2021 NBA draft prospect David Duke Jr. worth a look from Celtics

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With the 45th pick in the upcoming NBA draft, the Celtics could look no further than an hour down the road from TD Garden for an impact player in the second round. Forbes Sports’ Chris Grenham reported that Providence’s David Duke Jr., a 2021 NBA Draft prospect, has “thought about playing in Boston.”

“Being a hometown kid, I definitely had dreams of playing for the Celtics one day,” Duke Jr. told Grenham. Hometown kid is right. Duke Jr. was born in Providence, went to high school at Providence’s Classical High before transferring to Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, and then returned to his birthplace for three years at Providence College.

But the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard is more than just a local. Duke Jr. was named to the All-Big East Second Team in his junior season at Providence, averaging about 17 points and 5 assists a game, before declaring for the draft.

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He made consistent, steady improvements across his college career, with his playmaking and scoring expanding with age. So why haven't you heard of him much as a target at pick No. 45? On January 15, Duke Jr. was included in a Bleacher Report draft article about five "late-bloomer prospects on the rise." At that time, he was pouring in 19.9 points a game on 47% shooting behind the arc, with the article even labeling his ceiling as a mid-first-rounder. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1409240147472883714?s=20

After that piece was published, Duke Jr.'s scoring dropped to 13.7 points a game for the rest of the season on 31.3% from three-point land. His season ended with a whimper, too, a seven-point clunker on 2-of-9 shooting in a loss to the less favored DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Now, Duke Jr. isn't even listed amongst the 60 picks in either ESPN or Bleacher Report's most recent mock drafts. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1409194840487870469?s=20

Yet the late-season struggles shouldn't discount his clear NBA potential. You click on a Duke Jr. highlight tape for rim-rocking alley-oops and obvious athleticism; you stay for his decision-making in transition and feel as a ballhandler in the pick-and-roll. [embed]http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loCF87vXnIo[/embed]

His passing isn't flashy, but Duke Jr. clearly sees the floor at an NBA-ready level, a big plus considering his strong size and impressive 6-foot-9 wingspan for a point guard. Moreover, his shot looks legit. [embed]http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQDovb91O1I[/embed]

There are mechanical issues to iron out - his form can look rigid and slow at times, which could make it difficult to create shots off the bounce against longer NBA wings. But at the same time, his high release point will translate well, considering he's adept at both shooting off the dribble or the catch.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

His three-point percentage seems legit, considering he's also made close to 80% of his free throws the past two seasons, a good indicator of an NBA-worthy shot. It's not hard to envision Duke Jr. making defenders pay via a long-range bomb for going under a screen or via a pocket pass if he gets blitzed. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1409152105412284421?s=20

In that sense, Duke Jr. has potential as a Marcus Smart-type secondary ballhandler and catch-and-shoot threat, especially considering he's been highly touted for both his defense and his motor. According to coach Ed Cooley, Duke Jr. would sometimes show up at Providence's practice facility three to four times a day to work out. "David is the hardest working player in the country," Cooley told the Providence Journal in 2019. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1409147162521387010?s=20

What will determine Duke Jr.'s ceiling, ultimately, is his development as a finisher both from the interior and in-between range. He shot just 39% from two-point range as a junior despite the impressive scoring numbers, and never better than 41% from the floor in his college career. While he flashes impressive dexterity around the rim and ability to attack closeouts, he can also look awkward at times off the dribble in the midrange and hasn't developed a reliable floater, an increasingly important shot for ballhandlers in today's NBA. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1409134556712771597?s=20

Working on that aspect of his game would take his ceiling from a strictly 3&D role to that of, say, a Reggie Jackson offensively. Boston already carries young guards like Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Tremont Waters on its roster, but Duke Jr. has the ability to play off any of them and should warrant a look at 45, certainly carrying more upside than many in that draft slot. And for fans, nothing would beat the added incentive of rooting for the hometown kid. This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook! [lawrence-related id=52521,52489,52483,52481] [listicle id=52498]

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