Phil Jackson, the executive overseeing one of the biggest Dumpster fires in the NBA, doesn’t have a particular fondness for Duke players, according to comments he made to ESPN.
The comments were made in January, when Jackson’s New York Knicks – where he’s the team president – were 5-35. They were made public this week in an ESPN story.
“If you look at the guys who came to the NBA from Duke, aside from Grant Hill, which ones lived up to expectations?” Jackson said over a dinner when discussing Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor.
Jackson made his name coaching teams led by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively, and his comments seem to be based on popular opinion from that late 1990s/early 2000s era. In reality, no program had more alumni in the NBA this past season (18, compared with 17 from Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina). The Duke alumni in the pros range from one of the game’s rising young superstars (Kyrie Irving) to solid contributors who have enjoyed long careers (Mike Dunleavy and Luol Deng come to mind). Several Blue Devils have been pleasant surprises recently (Miles and Mason Plumlee, for example).
There are not many transcendent talents like Hill – when he was healthy early in his career, he joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird and Jerry West as the only players to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists through their first six seasons. Irving is a transcendent talent, and he has performed. Jabari Parker might be, but it’s too early to tell. And check back in five years on Okafor and Justise Winslow.
Meanwhile, recent highlights of Jackson’s talent evaluation include trading away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who contributed for the Cleveland Cavaliers, for essentially a 2019 second-round pick. And earlier in the article in which Jackson took his swipe at Duke, he revealed the contents of a private conversation with Smith. Some leadership.
Without the ready-made teams led by superstars he enjoyed in Chicago and Los Angeles, Jackson recently oversaw the worst season in Knicks history: 17-65. And they are relying on Jackson’s talent evaluation to turn it around.