Continuing to evaluate the top returning NBA prospects in college basketball, we turn our attention to the ACC where Duke's Mason Plumlee, Florida State's Chris Singleton, North Carolina's John Henson, and Duke upperclassmen Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith comprise the first team we'll look into.
Freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA circuit before we come to any long-term conclusions.
-Top 20 NBA Prospects in the Big Ten
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the Big 12
-Top 10 NBA Prospects in the Pac-10
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the SEC
-Top 25 NBA Prospects in the Big East
#1 Mason Plumlee, 6'11, Sophomore, Power Forward, Duke
14.1 minutes, 3.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 46% FG, 54% FT, 25% 3PT
One of the most talented freshmen in the country last season, Mason Plumlee played a role much smaller than what he was capable of due to the incredibly deep Duke championship squad. Relegated mostly to finishing on cuts and offensive rebounds on the offensive end, Plumlee played his role well while also showing occasional flashes of why he's so highly regarded as a prospect.
Standing 6'11 with a decent frame, average length, and superb overall athleticism, Plumlee has the prototypical physical profile for an NBA power forward. Extremely explosive and agile with great coordination and a very high motor, Plumlee has the potential to excel anywhere on the court on the offensive end should he develop the requisite skills.
While Plumlee did most of his damage on simple finishes around the rim for the Blue Devils, he shows the groundwork of skills in a variety of areas when he gets the occasional chance to create his own offense, being at least adequately capable of dribble drives, perimeter jumpers, and back-to-the-basket moves.
Plumlee's post game is probably the most underdeveloped area of his offense, as he's very lacking in instincts while having a limited repertoire of moves. Despite this, he still shows immense potential in this area, as his counter-moves are incredibly rangy, he already is showing flashes of ambidexterity finishing, and he has a decent turnaround jumper off both shoulders. Developing his hook shot and becoming more comfortable with all his moves in general should be among his priorities here.
While Plumlee could develop into a good back-to-the-basket player in the NBA should he put in the work, he's probably best suited as a stretch four, as he's lacking in upper body mass right now and probably isn't capable of putting on substantially more weight without sacrificing some of his athleticism. Operating out of the face-up position either from the high post or wing, Plumlee looks much more comfortable and that's probably where his potential is highest.
Possessing a great first step, incredibly rangy strides, and already a decent handle with both his left and right hands, Plumlee is very dangerous when he gets straight line opening to the basket, something that should open up far more in the NBA's better spaced, more isolation-oriented game. While Plumlee will occasionally flash an impressive spin move in the lane, he struggles with other changes of direction on drives and his game certainly lacks a degree of polish in this area. Regardless, his physical tools and groundwork of skills alone make this an effective staple of his game, though it still has room to improve substantially.
The area of Plumlee's game that was utilized the least as a freshman was his perimeter jump shot, as he took just 16 jumpers on the entire season according to Synergy Sports Technology, though half of them came from behind the three-point arc. Plumlee has good form with a high and quick release, though he seems to lack confidence in his shot, or possibly is tentative to use it because of all the other perimeter shooting options on the Blue Devils. His 54% free-throw shooting is also quite poor, though it was on a small sample size of just 46 attempts.
One of the most encouraging aspects of Plumlee's offensive game from a future development standpoint is his excellent set of intangibles, as he possesses a high motor, good basketball IQ, and clearly buys into a team concept given the role he accepted. Plumlee moves well off the ball, attacks the offensive glass, sets excellent screens, and shows very good court vision on passes out of the high post, finding lots of little ways to contribute even though he doesn't get many touches.
Defensively, Plumlee likewise shows a very high motor and excellent fundamental base, being attentive and composed both in the post and on the perimeter. While he lacks a certain degree of physical toughness in the post and is prone to giving up position down low before the ball gets to his man, Plumlee does a pretty good job using leverage once his man has the ball, uses his hands and forearms well, and does a great job using his average
length to contest shots. On the perimeter, Plumlee's versatility is very impressive, as he has an excellent stance, is very active moving his feet, and shows a great level of mobility both in man-to-man and pick-and-roll situations. He hedges very aggressively on screens while also being comfortable switching onto smaller guards when the situation calls for it. The one thing Plumlee could improve on defensively is his defensive rebounding, as he pulled them in at a lackluster rate last season.
Looking forward, Plumlee is obviously still very early in his development, and Duke's very deep roster certainly hasn't helped jumpstart his growth, but things should open up a bit for him this season with Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas both graduated. Despite his small numbers, there is a reason Plumlee is our #1 ranked returning prospect in the ACC, as he's capable of improving immensely in a variety of offensive areas, something he should have plenty of chances to do this year. His game is also likely much better suited for the NBA game, where the increased spacing and more isolation/pick-and-roll opportunities very much play to his strengths. A likely lottery pick whenever he decides to declare as long as he continues developing, Plumlee's ceiling is very high and he should have the intangibles to give him every chance to reach it.
#2 Chris Singleton, 6'8, Junior, Forward, Florida State
10.2 Points, 7.0 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists, 2.2 Steals, 1.5 Blocks, 3.0 Turnovers, 41.2% FG, 29.7% 3P, 49.6% FT
Having profiled Singleton fairly late in the season with a comprehensive scouting report, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress he's made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off his 2009-2010 game footage.
#3 John Henson, 6'10, Sophomore, Power Forward Forward, North Carolina
5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, .9 assists, 1.2 turnovers, .7 steals, 1.6 blocks, 49% FG, 44% FT
After starting his freshman season as a player found near the top of many 2010 NBA draft boards, John Henson's stock came back towards reality when we profiled him last season, as it was clearly evident that he was not ready to be a big contributor at the college level, let alone the NBA. Though his potential was never in doubt, his lack of strength in his long, lanky frame made it difficult for him to compete, as he was often muscled around on the inside and on the perimeter.
He continued to develop and become more comfortable as the season went on, however, and following a season-ending injury to Ed Davis in mid-Februrary, Henson got the opportunity to earn more minutes, and he took advantage. While he still faced many of the same problems he had all season due to his under-developed body, Henson showed flashes of why he was regarded so highly as a future NBA prospect.
Henson's intrigue as a prospect centers around his phenomenal physical tools and his freakish length and mobility for a player at 6'10. He runs the floor extremely well and has huge strides and a tremendous wingspan, which allow him to cover a ton ground with each step he takes. While his body is obviously in need of quite a bit of extra strength, he should be able to add that in time with the proper training and work ethic. This will be the key to his development though, as he's limited in many areas because his lack of strength.
Offensively, Henson relied on his length and energy to make plays and get buckets around the rim last season, whether he was crashing the offensive boards, cutting to open spaces in the basket area, or running the floor in transition. And while he was often able to find ways to finish, he threw up quite a few awkward shot attempts in more crowded situations where he wasn't able to go up and finish strong.
Henson handles the ball very well for a player his size and has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for opposing power forwards on the perimeter, where he can utilize his quick first step and long strides to beat his man to the basket. He showed flashed of this last season, but he was too easily bumped off his path because he was so thin and weak.
As a shooter, Henson really struggled last season, as shown by the abysmal 44% he shot from the free throw line and 23% he shot on jumpers. His mechanics are much better than that though, and he shoots with a soft touch, so he should be able to improve quite a bit in this area in time, with repetition and a focus on consistency.
On the defensive end, Henson has the potential to be outstanding, especially as his body matures and he continues to add strength. He has adequate lateral quickness to cover NBA power forwards, and his tremendous length helps him recover quickly and covers up some of his mistakes. In addition to the havoc he can cause on the ball, Henson excels as a help defender as well, as evidenced by his averaging 3.6 blocks per forty minutes pace adjusted last season. He also showed a very good activity level on the glass as a freshman, posting double digit rebounds in 5 of his last 12 games.
Overall, Henson made some nice strides during the course of his freshman season, and it will be interesting to see what type of improvement he made in the offseason, both with his basketball skills and with his body. He oozes with upside and has the height, length, and mobility that scouts covet for a 4 man in today's NBA, but judging from last season, he still has some time before he'd be able to contribute at that level. Regardless, Henson will be a player to keep an eye on this season as his physical development will have a huge impact on his production as a sophomore.
#4 Kyle Singler, 6'9, Senior, Forward, Duke
17.7 Points, 7.0 Rebounds, 2.4 Assists, 2.0 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 41.5% FG, 39.9% 3P, 79.8% FT
Having profiled Singler fairly late in the season with a comprehensive scouting report, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress he's made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off his 2009-2010 game footage.
#5 Nolan Smith, 6-3, Junior, PG/SG, Duke
17.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 44% FG, 77% FT, 39% 3P
Fresh off a national championship, of which he was an integral part of winning, Nolan Smith didn't waste much time in recommitting to spending his senior year at Duke.
Smith has been on our radar screen since he was a high school junior playing alongside Brandon Jennings at Oak Hill Academy back in 2006, and all he's done is slowly but steadily round out into one of the most complete guards in college basketball since.
From a physical standpoint, Smith isn't likely to blow anyone away with his athleticism or upside. Showing good size for the point guard spot, Smith is more smooth than he is explosive, relying on his smarts, timing and outstanding fundamentals to get the job done. He's unlikely to test out as anything more than an average athlete, but that certainly doesn't affect the way he plays, and there are certainly some advantages to the terrific pace he plays at.
Offensively, Smith is at his best in the half-court, where his smarts and unselfishness really shine through. Capable of driving left or right and making shots with his feet set or off the dribble, Smith takes what the defense gives him and does a terrific job of executing Duke's offense. He never forces the issue and therefore almost never turns the ball over, managing to cut down his turnover rate gradually every year, to the point that he now coughs it up on just 12% of his possessions.
He can create for his teammates effectively either on the pick and roll or just by trusting the offense and getting them the ball at the right time, never really blowing you away with anything he does, but always being steady, efficient and productive. Not what you would call a pure point guard, Smith nonetheless should have no problems running an NBA offense, as he's an excellent ball-handler, a willing passer and has an exceptionally high basketball IQ.
Where Smith might run into problems is when being asked to go out and create offense for himself on a regular basis. While he can get by players at the collegiate level thanks to his excellent timing and fundamentals, he's not exceptionally explosive and doesn't have a great mid-range game, not really looking all that comfortable creating separation sharply from his defender with his pull-up jumper.
He also is just an average finisher around the basket, often preferring to utilize his floater from 3-5 feet out rather than exploding at the rim, creating contact and finishing strong, a reason he doesn't get to the free throw line an outstanding rate. He converts just 46% of his 2-pointers in turn, which is a fairly pedestrian rate compared with some of his counterparts at the NCAA level.
As a shooter, Smith is effective as his 39% 3-point percentage would indicate, but he has room to improve here as well, particularly with his feet set. His shot remains a bit on the rigid side, as it's fairly quick but loses accuracy significantly when he's forced to rush, is coming off a screen or has a hand in his face, things that may become more of an issue at the NBA level. Increasing his range and improving his ability to shoot under duress are two things he might want to work on moving forward.
Defensively, Smith does not have great physical tools, but he more than makes up for that with the effort, smarts, toughness and fundamentals he brings to the table. He takes great pride in his work on this end of the floor, staying in front of his man effectively and using his length to contest opponents' shots on every possession.
Duke was one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball, and the work Smith put in shutting down opposing point guards played a big part in that. NBA teams will wonder whether Smith has the size and length to defend shooting guards if called upon, which is something he may need to show during the workout process.
Smith is the type of player who probably won't get many General Managers overly excited on draft night, but ultimately is likely to go on and have a very productive NBA career. He doesn't have any major weaknesses and brings a terrific pedigree to the table, and should be able to step into an NBA rotation from day one and contribute to a playoff team. Other prospects will be deemed to have more upside, but no one will have won more games, and college players with this type of profile very often end up exceeding what's typically expected from their draft spot.