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Man with a plan: David Duke Jr. emerges after draft snub

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

After he went undrafted last July, he spoke with supporters at a Providence restaurant and told them not to worry. The Brooklyn Nets had called and he was signing with them. There was a round of applause and he was on his way.

“When it got to the mid-second round, I got a call from my agent who gave me some scenarios with multiple teams and it was up to me to decide. Having faith in God, and truly believing in myself, I felt the situation with Brooklyn was the best for me based on my pre-draft experience with them,” recalled Duke. Although I felt overlooked going undrafted, I knew wherever I ended up I would show what I bring to the table and would be just fine.”

Fast forward six months and David Duke Jr. has started five straight games. He’s a defensive stalwart who the Nets believe could have long NBA career, particularly if he returns to the form he had at Providence, shooting 40 percent from deep.

“I can’t say that I expected anything. To just play honestly has been more than I can say I expected.” Duke told Kristian Winfield. “It’s been really good. I think I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve been developing in areas that I wouldn’t normally get if I was sitting out a lot, but I think the coaching staff has believed in me.”

The Nets liked Duke for a lot of reasons. He’s a solidly built 6’5” with a 40” max vertical who is almost as stoic as fellow rookie Cam Thomas. As draft guru Chad Ford noted, a lot of NBA teams liked him and some even had him penciled into the first round in their mock drafts. But he struggled in the second half of the season and teams lost interest.

Winfield describes his game this way, including his biggest development need.

Duke makes an impact on a game by stuffing the stat sheet. He’s a bouncy slasher and capable rebounder whose young legs give a jolt to a Nets team that profiles old. His game still must grow — part of that is experience, which will come with time. The other part is a jump shot he says he works on every day, particularly from the corner because in an offense with Kevin Durant, James Harden and (on the road) Kyrie Irving, that’s where the majority of his shots are going to come from.

Duke, a wing defender, is one of a number of Nets player with similar skills if not similar resume’s. There’s Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry, James Johnson and his fellow two-way, Kessler Edwards. Steve Nash says that while Duke is starting now, he plans on giving everyone a shot at one point or another, as Winfield writes.

“I think there’s a lot of guys of similar level in our group, and no one’s kind of taken the mantle at some of these complementary roles,” Nash said. “Everyone is kind of still in the running to take the bulk of those minutes. So until we see someone that really takes it — and takes it for a while — we’ll probably continue to mix it up and give guys different opportunities.”

Duke’s advantage is his defense. Twice, he’s had two blocks and two steals in a game. He’s also had two double-doubles, the first in his sixth game as a pro. But he knows that he must improve his shooting. He’s now hitting just 15 percent (not a typo.) There’s some hope. He’s good free throw shooter and those Big East numbers suggest it’s just a matter of time.

“Definitely (working on my shooting) because I feel those guys are drawing a lot of attention, the other starters,” he told the Daily News, referring to the “Big Three.” “So to be able to knock down an open shot with those guys getting double-teamed would be really important, really key.”

The Nets of course will have to make a decision on his future soon enough. As a two-way, he can play unlimited minutes in the regular season but wouldn’t be eligible. With Irving’s part-time status, the Nets will need all the bodies they can find. Bobby Marks of ESPN wrote earlier in the week that if the Nets open a roster spot, it’s likely going to him.