Taking stock of the ACC's prospects heading into Thursday night's NBA draft.
THE HIGH PICKS
Some mock drafts have Alex Len out of Maryland going No. 1 overall, which is -- to put it mildly -- head-scratching. There's a questionable (recent) injury history, not to mention inconsistency in his first two years in school. He's skilled, athletic and seven feet tall. Can't teach that.
The latest, from NBADraft.net, has Len going at No. 5 to Phoenix, which seems more reasonable.
The second pick out of the ACC will likely be Steven Adams from Pittsburgh (at No. 12, to Oklahoma City). The 7-foot center is a "project," of course, and some thought he shouldn't have even left school early and needed another year to get better.
Which would basically mean that the first two picks out of the ACC would be two guys drafted on potential. And that also basically sums up how NBA teams draft nowadays anyway, so it's somewhat appropriate. If the draft goes as NBADraft.net projects, then five players that are 6-11 or taller will go in the top 18, and a few of those guys are far from finished products.
This seems like a bit of a Roy Hibbert Effect -- as more and more NBA teams go small, the Pacers gained a huge advantage in the regular season and the playoffs when Hibbert really came into his own. The 7-footer was a question mark out of Georgetown, but he's developed nicely into one of the NBA's better centers. To have a guy like that is a huge asset, and teams are willing to take the risk to try to find a diamond in the rough in what has been described as a weak draft.
THE MID-TO-LATE FIRST-ROUNDERS
Projected anywhere from the mid-teens to the early 20s are Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse, Mason Plumlee from Duke, Shane Larkin from Miami and Reggie Bullock from North Carolina. Those four are expected to fill out the first round for the ACC.
The two point guards, Carter-Wililams and Larkin, are projected at No. 13 (to Dallas) and No. 14 (Utah), respectively. Carter-Williams is 6-6. Enough said, really. Oh, and his size reminds scouts of Shaun Livingston, pre-knee injury. Larkin is just 5-11, but his NBA Draft combine performance turned heads when he registered the highest vertical leap ever (44 inches).
Larkin made an enormous leap (pun intended) from his freshman to sophomore year and his trajectory certainly warrants a high pick.
Both Larkin and Carter-Williams have the kinds of intangibles that make teams drool, as well -- leadership, court-savvy and a good work ethic.
Plumlee is projected at No. 18 overall (to Atlanta), and it makes sense -- he's super athletic, has added a skill each year and was an inch shorter than everyone thought (he's actually 7-0, not 6-11). But Plumlee stayed at Duke for four years, and by NBA logic, this must mean that he is not very good. This is silly, but it's what it is. He's going to fall further than he should, and he'll be a value pick for someone.
Bullock is another guy who continued to get better every year in school. By the time he was a junior at UNC, he was the team's best defender, best shooter and at times, best rebounder. His versatile skill set should provide a lot of value for an NBA team. The latest NBADraft.net projection has him at 28th (San Antonio), but plenty of other mocks have him much higher and his interviewing skills have given his stock a bit of a boost.
THE FRINGE GUYS
ACC Player of the Year Erick Green from Virginia Tech should be an early second-round pick -- most mocks have him as the first pick of the first round (to Cleveland). He's kind of a combo guard, but if he didn't show last year that he can play point guard effectively -- somehow racking up assists in spite of a, um, sub-optimal roster of teammates -- then people aren't paying attention.
Remember Glen Rice, Jr? The mercurial wing was at Georgia Tech and suspended often before finally being kicked off the team in March 2012 after a passenger in his car fired a gun. He's made a comeback in the D-League, and his athleticism, shooting touch and seemingly newfound maturity makes him a value pick in the second round.
North Carolina State's C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown both decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the draft. They both made the best possible decision for themselves individually, but it's somewhat surprising to see both projected as mid-to-late second-rounders. If NBA teams draft on potential, Leslie is bound to go higher than Brown, but the order both are expected to be drafted (and the position) varies pretty wildly from mock draft to mock draft.
WILL THEY OR WON'T THEY?
Richard Howell (N.C. State), Kenny Kadji (Miami), James Southerland (Syracuse) and Ryan Kelly (Duke) all fall into the category of yes they're good but they're old so something is wrong with them." Which is unfortunate, since all three could really help an NBA roster.
Howell is a rebounding machine, Kadji is a skilled stretch-4 and Kelly (also a stretch-4) showed last year pre-injury that he can defend elite players. Syracuse's Southerland is 6-8, but can also shoot three's and he really emerged as a key cog as a senior.
All of those guys are projected as late second-rounders or undrafted, and perhaps the most head-scratching omission from most mock drafts is Seth Curry from Duke. Um ... haven't we learned not to doubt Currys at this point?
Either way, in a draft filled with uncertainty, there will be a lot of well-established ACC veterans who should latch on to a roster and help a team. Hopefully, many of those players will be fortunate enough to get on a team that's already good and carve out the best possible role for each of them.