The NBA draft was a great night for Duke basketball and Coach K, who saw three of his players drafted in the first 21 picks, including two freshmen in the top 7. To round it out, Phoenix selected a third freshmen, Gary Trent Jr, in the early second round and subsequently shipped him to Portland. While he doesn’t have a guaranteed contract, he is at least guaranteed an opportunity to begin his career in Portland. With its salary cap issues (made only worse by the new deal for Jusuf Nurkic), Portland needs as many low cost players as possible.
Yet everything wasn’t perfect for Duke on draft night. The fourth member of Duke’s freshmen class that entered the draft, Trevon Duval, found himself without an NBA or a college team once the draft concluded. Similar to the other freshmen, Duval ranked in the top 10 in the 2017 high school class and was the second ranked point guard nationally (behind the new king of Cleveland, Collin Sexton).
But after a so-so year at Duke primarily due to an inability to shoot (which is kind of necessary to play basketball), Duval had no choice but to enter the draft. Coach K replaced John Calipari as the champion of the One and Done system, meaning Duval would be replaced at Duke next year. For Duval, he could either hope a team took a chance on him during the draft, sit out a year and transfer, or return to a school that had already moved on to the third ranked point guard in the 2018 class, Tre Jones.
Trevon Duval’s case is an example of the new roster construction system at Duke. Coach K brings in a plethora of highly touted recruits each year (including three of the top 7 recruits next season) who will replace the set of highly touted prospects who arrived at Duke one year earlier. The message is clear: play one year and enter the draft. There is no more opportunity in the spotlight as the set of new recruits take over. It’s ruthless but Coach K’s one and done system doesn’t work without it.
The model presents a lot of risk for the Duke players. Play well enough and NBA riches are in the near future (from the 2001 to 2013 high school classes, 83 percent of players rated in the top 10 of their class were eventually drafted). Don’t play well or get injured and the future is uncertain.
Trevon Duval, and Gary Trent Jr to a lesser extent, underwhelmed last season at Duke as the more highly touted recruits, Wendell Carter Jr and Marvin Bagley III, shined. Even though multiple outlets forecasted to Duval as a late second round pick or to go undrafted, he could not return to the embrace of Coach K. In a sense, choosing Duke leaves a player without a safety net if things go awry during the player’s short time in Durham.
Duval still has a chance to earn a spot in the NBA. He signed to play with the Rockets during summer league where he scored 20 points in his debut. Other undrafted Duke guards have also had recent success in the NBA, with Quinn Cook becoming an NBA champion with the Warriors (should have made this shot, though) and the other Curry brother signing a two year deal with Portland after sitting out 2017/18 with a stress fracture in his lower leg. All hope is not lost for Duval, but the floor for his NBA career and his potential earnings are much lower.
So does it still make sense for these players to choose Duke? If you’re Marvin Bagley III, Kyrie Irving, or RJ Barrett, it probably does not matter. Barring a catastrophic injury, there is too much talent there that teams will still be willing to take a chance. Portland selecting (subsequently traded to the Kings) Harry Giles (he of the two ACL tears) 20th in 2017 perfectly illustrates this point. The first overall recruit will be coveted by NBA teams.
But as the generational talent level seeps down to top 0.0001 percent talent (if only….), there is more risk, especially since Coach K will most likely design the offense around the generational talent.
Assuming any of these guys want to stay in college, potential new transfer rules could help. If it does not work out at Duke, then they can move on to another program to rebuild their value. Duval would have benefitted from more lenient transfer rules. Any program in the country (save maybe Kentucky or North Carolina) would have been thrilled to have him with at most three years of eligibility remaining.