This season, analysts have paid close attention to Duke University’s freshman standout, Jabari Parker. Given the media’s ubiquity, every game that Parker plays gets analyzed under a microscope. What parts of his game are strong and what parts are weak? How good of a pro will he become? How does he stack up against other freshmen like Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis? The fact that he is a collegiate basketball player—that is, an amateur and not a professional—seems to be lost in the excitement.
However, irrespective of Jabari Parker, the Duke University Blue Devils are, year in and year out, one of the most analyzed teams not just in collegiate basketball, but in all of American sports. Like the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Notre Dame Football—to name only a few of the teams that are analyzed to wearisome extents—the Duke Blue Devils are a team that cannot escape the national spotlight. Whether Duke wins or loses, has an off year or an outstanding one, everything the team does engenders critiques and analyses from fans, haters, and everyone in between.
Of course, the team’s coach, Mike Kzyzewski, attracts a lot of attention to his team, since he is the U.S.A. men’s basketball coach and the all-time leader in wins amongst collegiate coaches. When the West Point grad took over as the coach of the Blue Devils in 1980, he turned a lackluster program into one of the most dominant ones, and it remains that way today. His coaching and recruiting abilities have helped Duke to maintain its spot at the top of college basketball for so long.
After learning the game under Kryzewski and benefitting from his tutelage, many Duke stars choose to enter the NBA, and after this season, Parker will probably follow the well-worn path from Duke to the NBA. Although many former Duke stars have only been moderately successful in the NBA, it does not change the fact that they are everywhere in the league.
This list looks at the top 10 NBA players from Duke. Some of these players currently play in the NBA, and some retired years ago. Each player’s career earnings have been listed.
10 Johnny Dawkins - Earnings from 1987-1988 to 1994-1995: $9,840,000
Johnny Dawkins is the one former Blue Devil on this list who was part of the Duke’s emergence as a powerhouse collegiate program. In his senior season at Duke, Dawkins led the Blue Devils to the championship game, where they lost to Louisville. After college, Dawkins entered the NBA and had a decent career, as he averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 assists per game over 9 years in league. His best campaign came in the 1987-1988 season, when he averaged 15.8 points, 7.4 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game, while playing for the San Antonio Spurs. After retiring from the NBA Dawkins became an assistant coach for the Blue Devils from 1998-2008 and is currently the head coach of the Stanford Cardinals.
9 J.J. Redick - Career Earnings: $35,330,008
During his collegiate career, Redick was the most feared shooter in the nation, as he could knock jumpers down from anywhere on the court. Although he got off to an unsuccessful start in the NBA, Redick has re-emerged as an excellent role player and three-point threat. This season, he is averaging 15.7 points per game, shooting just below 40% from beyond the arc. The Clippers will need his deft shooting touch in the playoffs, as it will keep the defense from collapsing on Blake Griffin.
8 Corey Maggette - Career Earnings: $89, 131, 524
After his freshmen campaign at Duke, Maggette chose to make the leap to the pros. In the NBA, Maggette was one of the league’s most athletic wingers, and he eventually developed a well-rounded game. He had his best season in 2004-2005, when he averaged 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. Over the course of his career, which ended in 2013 with the Detroit Pistons, he averaged 16.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
7 Christian Laettner - Career Earnings: $61,485,000
Laettner is one of the most decorated college basketball players of all time, and his success in college led to him being selected to play on the 1992 U.S.A. men’s basketball team—yes, the Dream Team. Unfortunately, his mammoth success in college did not carry over into the NBA. That is not to say Laettner was a scrub in the league; he was not. He made an All-Star game, and averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds over the course of 13 seasons in the league. Laettner will always be remembered for the incredible last-second shot that he hit in the Final Four. He caught a full-court pass from Grant Hill, pivoted, and nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to beat the Kentucky Wildcats.
6 Shane Battier - Career Earnings: $56,569,622
Battier had an incredible collegiate career, as he formed a devastating duo with Jason Williams and led the team to two Final Fours. However, like Laettner, his collegiate dominance has not carried over into the NBA. Statistically, his best season was his first one, when he averaged 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, the Miami Heat will probably need Battier to hit several key jumpers in the playoffs this season.
5 Kyrie Irving - Career Earnings: $16,281,600
Having only played two full seasons in the NBA, Kyrie Irving is already good enough to be considered one of the best NBA players from Duke. He looks like he will enjoy a highly successful career, and when he does retire, he will probably be considered the best forming Blue Devil to play in the league. This season, he is averaging 21.5 points and 6.3 assists per game. His Cleveland team has struggled, but with the addition of Luol Deng (another former Blue Devil), the Cavaliers look poised to put up a good fight in the playoffs.
4 Luol Deng - Career Earnings: $81,657,524
After his freshmen season at Duke, Luol Deng decided to enter the NBA Draft. Thus far as a pro, he has had a quietly solid career. A two-time All-Star, Deng has averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over the course of ten seasons in the league. He is averaging 17.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season, and his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, need him to perform down the stretch if they want to avoid a tough first-round matchup in the playoffs.
3 Carlos Boozer - Career Earnings: $129,309,736
Since signing his lucrative contract with the Chicago Bulls, Carlos Boozer has not played as well as many hoped he would. That said, he is averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. It will be interesting to see what Chicago does with Boozer this offseason, given his bloated contract.
2 Elton Brand - Career Earnings: $165,338,631
In his prime, Elton Brand was one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. Statistically, his best season came in 2005-2006, when he averaged 24.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 16.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the two-time All-Star has had an underrated career, in that his teams have never had much success. Although he is currently playing in his fifteenth season, Brand has only been on three playoff squads.
1 Grant Hill - Career Earnings: $142,854,650
A casual observer might not understand why NBA fans and experts attach the words “what if” and “what could have been” to a player who earned over $142 million and played 18 seasons in the league. Indeed, Grant Hill averaged 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game over his long career, so why should his story be told as a tragedy? Hill’s story is tragic because he should have been the next Jordan—yes, Jordan. Consider his 2000-2001 campaign, when he averaged 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. Those numbers look uncannily similar to Lebron James’ numbers, but substitute an aging Joe Dumars for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and Hill’s stats look even better. Like the great Achilles, Grant Hill’s ankle undermined his potential. Nevertheless, until Kyrie Irving dethrones him, Grant Hill is the greatest NBA player from Duke.