Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part One: #1-5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part One: #1-5)
Oct 04, 2008, 02:59 am
With four of the six major conferences behind us, we begin our analysis of the loaded ACC, not surprisingly front-loaded with four players from Duke and North Carolina occupying the top spots.

-Top Prospects in the Pac-10: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#1 Gerald Henderson, 6’5, Junior, SG/SF, Duke

Kyle Nelson

Gerald Henderson saved some of the best basketball of his career for the end of last season. In the NCAA tournament, Henderson carried Duke to the second round on a heroic full-court drive, and then almost brought his team back from the dead against West Virginia. Last season was a turning point for Henderson, who had a much-improved statistical year in which all of his numbers, production and efficiency alike, increased. Now that DeMarcus Nelson has graduated, Henderson is going to be expected to build on his 12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.1 spg, and 0.9 bpg averages and become a leading player for Duke.

Physically, there is very little holding Henderson back from taking the next step. Though he only possesses average size for an NBA shooting guard and could work on continuing to fill out, he is a freak athlete, possessing explosive leaping ability, speed in the open court, and very good lateral quickness on both ends of the floor. He appears to have some decent toughness as well, playing out the final two months of the season last year with a torn ligament in his shooting wrist.

Offensively, his wrist injury proved to be both a positive and negative. It further exposed his most significant weakness as his perimeter shooting ability. While it is nearly impossible to predict what his jump-shot will look like since surgery, it could very well look better than what he had before. Henderson shot the ball differently all season long, lacking any consistent shooting motion or release point. Balance is the key for him, making sure he takes his time and sets his feet before shooting. He has a good deal of potential to develop into a solid jump-shooter in the future, and next season wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Henderson does, however, show a steadily improving mid-range game. He isn’t yet a player who is going to create his own shot consistently off of the dribble, but the instinct is clearly there and he is slowly becoming more comfortable shooting from inside of the arc. One area in which Henderson should improve so as to help his mid-range game is his ball-handling. While he is certainly more than adequate compared to most NCAA guards, already possessing a developing arsenal of body and ball fakes, and the athleticism to get to the rim almost whenever he pleases, if he wishes to continue to excel at the next level, he is going to have to become a much better ball-handler. He can create space for himself against college defenders, but he will have trouble scoring against NBA competition should he not improve his ability to change directions and speeds with the ball.

One area in which Henderson justifies the hype, however, is on defense. Simply put, compared to a majority of his peers, his defense is stellar. Relying on a combination of basketball IQ, size, length, strength, and athleticism, he has the ability to guard all three perimeter positions well at the collegiate level, and looks to have all the makings of a good perimeter defender at the next level as well. Maintaining constant energy and focus on both sides of the ball is going to be a significant issue next year considering his likely first-option status on offense and his elite defensive reputation. Assuming that he can find a nice balance, however, there is no doubt that Henderson could be one of the NCAA’s top dual threats.

With all the positives and negatives in mind, Henderson showed a lot of flashes last year, enough to consider him a candidate for a breakout season. He will have to maintain his focus and aggressive play, however, if he wants to prove to scouts that he is deserving of the hype he received coming out of high school and a lottery pick.

There are few players in the country who will enter next season with as much to prove as him and there are even fewer with the opportunities that Henderson is afforded. After all, he is a great athlete with a significant amount of all-around talent who is inheriting a starring role for an elite program. The spotlight will be shining bright in Durham this season, and should Henderson take his game to the next level, this will likely be the last we see of him in the collegiate ranks.

#2 Kyle Singler, 6-9, Sophomore, SF/PF, Duke

Jonathan Givony

12 freshman were taken in the 2008 draft, including nine of the top 10 ranked players in the 2007 high school senior class. The lone one who decided to stick around was Kyle Singler, and that wasn’t exactly considered a big surprise. Singler did not have a bad freshman campaign by any means, as he finished the second leading overall scorer on a team ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. He did not have an overwhelmingly good year either, though, particularly down the stretch.

Singler’s best attribute as an NBA prospect will always revolve around his excellent all-around scoring instincts as a 6-9 perimeter player. Showing a beautiful looking stroke from beyond the arc, complete with a high-release point, solid range, and really nice touch, Singler is bound to improve on his 34% shooting accuracy from beyond the arc last season. He was very good with his feet set (39/100 or 39% according to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified player report), but saw his accuracy drop off dramatically (8/44, or 18%) when attempting rushed, contested jumpers. That largely has to do with his fairly slow release, which doesn’t always allow him enough time to fully get his legs underneath him.

Singler’s shot-selection and all-around decision making looked very freshman-like at times last season, taking some tough looks very early in possessions and turning the ball over a little bit more than you would hope. 43% of his attempts from the field came from beyond the arc.

More than just a one-dimensional shooter, Singler is also very much capable of putting the ball on the floor, thanks to his nice first step and excellent ball-handling skills with either hand for a player his size. He utilizes shot-fakes well and really knows how to set up his drives. He gets to the rim at a fairly decent clip, but isn’t always able to finish strong at the basket due to his poor combination of strength and explosiveness, which sees him get his shot blocked relatively often. Regardless, he takes the ball strong, and gets to the free throw fairly often, making nearly 78% of his attempts from the charity stripe.

Not a big enough part of his game, but definitely showing strong potential, his mid-range game looks very dangerous in the rare opportunities he had to pull-up off the dribble and execute difficult step-backs and fade-aways, being able to get his shot off almost whenever he pleases due to the high release point of his shot and his terrific size. It’s obvious that he’s watched a fair amount of Dirk Nowitzki footage. Along the same lines, he shows some raw ability to step into the post and punish smaller defenders with a nice turnaround jumper, not being afraid to fight for position inside, even if he obviously doesn’t have the physical tools to do all that much in there at this point.

Defensively, Singler looks very much stuck between positions at the moment, not being big, strong or long enough to adequately defend many of the big men he was matched up with last season (he played a good amount of 4 and even some 5), but not looking quick or agile enough to guard small forwards on the perimeter.

Singler‘s lateral quickness looks extremely questionable at the moment, as opposing players regularly beat him from the perimeter and on the pick and roll, often making him look very slow and upright trying to stay in front of them. His poor 6-10 wingspan doesn’t help him out enough in this area, although he does good timing, aggressiveness and feel going after rebounds, which may indicate that there is still some hope on this end of the floor. He seems to do a good job reading the scouting reports and attempting to take away his opponents’ strengths, although right now players can just bully him around and force him off-balance (especially in the post), meaning he’ll definitely have to put on some weight to compete against higher level athletes.

Now left as the most highly touted member of the 2007 high school recruiting class still in college, Singler could very well be primed for a breakout sophomore season. Certain NBA teams we’ve spoken to liked him a lot last year already, so don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a pretty serious draft prospect as soon as this upcoming June.

#3 Ty Lawson, 5’11, Juniot, Point Guard, North Carolina

Joseph Treutlein

After a promising freshman season, Ty Lawson didn’t disappoint as a sophomore, with his production and efficiency remaining the same or improving in virtually every category, even while playing at less than 100% health as he had ankle problems all season. Following his strong season, Lawson declared for the draft and got off to a good start at the Orlando pre-draft camp, but things took a turn for the worse after that, as he had multiple setbacks in the process, including an injury, an underage drinking and driving arrest and a missed workout with the Denver Nuggets. Eventually, Lawson decided to pull out and return to school.

Looking at Lawson’s statistics, the first thing that jumps out is his very big improvement in FT%, up from 69% to 83%. His 3PT% has remained steady at 36% in his two seasons, but considering his improvement at the line, it wouldn’t be surprising if his long ball starts to show improvement this season. As a shooter, Lawson only really excels with his feet set, looking uncomfortable shooting off the dribble, especially when going left. Even when spotting up, Lawson has a few things he could work on, though, namely holding his follow through more frequently and keeping his form consistent in general. His low release point also can hurt him when he’s closely guarded by a defender.

Lawson’s definitely at his best playing in transition, with the majority of his offense coming there, where he can make full use of his excellent speed and ball-handling abilities in North Carolina’s extremely up-tempo system. He can break presses single-handedly and push the ball forward to create high-percentage shots for himself and others. He does a good job keeping his head up and shows the ability to make tremendous passes, but he can also force the issue at times.

Lawson can try to do too much in his dribble-drive game as well, but he shows great proficiency in attacking the basket, even at his size. He’s definitely more comfortable knifing through defenders in transition than in the half-court, but he’s capable of using his craftiness and physical tools in either setting. At the rim, Lawson shows very good body control and ability to draw contact, finishing on a high percentage of shots, but he does show some trouble in the half-court against weak-side defenders, and further developing his floater should be a priority. Lawson’s mid-range game in general is a big problem area, due to him not being a good shooter off the dribble.

As a point guard, Lawson is one of the country’s best, and as previously mentioned, he’s definitely at his best pushing the tempo. He does a good job in the half-court as well, though, showing good ability in pick-and-roll situations, using his speed and acceleration to split defenders, while he’s also a very good post entry passer. He definitely has room for improvement, though, with his shot creation abilities in the half-court.

Defensively, Lawson shows good foot speed and has good hands as well, helping him to 1.6 steals per game, but he has a ways to go as a man-to-man defender. He’s inconsistent with his stance and doesn’t always show the best reflexes, leading to him being beat off the dribble. His size also is of no help here, as even when he stays in front of his man, he’s prone to being shot over in the lane, and his size certainly doesn’t help getting through screens either.

In the long run, coming back to school could turn out to be the best thing for Lawson, and his offseason troubles could’ve been a blessing in disguise if he can put them behind him. This year’s draft class is projected to be weaker than last year’s, which could help Lawson go from a likely late first-rounder to a potential lottery pick, especially if he can make some strides with his game. Despite the overall weakness of the class, the class does seem to have an abundance of point guards, though, so Lawson will definitely have to stay atop his game.

#4 Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9, Senior, Power Forward, North Carolina

Joey Whelan

Not since Tim Duncan returned for his senior year at Wake Forest has there been a 4-year college big man as prolific of a scorer as Tyler Hansbrough. The hard-nosed forward has nothing left to prove in his collegiate career aside from winning a national championship and becoming the ACC’s all-time leading scorer. The three time All-American has garnered every other conceivable honor in his time at Chapel Hill, but will give it one more go-around this season. Being an elite player who has spent several years in the national spotlight, Hansbrough has been written about countless times on this site, to the point that it almost feels redundant to discuss his strengths and weaknesses and how he stacks up as an NBA prospect.

The knock against Hansbrough from the moment he became a household name is his lack of size and athleticism for a frontcourt player at the professional level. He will likely give up a couple of inches on most nights in the league, but against college rosters his stature is adequate. He possesses great strength, but more importantly, he has control of that strength and knows how to use it effectively to create space and draw contact on the block. Hansbrough slimmed down a little bit last year, which made him faster in the open court, but his quickness could still be improved in order to more effectively hedge on screens and handle opponents when he steps out on the perimeter.

Very little about Hansbrough’s offensive game has changed in his three years with the Tar Heels; he is a fundamentally sound hustle player. It is obvious that he possesses a well developed post game, but what is most impressive is his natural feel for playing with his back to the basket. So many times we have seen him spin around on his pivot foot, giving head and ball fakes, until he finally gets a look he likes or draws a foul on his defender. There may be no player in the country better at finishing with contact than Hansbrough. While many of his looks are by no means what would be considered “good shots”, he is often able to knock down baskets from extremely difficult angles thanks to his strength, touch, and poise under pressure.

This feel for the post also lends itself to Hansbrough getting a tremendous number of trips to the foul line. He led the nation in free throws attempted and free throws made last season, connecting on 304 of his 377 attempts, good for an 80.6% clip. In all, a whopping 34.5% of his points last year came on free throws; in addition, only one other player who averaged 8 free throw attempts last year shot better than 80% from the line, and that was lottery pick Eric Gordon. While coaches and scouts love how aggressive Hansbrough is, he does force the issue sometimes, attempting poor shots rather than kicking to an open teammate. This tends to happen against bigger or more athletic frontcourts (i.e.: Kansas and Washington State in last year’s NCAA Tournament). There will always be the question mark about whether he is simply a man amongst boys at the collegiate level, and whether his production will stagnate once he is no longer able to beat up on largely mediocre post players and starts going up against the Dwight Howards and Tim Duncans of the world.

While still very much a post player, Hansbrough has continued to add other facets to his offensive skill set. His jump shot, though awkward and slow in its form, has proven to be relatively effective if he is given room to get it off. His slimmer frame has also allowed him to be more of a threat running the floor and finishing in transition. Where Hansbrough still struggles, though, is with his ball handling skills. Even at this point, he can only attack the basket in a straight line, and when he is forced to change directions by a defender, he almost exclusively goes to a spin move. His first step is only average for the college game, only really effective against slower big men who venture out to the perimeter.

Hansbrough’s hard-nosed style of play translates well to the defensive side of the ball. He is tough to back down and rarely leaves his feet on ball fakes. He is an excellent rebounder who relies on tenacity and positioning to hall in loose balls at a high rate. While he has improved his defense on the perimeter, he still struggles to stay in front of more athletic big men and guards he is forced to cover when hedging on screens. In order to be an effective player in the NBA it will be vital that Hansbrough become a better defender when he is forced to step away from the paint. Considering his lack of size, there will already be question marks about his ability to defend his position at the NBA level.

There is no reason to think that Hansbrough can’t be a first-round pick after he finishes his career with North Carolina. How high he goes though, depends on a lot of factors. He needs to start showing that he can step away from the paint on a more regular basis on both ends of the floor. Improving on his .42 assist to turnover ratio certainly would help his cause as well. Ultimately though, Hansbrough is everything that is right about college basketball; a phenomenal player who has the best work ethic of anyone in the country and plays every game to his absolute fullest abilities. His skill set and style of play lead us to believe he will be the consummate hustle player at the next level and be an effective contributor with whatever team decides to draft him, even if there will undoubtedly be many who question him along the way.

#5 Gani Lawal, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Georgia Tech

Rodger Bohn

Gani Lawal was relatively productive in small doses last season for the Yellow Jackets and will have the opportunity to bolster those numbers this season with extended playing time. Shooting an impressive 57% from the field, he was able to capitalize on the relatively small amount of opportunities he was able to create for himself due to his average skill-level. Looking at his imposing physical tools combined with his great attitude, though, it’s easy to see why you’re looking at a player with quite a bit of intrigue. Lawal was one of the top performers at the Adidas Nations camp in Dallas this summer, impressing quite a few NBA scouts in attendance and showing that he could very well be on his way to a breakout sophomore season, despite only averaging 7 points in 17 minutes last year.

Although Lawal stands only 6’8, he is able to make up for his lack of ideal height with his outstanding wingspan (reportedly 7’1) and outstanding body. At 233 pounds, he has a frame that is plenty capable of adding more weight if desired. He is a simply physically imposing player who is able to compensate for his lack of height with terrific athleticism and incredibly hard play.

The main selling point that Lawal offers as a prospect revolves around the little things that he brings to the table. He possesses an outstanding motor, usually playing harder than anyone else on the floor. The Georgia native is outstanding running the floor, extremely quick off his feet, posts incredibly hard, and uses his body to play the role of enforcer on the defensive end. He appears to be an absolute coach’s dream, and a player who constantly leads by example with his excellent effort.

Offensively, Lawal shows small flashes of developing post moves, but is still extremely raw. It is quite easy to see that the footwork for the moves that he attempts to do is quite unnatural, resulting in a large amount of traveling calls against the big man. Though he favors going towards his right shoulder and shows very little fluidity, Lawal is fairly efficient in the post due to the fact that he wisely sticks to his strengths for the most part, scoring primarily off cuts to the basket and offensive rebounds. Showing off big, soft hands, a decent touch with his right hand, the ability to draw fouls at an excellent rate, and all the explosiveness needed to go up and finish plays around the rim, he can be very productive in a garbage-man type role. Still quite raw, he leaves room for optimism in terms of his long term development in the pivot.

Facing the basket, Lawal is a long ways away from being a consistent threat. He looks incredibly awkward shooting the ball with very loose mechanics, and didn’t appear to have much confidence in his jumper last season, as evidenced by the 49.5% he shot from the free throw line. When driving to the basket with his right hand, he exhibited a very nice first step and finished well, but did not have as much luck going towards his left. Certainly a work in progress in terms of his all-around skill-level, it will be interesting to see what kind of progress Lawal can make on this part of his game.

On the defensive end, Lawal does a very nice job of holding his own ground on the blocks and altering shots with his length. More of a low post defender, he does a nice job of rotating well to cut off opposing penetrators. On the other hand, Gani struggles a bit when guarding defenders facing the basket, due to his poor fundamentals in terms of closing out and a very upright stance. Quite surprinsgly, Lawal is a fairly marginal rebounded for a player that possesses such great physical tools and a blue collar type of game.

Lawal is a player who showed nice flashes of potential last season as a freshman, but will need to build upon that in terms of productivity if he hopes to solidify himself as an immediate draft prospect. The physical package and long term upside that he offers makes him unique amongst most college forwards and will certainly make him a player that scouts will be paying close attention to this season. Now it is up to him so show NBA personnel how quickly he is ready to take his game to the next level.

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