ last three players drafted would be one-and-done freshmen, dating back to Tony Bradley, who was taken in 2017.
The last Tar Heel with a chance to go in the first round is far from a one-and-done. Cameron Johnson, who spent parts of three years at Pitt before coming to Carolina for two seasons as a grad transfer, has impressed teams with his all-around play in the evaluation process. That goes with his elite shooting ability, demonstrated during his college career. The consensus is that Johnson should go in the early 20s.
After the first round, players drafted aren’t guaranteed a roster spot, but the second round could still feature some players with ties to the area. Jalen Lecque, who committed to NC State but entered the draft after a year at Brewster Academy and Boston College guard Ky Bowman—a Havelock native—are both expected to have a chance to get chosen.