Duke’s Matthew Hurt must contemplate NBA Draft decision

The 2020-21 season ended with almost complete whiplash for Duke basketball; it’s an unfortunately fitting coda. One moment, Duke is playing great ball and in the process of mounting a last-ditch effort to get to the NCAA Tournament. Mere hours later, though, it’s all over. Everything. The ACC Tournament, further postseason hopes, the season in general — all over and done with.

Cruel as it may be: the calendar flips pretty quickly to roster management. Who will leave and who will stay?

Duke will be one of hundreds of programs that must address these concerns; however, Mike Krzyzewski’s crew will have plenty to juggle. With the NBA Draft, NCAA transfer portal and extra eligibility all on the table, the 2021 offseason forecast as an incredibly busy time.

At the top of the agenda for Duke: will Matthew Hurt leave for the NBA Draft?

Hurt returned for his sophomore season and emerged as one of the top offensive players in the country. With added weight, Hurt was stronger and his shoot was even sweeter than before. The 6-foot-9 Hurt toggled between small-ball 5 and stretch-4 for the Blue Devils. Regardless of his position, Hurt shot the hell out of the ball this season.

Duke moved Hurt all over the floor as a the primary target of its half-court offense. As his usage rose, so, too, did his efficiency. He was razor-sharp from every level — punishing opponents with a seemingly un-blockable jumper.

Hurt averaged 18.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.4 percent on his 3-point attempts. Playing with poise, Hurt would take his time, get to this spots and shoot. Over of half the time, the ball went in.

Hurt was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player and first team all-conference. He was the one true constant for an otherwise up-and-down Duke team, one that will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

Following the abrupt end to the 2019-20 season, Cassius Stanley, Hurt’s classmate, left for the NBA. In his statement, Stanley (now with the Indiana Pacers) addressed his disappointment in not playing in the postseason while at Duke; however, as an older freshman, he felt as though he needed to leave.

Vernon Carey Jr. left, too, of course. Hurt stayed, as did Wendell Moore Jr.

Hurt will certainly test the NBA Draft waters in 2021; it’d be unwise to not at least go through this process. There’s noting to lose.

Currently, there’s speculation that Hurt will not only test the draft waters, but he also plans to remain in the draft. That makes a lot of sense: he’s now two years out of high school and his stock will certainly never be higher than it is right now. (Hurt turns 21 next month.)

Due to his size and jumper, Hurt is a somewhat interesting prospect for the next level, though he’s far from a first round pick projection. Outside of the shooting, Hurt doesn’t do much in terms of playmaking; he’s never been a strong rebounder.

Plus: there are concerns with Hurt’s defense. He needs to get stronger; he’s not very quick laterally, though he does compete on that end. Hurt also offers little in terms of rim protection: 2.6 percent career block rate.

Hurt’s entire premise as a prospect hinges on the jumper: can he help a team with an infusion of offense as a stretch-4? The second threat here centers of the defense: can Hurt hold up well enough on that end to avoid becoming a pure situational player?

At best, Hurt is a mid-2nd round prospect. That’s no slight. Hurt is an amazing player; he just had a great season and he’s getting better. However, it’s entirely unlikely that this alone push him into the coveted first round pick territory — which comes with guaranteed money.

There’s a chance if he stays in the draft that he’d go undrafted, too. (This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. It at least allows the player and his agent to pick which offer/team they like best. Undrafted players hit free agency earlier, too.) Being a known commodity from Duke and the ACC would lessen the odds of that happening, though.

If Hurt were to return — as unlikely as that may be — he would join a frontcourt that’s shaping up to from very busy. 7-footer Mark Williams came on strong late this season. He’s a good bet to return as a two-way anchor for the Blue Devils. Stretch-4 Jaemyn Brakefield and do-it-all power forward/center Henry Coleman could/should also return.

On top of that, Duke is set to add 5-star power forward Paolo Banchero, one of the top 2022 draft prospects to the mix, too. If Hurt doesn’t return, Banchero and Williams slot in as the 4 and 5; Coleman and Brakefield provide excellent depth.

Hurt returning would complicate some of that math; it would also mean that one of Hurt, Banchero and Williams would have to come off the bench, which is interesting to consider.