This year's Eric Moreland memorial Vegas Summer League standout award went to former Wisconsin Badger Duje Dukan, and it wasn’t even close. You could argue that Dukan was the VSL Kings’ most dynamic offensive player, displaying an ability to shoot and handle the ball that is quite rare for someone who is listed at 6’10 and could theoretically play power forward in the NBA next season.
I was expecting Dukan to receive a training camp invite following his steady play in Vegas, but Vlade Divac’s decision to give him a guaranteed contract should tell you all you need to know about the Kings confidence in Dukan as a legitimate NBA prospect. I didn’t see the guaranteed contract coming, but I was pleasantly surprised when it did. After reading about how Dukan grew up, I’d have a hard time seeing him do anything else but play basketball. I’m excited about this guy, and you should be too.
1. Dukan was a ball boy for the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls
His father, Ivica Dukan, played professional basketball in Europe for 15 years before joining the Chicago Bulls front office in 1990. This led to Duje’s early ‘career’ as a Chicago Bulls ball boy throughout the 90’s. That would make anyone fall in love with basketball.
2. The night Brad Miller and Shaq almost killed him
Duje Dukan, via Chicago Tribune –
"There was a play underneath the basket and Charles Oakley smacked Shaq in the back of the head, Shaq turned around and thought it was Brad Miller. Shaq took a swing and whiffed, and Miller tackled him onto my legs.
All of a sudden a 7-foot-1, 320-pound guy -- Shaq -- was falling on me. Next thing I know I'm on the bottom of the pile and I can't move. Oakley saw me and got on Shaq and made a push-up position over Shaq to give me room to get out."
I managed to find a less-than-stellar quality YouTube video of the exchange, which I’ll post below. Miller is lucky he walked away from that one.
3. Four-Game Suspension
Duje Dukan was suspended four games by the NCAA, including the first two games of his senior season at Wisconsin, for some weird redshirt rules stemming from his battle with mononucleosis. Dukan missed an entire year of college basketball due to his mono diagnosis, but because he played in two scrimmages prior to deciding he couldn’t play, the NCAA, by rule, suspended him two games for every one game he played before redshirting. I’d file this under ‘dumb things the NCAA does’ as the redshirting process seems entirely too complicated, and playing in scrimmages that suspends you from regular season games seems a bit excessive, but if you’d like to read a detailed account of what went on, you can check out the Fox Sports report here.
Dukan’s former teammate Zach Bohannon wrote an op-ed column for CBS Sports on the issue here, and he had some strong thoughts about how the NCAA handled Dukan’s case. It’s an interesting read.
4. Croatian Connection
Last October, Robert Mays wrote a fantastic column for Grantland on Nikola Mirotic’s transition from Europe to the Chicago Bulls. Duje Dukan’s father, Ivica Dukan, who we already established as having been a member of the Bulls front office since 1990, aided his transition. In the column, Mays references how Ivica helped Toni Kukoc make a similar transition. Ivica Dukan, Toni Kukoc, and Vlade Divac all played on the Yugoslavian national team before Croatia and Slovenia declared independence in 1991, which caused a lot of turmoil between what would eventually become Serbia and Croatia, to say the least. There is a lot going on here, but the point is, Vlade Divac knows the Dukan’s. He knows the Croatian basketball scene, and while Duje has lived in Chicago for most of his life, you can bet Vlade Divac’s connections helped him scout Dukan on some level, because he wasn’t considered as an NBA prospect before his showing in Vegas. He basically said as much in his press conference after the Kings announced his signing. "Except for the Kings, I don’t think a lot of people knew about me" said Dukan.
5. Diamond in the rough
Nothing about Duje Dukan’s five seasons at Wisconsin points towards a successful career in the NBA. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s just a testament to how improbable his rise has been. He was a fifth-year senior in the 2014-15 season, averaging just 4.7 points and 2.6 rebounds, shooting a well below-ideal .387 from the field and .319 from three. He didn’t even start.
I didn’t run the numbers, but I’m going to assume the success rate for a 23 year old fifth year college senior who averaged under five points per game and shot below .400 from the field all while coming off the bench is extremely low. I’m not trying to knock Duje, I’m trying to provide context for how crazy it is that he made this team. I couldn’t be happier for him.
He was really good in Vegas, and I mean ‘beyond the stat sheet’ good. His numbers were solid, of course, but what really stuck out to me was his court awareness. Just little things like knowing where to be and when to be there. He actually reminded me of Omri Casspi in the way that he moved so well without the ball. My single favorite part of Casspi’s game last season was how rarely he stood in once place. In transition, he was running, in the half court, he was cutting. He didn’t stand still with the ball, either. He passed, he made a play, or he shot. No hesitation. I saw that similar mind set out of Dukan, and especially in a setting like Vegas, that stood out.
His skill set is certainly unique for a player of his size. He’s a small 6’10, and looked more like a small forward than a power forward to me, but I have to keep telling myself that it’s 2015. With the way the NBA is trending, he’ll be playing center in no time. He’s thin, though, and that is really my point. He has the height and length for power forward, but he doesn’t rebound particularly well and his light frame was an issue on the glass, even in Vegas. 6’10 with a good handle, a beautiful looking shot, and a good head on his shoulders is worth taking a chance on, though. After watching him in Vegas, Dukan is a legitimate prospect in my eyes. I can’t tell you what kept him down in college, or why his numbers were what they were, or why other teams didn’t pursue him on any level, but I’m glad Vlade Divac found him.