In the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Duke University Blue Devils suffered quite an upset when 14th-seeded Mercer sent them packing. With all the hype that surrounded superstar freshman Jabari Parker, what would have happened if the Blue Devils had another superstar in the form of future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant?
I know what you’re thinking, “but Bryant has been injured all season long! He hasn’t played but a handful of minutes!” So, we’re going to continue this debate by saying Duke would’ve had the healthy and 100 percent Bryant. The Bryant that dropped 81 points on the poor Toronto Raptors in 2006.
In past years, it’s been said that had Bryant gone to college, he would have been Duke-bound. The Philadelphia native bypassed the college route and went straight to the NBA via 1996 draft. In 2007, he reportedly said that he would have gone to Duke. However, in 2013, he reportedly told Jimmy Kimmel that he would’ve gone to UNC. For the sake of argument, let’s just say the superstar chose Duke.
What a team that would’ve been and what a run they would’ve had. To make this debate even more fun, let’s put him on this year’s squad and debate how far they would’ve gone. Mike Krzyzewski would then have had a post presence in Parker, 3-point threats in Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood, and then that guy named Kobe Bryant that can do everything those guys can and more.
When Bryant became a full-time starter in the NBA in his third year in the league (we’ll discount years one and two because he would’ve started at Duke right away), he averaged nearly 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals per game and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the playoffs. The following three seasons, he led them to NBA championship. As soon as he took on a full-time role, he shined.
What’s to say he couldn’t have done that with this year’s Duke team in a similar situation? Having a bona fide point guard like Bryant to lead the offense would have been just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Devils. While Duke already had a pretty solid squad with players that compliment each other, adding a true No. 1 like Bryant would have made a huge difference.
It would have taken a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Parker, Cook and others. Even as he ages, Bryant garners plenty of defensive attention, which leaves other players open for shots. With Bryant at Duke, Parker would have had much better looks where he wasn’t getting smothered by defenders. It would have been easier for the 3-point shooters to get open because, well, everyone on defense would be focusing on Bryant.
Also, Duke would have a clutch performer who could have put the team on his back when it was needed most.
Duke came across a pretty good team in Mercer, but not even they could’ve stopped this team if it was led by Bryant in his prime. The Black Mamba would have been just too much. The Blue Devils would have gotten out of the first round with ease, and the sky’s the limit from there. With the addition of Bryant, Duke would have gone to the national championship game and steamrolled whoever they came across on their way to cutting down the nets.
The debate of how good a player would have been in college is one that will never end. However, it’s still a fun one to have. In the debate over how good would Duke have been with Bryant, particularly this year’s team, there’s no question that they would have had national champions written all over them.