As presently constituted, the New Orleans Pelicans have five former Duke players on their roster. In fact, the quintet could actually constitute a credible lineup; Jahlil Okafor at center, Zion Williamson at power forward, Brandon Ingram at small forward, J.J. Redick at shooting guard and Frank Jackson at point guard.
And don’t forget new general manager, Trajan Langdon, a pretty good Blue Devil player only two decades ago.
The group had distinguished careers at Duke. Redick and Williamson were national players of the year. Redick, Okafor and Williamson were ACC players of the year and first-team All-Americans. Okafor, Ingram and Williamson were ACC Rookies of the Year. Williamson was the first pick of the 2019 NBA draft, Ingram the second pick of the 2016 draft, Okafor the third pick of the 2015 draft, Redick the 11th pick of the 2006 draft.
Jackson is the outlier, not winning significant honors and lasting until the second round of the 2017 draft. But he joins Redick and Williamson as having played on an ACC Tournament title team. Redick and Okafor made the Final Four, Okafor playing on the 2015 title team.
Redick has played 13 seasons in the NBA, more than the other four combined.
He’s also made the NBA playoffs every single one of those seasons. He says he wouldn’t have signed with New Orleans if he thought that streak would be imperiled.
None of the other former Duke players on the New Orleans roster has yet to play in an NBA playoff game.
There’s not really a data base for this sort of thing. I do know that the 1949-50 Indianapolis Olympians had five former Kentucky players on their roster; Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Ralph Beard, Joe Holland and Wah Wah Jones. The same five were on the same team the following year. All but Hollins had played for the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.
I can come up with several NBA teams that included three former Duke players. I use the term “several” on purpose, for reasons explained below.
The L.A. Clippers have had nine former Duke players over the years, including Marty Nessley, Daniel Ewing and Dahntay Jones. Grant Hill ended his career with the Clippers in 2013, playing 29 ineffective games. Danny Ferry famously refused to play for the Clippers, spending a year in Italy after being selected by them in the 1989 draft and forcing a trade.
But Elton Brand and Corey Maggette were two of the best players in Clippers history, teaming up for almost a decade and leading the team to much of whatever success they had during the first decade of the 21st century.
Brand and Maggette are fourth and five respectively in Clippers career scoring.
The Clippers acquired both by trade, Maggette from Orlando, Brand from Chicago. Brand averaged 18.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in 2001-02, his first season in L.A.
Cherokee Parks became that third Duke player the following season. On paper this was a pretty good team. Former top pick Michael Olawokandi was the center, not yet viewed as an epic flop. The Clippers had acquired respected veteran Andre Miller as their point and Lamar Odom started at small forward.
A playoff team?
Think again. Injuries limited Olowokandi to 36 games, Odom to 49. Brand averaged 18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, Maggette 16.8 ppg, Parks 6.3 ppg in 30 games.
The team finished a woeful 27-55.
Brand and Maggette continued to be mainstays but Parks was in Golden State the following year. The Clippers selected Ewing in the second round of the 2005 draft. Ewing played two seasons for the Clippers, averaging around three points per game.
The 2006 season was a break-out for the Clippers, at least by Clippers standards. Brand had his best season, averaging 24.7 points, 2.5 blocks and 10.0 rebounds per game. He was voted second-team All-NBA. Maggette added 17.8 ppg, Ewing 3.8. But a foot injury held Maggette to 32 games.
Mike Dunleavy, Sr., father of Duke player Mike Dunleavy, Jr. coached that team while almost Duke player Shaun Livingston also played on that team.
The Clippers finished 47-35 and won their first-round playoff series against Denver before losing to Phoenix in seven games.
They couldn’t sustain it. They dropped to 40-42 the following season, missing the playoffs. Brand averaged 20 and nine, Maggette 16.9 ppg.
Ewing was waived before the 2008 season, Brand was traded to Philadelphia and Maggette signed with Golden State as a free agent. The Clippers wouldn’t have another former Duke player until Redick came on board for the 2013-’14 season.