The Brooklyn Nets may have lost 114-104 to Houston on Wednesday night, but there was a silver lining despite more struggles from James Harden. Rookie David Duke Jr. made his NBA debut, playing in 22 minutes and finishing with 9 points (4-of-9 shooting). The 22-year-old out of Providence went undrafted in 2021 and signed a two-way contract with the Nets in August.
With the Long Island Nets, Duke is averaging 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Because Brooklyn was shorthanded without Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge against the Rockets, Duke’s number was finally called by Steve Nash.
Although Houston was on a six-game winning streak entering Wednesday, it was an appropriate time for Duke to get “big league” minutes. Introducing a rookie to the next level of play against the league’s worst team is certainly a safe approach.
Brooklyn is without guard Kyrie Irving, and while Duke is far from any kind of replacement, he showed Nash that he’s capable of stepping in and making an impact when needed.
Rookie David Duke Jr. stands out in his debut with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets have already had success with rookie Cam Thomas, whose NBA minutes jumped up after he scored 46 points with Long Island on Nov. 20. Duke hasn’t had an outing like that, but it doesn’t matter if he’s going to make the most of his time while getting minutes in the Nets’ rotation.
Although Harden has struggled through the team’s first 25 games, Duke has the opportunity to learn from one of the best guards in the league. Not to mention, Duke is also benefitting from getting an up-close look at how Kevin Durant operates. For a rookie, having those two names to look up to is a luxury.
Duke knows that he’s got it good, too.
The Nets have cultivated a healthy work environment for their younger players, and that’s crucial for a team that lacks depth. Nash took note of Duke’s performance and revealed he had interest in Duke’s abilities, which is likely a prime reason why the Nets made sure to scoop him up after the draft.
Not to mention, Harden also revealed how impressed he was with the rookie, saying, “Give credit to Duke. He played extremely hard, played well, and came in and did what he was supposed to do. That’s all you can ask for from a young guy. He played extremely well and much respect to Duke for that.”
Nobody’s jumping ahead and assuming a nine-point performance against the league’s worst team is going to propel Duke into a prominent role, but when you have this many notable figures complimenting your performance and efforts, it’s worth noting for the future. At the very least, if Duke plays in the months leading up to the Feb. 10 trade deadline, he could be included in a large package to help the Nets land another star player.