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Andy Wittry | | January 4, 2020

The 11 best Duke men's basketball players of the decade

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Duke is tied for the fourth-most men's basketball national championships of all time with five and two of those titles were won during the last decade in 2010 and 2015. The Blue Devils have had talented rosters almost every year of coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure, but a 10-year span in which they won 20 percent of the national championships means Duke had a lot of talent in Durham between 2010 and 2019, even compared to its own lofty standards.

I went through every Duke roster from the last decade and picked out the 11 best Blue Devils players, starting with the beginning of the decade (conference play in the 2010 season) to the end (non-conference play this season). These are my picks only.

I strictly examined a player's college career — not his high school or NBA accomplishments — and only the games played between Jan.1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2019, taking into consideration All-America and All-ACC honors, per-game and advanced statistics, and NCAA Tournament success. Players who didn't play a full season in the decade — like Kyrie Irving, who played just 11 games due to injury, and Duke's current freshmen — were evaluated accordingly.

11. Mason Plumlee (2009-13)

Plumlee was a reserve on Duke's national championship team in 2010 (he played just three minutes in the title game against Butler) but he developed to an every-game starter who averaged 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game as a senior, when he was named a Second Team All-American by the Associated Press, USBWA and NABC.

He played in 141 games for Duke — one of the highest totals among Blue Devil players in the last decade.

In 36 games as a senior, Plumlee scored in double figures 33 times (he scored eight points in a game twice) and in Duke's four NCAA Tournament games in 2013, he scored 64 points and grabbed 32 rebounds.

Plumlee isn't the only old-school big on this list (he didn't attempt a single 3-pointer as a senior) but he was an efficient low-post scorer who made 60 percent of his field goal attempts during the 2013 season.

10. Grayson Allen (2014-18)

Allen finished four points shy of being a 2,000-point scorer during his four-year career with the Blue Devils. As a freshman, he was a reserve on Duke's national title team, scoring 16 points off the bench in the championship game against Wisconsin.

The next season, he recorded the best per-game scoring average of his career, scoring 21.6 points per game, along with 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Allen was a 38 percent 3-point shooter in his career, including a career-best 41.7 percent in 2016, when he earned Second and Third Team All-America honors from various outlets, plus a First Team All-ACC nod.

He also earned All-ACC honors as a senior, when he was named to the Third Team.

Allen's offensive rating was 113 or better in each season at Duke, including the nation's 44th-best offensive rating in 2016 at 124.9. Duke's offensive efficiency ranked in the top six nationally each year that Allen played for the Blue Devils and he was an efficient scorer, whether he was a reserve on a national championship-winning team or as a featured scorer.

9. Luke Kennard (2015-17)

Kennard was a consensus Second Team All-American in 2017, when he led the Blue Devils in scoring at 19.5 points per game, along with 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He started 11 games as a freshman but became a staple in Duke's starting lineup as a sophomore and led the team in scoring and offensive rating even though he had a lower usage rate than teammates Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum.

Kennard's 127.3 offensive rating ranked 32nd nationally in 2017. His 24.4 PER led Duke that season.

While his 2-point efficiency remained constant at roughly 53 percent from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign, his 3-point percentage exploded, improving from 32 percent to 43.8 percent. He took nearly 5.5 threes per game in 2017, making roughly 2.5 of them on average, and he was strong from the free-throw line, where he shot almost 86 percent.

Even with a significant role on offense, Kennard took great care of the ball with a team-best 11.2 turnover rate.

Kennard's scoring presence was consistent with 35 double-figure scoring games in 37 chances, with the two exceptions being an eight-point performance against Troy in the NCAA Tournament and a nine-point game against Boston College.

South Carolina bounced Kennard's Duke team out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round in 2017. The Gamecocks held the sophomore to 11 points on 1-of-6 shooting before he fouled out of his final college game.

8. Kyle Singler (2007-11)

Singler was the second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game (and second-leading rebounder) on Duke's 2010 national championship team. The next season, he was a Second Team All-American, according to the NABC, and a First Team All-ACC selection after averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Singler was a 38.3 percent 3-point shooter on 4.9 attempts per game as a sophomore, then the year Duke won the title, he got even better with marks of 39.9 percent on 5.3 attempts per game. He scored efficiently — his 116.2 offensive rating in 2010 was the 159th-best mark in the country — and his turnover rate was so low that it ranked among the national leaders as a junior and senior.

7. Jon Scheyer (2006-10)

Scheyer averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game, along with 4.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, when Duke won the 2010 national championship. He started every game that season and averaged almost 37 minutes per game as an integral member of the Blue Devils' fourth national championship team.

Scheyer's production took off starting in the Sweet 16 that season, when he was a consensus Second Team All-American.

He scored 18 points with five rebounds and four assists against Purdue, then put up 20/5/4, 23/2/6 and 15/6/5 through the national championship, finishing with six-game totals of 96 points, 24 assists (to just seven turnovers), 21 rebounds and nine steals.

Scheyer only played for Duke for four months during the last decade (which impacted his ranking), but they were an important four months for the program.

6. RJ Barrett (2018-19)

Barrett has one of the more interesting cases on this list. He was a consensus First Team All-American who averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for a Duke team that won 32 games and earned the No. 1 overall seed.

His Blue Devils lost a one-point game in the Elite Eight and they were one of two teams to beat national champion Virginia last season (and the only team that beat them twice).

So, Barrett put up really impressive statistics for a really good Duke team.

But teammate and national player of the year Zion Williamson can say the same, so where do you put Williamson's wing man (who actually played a more significant role on offense), especially when he's one who traditional statistics like more than advanced stats?

Barrett's offensive rating (108.0) is the lowest of any player on this list and he needed 18.5 shots per game to score 22.6 points. He attempted 237 3-pointers and of the 89 players last season who attempted at least 230 3-pointers, he made the fourth fewest (73).

For comparison, Barrett's 2019 PER of 23.3 was significantly lower than Nolan Smith's in 2011 (27.7) and Jabari Parker in 2014 (28.4).

5. Nolan Smith (2007-11)

Smith averaged 17.4 points per game for Duke when the Blue Devils won the national title in 2010. Then he was a consensus First Team All-American as a senior in 2011, when he averaged a team-high 20.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent on twos, 35 percent on threes and 81 percent at the free throw line.

Smith was also named FOX's National Player of the Year as a senior.

The 6-2 guard scored 106 points during Duke's national championship run, including 29 points in an Elite Eight win against Baylor, and he played all 40 minutes in three of the six tournament games.

Smith scored in double figures in 33 of Duke's 37 games his senior season, including 21 games of at least 20 points.

4. Jabari Parker (2013-14)

Parker was named the USBWA Freshman of the Year and a consensus First Team All-American in 2014, when he averaged a team-high 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. The Blue Devils had the most efficient offense in the country during Parker's only season in college and he was the team's focal point with a 31.8 percent usage rate that ranked 24th nationally.

His 111.7 offensive rating was in the top 500 nationally thanks to him shooting 50 percent on twos, 35.8 percent on threes and 74.8 percent from the free throw line. Parker drew 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes, which was 1.7 more than any other regular starter on that Blue Devils team.

Parker doesn't have any NCAA Tournament wins to his name due to Duke being upset by Mercer in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament but his consistent, high-level scoring — he scored at least 20 points in his first seven games and 18 times in 35 games — was something few Duke players in the last decade could match.

3. Jahlil Okafor (2014-15)

Okafor was the best player on a national title-winning Duke team in 2015, when he was a consensus First Team All-American who averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

Okafor was a traditional back-to-the-basket big — a breed that is slowly making its way to the endangered species list — so his transition from college star to NBA reserve shouldn't take away from his time in Durham. The 6-11 center was great from the jump in college, scoring 19 points with six rebounds and four assists in his first college game, and he scored in double figures in 35 of 38 games, including his first 28.

He scored 47 points in Duke's first two NCAA Tournament wins and he finished with 90 points in the tournament.

If there's are any critiques of Okafor's lone year of college, it's that he averaged just 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds from the Sweet 16 through the national championship game (fellow freshman Tyus Jones earned the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player honor), and that his 51 percent free-throw shooting was too low for a player who averaged five free-throw attempts per game.

2. Marvin Bagley III (2017-18)

Marvin Bagley III averaged a double-double as a freshman at Duke: 21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

That's why he was a consensus First Team All-American on a Blue Devils team that won 29 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, before losing to Kansas in overtime in the Elite Eight. Bagley was a prototypical modern big man with the ability to stretch the floor.

He shot 39.7 percent from three on almost two attempts per game but he also possessed a lethal accuracy inside the arc (64.7% on two-point attempts). Bagley's 123.8 offensive rating ranked in the top 60 in college basketball in 2018 and he posted that mark while using a team-high 25.8 percent usage rate.

He was highly effective rebounder (33rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, 161st defensively) and he was a solid, but not great, shot-blocker at 6-11, averaging 0.9 blocks per game with a 2.6 block rate.

The only one of his 33 college games in which he didn't score in double figures was in the Champions Classic, when he left the game due to an injury, and he had 13 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, including seven with at least 30 and 10. A 32-point, 21-rebound performance against Florida State was the kind of special stat line of which only a player with Bagley's talent is capable.

Bagley was great when the games meant the most, too. In his six games in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament, he posted 33 points and 17 rebounds, 19 and 13, 22 and seven, 22 and nine, 22 and seven, and 16 and 10 — an average of 22.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in the postseason.

1. Zion Williamson (2018-19)

Say what you want about recency bias but Zion Williamson posted the highest single-season player efficiency rating (PER) of the decade, among players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game and played at least 75 percent of their team's games. His 40.84 PER was more than 3.5 points higher than the second-best PER of the decade, which was also recorded last season, by Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke.

Even by standards set by previous Duke First Team All-Americans, Williamson was on another level. The second and third-best single-season PERs by a Duke player was Jahlil Okafor (30.73) in 2015 and Marvin Bagley III's 30.55 PER in the 2018 season, so while PER is just one stat, that one stat suggests that Williamson was roughly 30 percent better than two other recent First Team All-Americans who played for the Blue Devils.

Williamson was a consensus First Team All-American and the consensus national player of the year after he averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. He shot a ridiculous 74.7 percent inside the arc so while the one critique you could make of his game was shooting — 33.8 percent from three and 64 percent from the free throw line — he was so efficient around the rim and at creating second-chance opportunities that it almost didn't matter if he clanked a higher percentage of threes and free throws than you would've liked.

Plus, he shot 37 percent from three on a limited number of attempts in ACC play and he was 7-of-17 in the NCAA Tournament, so he actually got better as the season went on.

Williamson's 129.2 offensive rating ranked 12th nationally last season, per, and he was a terror defensively, forcing a steal on almost four percent of opponents' offensive possessions and blocking almost six percent of opponents' two-point attempts.

Zion would've dominated college basketball in any year this decade, let alone any decade or any era.

Also considered: Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Austin Rivers, Wendell Carter Jr., Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Rodney Hood

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