Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Four: #16-20)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Four: #16-20)
Oct 17, 2008, 10:16 pm
We finish up the ACC with part four of our analysis of the top NBA draft prospects in the conference. Brandon Costner of N.C. State leads off, followed by Duke's Nolan Smith, North Carolina's Marcus Ginyard, Virginia Tech's A.D. Vassallo, and North Carolina's Deon Thompson.

-Top Prospects in the ACC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-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

#16 Brandon Costner, 6’9, SF/PF, Junior, NC State

Joseph Treutlein

After a promising freshman season, Brandon Costner really disappointed as a sophomore, with his numbers going down across the board, and significantly so in many categories. A reduction in minutes and touches can account for some of his issues, as he deferred to freshman J.J. Hickson, who came in and was the instant focal point of their offense, but there’s no excuse for his FG% dropping over 10 points when his usage actually decreased as well.

According to reports, Costner is ready to put last season behind him and move forward, as he’s convinced he’s still the player he was as a freshman, and is intent on proving such. He said he’s hit the gym hard this offseason, trying to improving his athleticism, while losing a reported 11 pounds already. This should help his game out significantly, and he’ll have every chance to show it, as his minutes and touches should return to what they were two seasons ago.

In analyzing last season, it’s tough to really explain what went wrong for Costner. Many have pointed to Hickson and how he changed the dynamic of NC State’s team, but it’s tough to blame Hickson for Costner’s woes when Hickson was less turnover prone and far more efficient and productive than Costner, while doing it on higher usage to boot. Costner’s inability to adjust to a supporting role when he was put out of his comfort zone is a considerable red flag in projecting him to the next level, because he’s not going to be an offensive focal point if he makes it in the NBA.

Looking at Costner’s game, there still is a lot to like, starting with his strong frame and versatility on the offensive end. While his consistency was terrible last season, he showed flashes of the things he excelled with a season earlier, taking defenders off the dribble from the perimeter for one. He seems to have improved his handle with his right hand a bit (he’s a lefty), and is dangerous attacking in either direction from the perimeter, though he still isn’t a great finisher with his right. He’s not very quick with the ball, but he has excellent fluidity and coordination for his size, and is able to take advantage of mismatches with a lot of bigs at this level. It’s questionable how this segment of his game will translate to the next level at either the 3 or the 4.

In the post, Costner’s game fell off this season, with his efficiency going down noticeably. He has a nice assortment of moves along with good footwork, mixing in turnaround jumpers and pivot moves to get the job done. He has nice touch around the rim, but his lack of explosiveness leaves him prone to having his shot blocked. His reported work in the gym this offseason should help here.

The area where Costner’s game fell off the most last season was with his jump shot, as his 3PT% fell from 38% to 31%, with his mid-range shot falling off as well. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Costner scored 1.17 points per possession on catch and shoot situations in 2006-07, but fell sharply to 0.75 in 07-08. Seeing Costner miss wide open threes by a few feet is something that happened on quite a few occasions this season, leading you to believe that many of his problems had more to do with the mental side of things rather than any talent deficiencies.

Defensively, he’s still a major question mark projecting to the next level, as he doesn’t have great height or explosiveness to guard power forwards, while his lateral quickness will be a big problem for him guarding small forwards. Again, it will be interesting to see how his improvements to his body in the offseason affect this area of his game. This is likely always going to be a huge factor holding him back.

Looking at the NBA, Costner is a real question mark for a lot of reasons, ranging from questions about his size to his athleticism to his conditioning to his position to his drastic decline in proficiency this past season. There’s no denying that he’s still a quite skilled player, though, and he definitely has potential, though he’s going to need to come back strong this season. A year older than most players his class, he’s not the type who can just rely on his upside to get him attention from scouts. He’s going to need to be convincing on the court, producing and winning games, to get himself back into draft discussions.

#17 Nolan Smith, 6-3, Sophomore, PG/SG, Duke

Jonathan Givony

Six points in fifteen minutes per game is hardly the stuff legends are made out of, but considering his versatile skill-set, the program he played for, and his reputation out of high school, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to put Nolan Smith towards the very bottom of this list in order to take a preliminary in-depth look. Ranked as high as the sixth best prospect in his class according to analysts such as ESPN’s Bob Gibbons—shockingly ahead of players like Michael Beasley and Jerryd Bayless—Smith obviously came into Duke with some extremely lofty expectations. Clearly he wasn’t able to live up to them in his first season of college hoops—compared to some of his peers at least (he was rumored to be contemplating transferring this summer)—but he was always considered more of a three or four year prospect to begin with, even though he is a year older than his class.

Solidly built at 6-3, with a great frame and good, but not amazing athleticism, Smith fills the bill for the most part as far as physical attributes are concerned. He spent minutes at both guard spots for Duke last season, but his future clearly appears to be at the point, which will give him a definite size advantage against most of his matchups.

Smith’s bread and butter right now revolve around his slashing game, as he has decent ball-handling skills, a solid first step, and a very aggressive mentality stepping into the lane. He appears to be somewhat out of control at times with his forays to the rim, and is excessively turnover prone at this stage, but it’s nice to see that insistence upon taking the ball strong to the basket early on.

As a perimeter shooter, Smith saw fairly good results as a freshman, knocking down just under 39% of his attempts from beyond the arc, but his shooting mechanics leave a lot to be desired, as he sports a very awkward and deliberate wind-up before flicking the ball at the rim. He has nice touch on his jumper, and clearly is capable of knocking down shots with his feet set, but he leaves himself very little margin for error due to his unorthodox mechanics, which will become much more of a problem if he doesn’t correct these issues once he goes up against bigger and more athletic defenders in the NBA, particularly with his pull-up jumper.

The coaching staff at Duke never saw a reason to correct DeMarcus Nelson’s poor shooting mechanics over the course of four years, and he’s had to take the long road to making the NBA for that reason. It will be interesting to see if they care enough about Smith’s pro potential to sacrifice somewhat in the short-term and help him in this regard over the long-term.

As far as his point guard skills are concerned, we find mostly a mixed bag at this point. Smith looks like a smart, disciplined and unselfish player who is very much capable of executing an offense and showed nice flashes of playmaking ability at times. Too often though those moments were mixed in with mental lapses and out of control play, which resulted in Smith turning the ball over on exactly a quarter of the possessions he used, and left him with a negative assist to turnover ratio.

Defensively is where Smith is obviously at his best at the moment. Intense, fundamentally sound, with a good wingspan, excellent strength, nice lateral quickness and the aggressive mentality needed to want to contest every single shot, Smith was just about all you can ask for from a freshman on the defensive end of the ball, minus some occasional mental lapses at times. He puts good pressure on the ball and has the versatility to guard both guard positions, which is a nice option for a coach to have.

Not showing an incredible amount of upside, Smith regardless has all the makings of a very nice role player down the road, particularly if he can improve his shooting mechanics. Playing at a program like Duke, he’ll get all the attention he could ever ask for from NBA types, which could be either a blessing or a curse. There should be plenty of time to evaluate him and see how he continues to develop.

#18 Marcus Ginyard, 6’5”, SG/SF, Senior, North Carolina

Joey Whelan

After starting every game last season for the Tar Heels, Ginyard will find himself on the bench for the first few weeks of the season after undergoing surgery a little over a week ago. The surgery was to repair a stress fracture in his left foot that plagued the senior last season, even forcing Ginyard to wear a boot on that foot at times. Despite the pain, though, the swingman proved to be invaluable to UNC, seeing time at every position except for center and proving to be the team’s top on ball defender.

At first glance, Ginyard appears to be a tad undersized for the wing position, but he makes up for it with excellent length and a solid 220 pound frame. He is a great athlete, but still a very raw basketball player, tending to rely on his physical attributes to get by on the offensive end. Ginyard has both very good open floor speed as well as a great first step when in the half court set. The only concern with his athleticism is a lack of explosive leaping from a standstill, he seems to need a full head of steam before he can really elevate; this shows up in his perimeter shooting.

Offensively, Ginyard reminds of Houston Rocket D.J. Strawberry in that he is most dangerous in transition when he can get out and run. He is fast enough to beat most defenders up the floor with or without the ball, and while his body control is good enough that he can finish most of his shot attempts, he sometimes makes poor decisions when he doesn’t have numbers in his favor. Ginyard’s ball-handling skills are adequate at best, he doesn’t try to do that much offensively, so the majority of his turnovers last season came from trying to force tough passes on the break.

In the half court set, Ginyard becomes more limited and predictable in his scoring abilities. He isn’t much of a threat to shoot from the perimeter, having attempted just 30 three-pointers last season, and his shot is too flat footed at this point to be consistent. His form overall is pretty strong, but when he is forced to shoot off the dribble his mechanics deteriorate considerably. As one would expect of a player with a limited skill-set like Ginyard, he is fairly restricted in what he is able to do offensively—since he cannot shot off the dribble he is almost always going to go straight to the rack when he puts the ball on the floor.

Ginyard does a lot of the little things that make him an appealing player regardless of his shooting prowess, or lack thereof. He moves very well off the ball, often winding up with easy looks around the rim thanks to his ability to read defenses and make the necessary cuts to get himself open. He is also an excellent offensive rebounder for a perimeter player, averaging nearly two per game last season thanks to his length and hustle inside.

Defense is where Ginyard really earns his keep with North Carolina, proving to be their top on ball defender. He has good lateral quickness and instincts, often drawing the opposing team’s top perimeter player as an assignment. His length certainly helps him on this end, as do his quick hands. While Ginyard may have only averaged one steal per game last season, he was responsible for deflecting countless more passes that resulted in turnovers.

At this point, Ginyard is a long shot at best to make it to the NBA. He has the second worst scoring rate of anyone in our database that will be playing this season; he just simply isn’t a major scoring threat. In addition, he needs to improve his turnover ratio, as last season he turned the ball over roughly once every four possessions. Improving his perimeter shooting would go a long way to helping Ginyard’s stock, as being a lock-down defender will probably not be enough to get him a job in the NBA (just ask Jackie Manuel). With North Carolina sporting so many weapons though, don’t expect to see him getting too many more touches this season than he did last year.

#19 A.D. Vasallo, 6’6, Shooting Guard, Senior, Virginia Tech

Rodger Bohn

Vassallo enters the year as one of the most prolific shooters that the collegiate game has to offer. Awfully productive last season, the senior will have the opportunity to bolster his numbers even more given the graduation of Deron Washington on a very young Hokie team.

The biggest asset that Vassallo brings to the table is easily his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the three point arc. Ranking 11th in DraftExpress’ percentage of team three pointers made and 22nd in DraftExpress’ overall three pointers made, he places himself statistically amongst the top 7 or 8 players returning to the collegiate game this season in those categories. His size, ability to get his shot off quickly, and high release point make his shot extremely difficult to block for even more athletic defenders.

Improving over the last year was Vassallo’s game off of the bounce, although it is still subpar for a shooting guard prospect. He has proven capable of putting the ball on the deck one or two times and knocking down a jumper from midrange, although he rarely opts to take the ball all the way to the rim. Ball handling still remains a concern on the offensive end, especially when combined with his below average first step. On the bright side though, A.D. has shown off some nifty court vision in terms of finding the open man when he isn’t able to score himself. He turns the ball over too much considering how heavily he relies on his jump-shot, though, sporting a negative assist to turnover ratio.

The Puerto Rico native uses his height and burly build to do a decent job of rebounding the ball for a swingman, caroming boards to the tune of 4.6 per game. His size doesn’t especially help him on the defensive end though, where he struggles to guard even small forwards at the collegiate level. Vassallo’s poor lateral quickness hurts him especially when trying to contain players with strong dribble drive arsenals.

There will certainly be interest amongst NBA personnel for Vassallo simply due to his ability to shoot the ball from deep and put points on the board. He will have the chance to increase his scoring output this year while getting plenty of exposure in the ACC. Vassallo should have the opportunity to strut his stuff at Portsmouth and then possibly the NBA Pre-Draft camp, and strong showings at either should give him the opportunity to at least receive a training camp invite.

#20 Deon Thompson, 6’8, Junior, PF/C, North Carolina

Kyle Nelson

Near the bottom of the ACC’s list of top prospects is Deon Thompson, who arrived in Chapel Hill with high expectations following a solid U-19 World Championships. Needless to say, after a promising freshman campaign, last season was quite a disappointment. Not only did his per-40 production stagnate despite seeing twice as many minutes, but he also failed to show scouts that he diversified his game. With Ed Davis and Luke Zeller arriving on campus, in addition to one final run with Hansbrough, minutes and possessions likely will become few and far between for the UNC junior in what is a crucial season for his professional hopes.

Physically, as we have said before, Thompson does not bring that much to the table. At 6’8 and swapping between power forward and center positions, he does not possess optimal size for NBA post. It looks like he got stronger since his freshman, but last year he did not carry himself as well, often looking flat footed in the open court, and doing nothing to refute the claims that he is a less than spectacular athlete.

Offensively, little has changed since we last wrote about Thompson. He showed an increased willingness to expand his game outside of five feet last season, albeit to mixed results. Outside of put-backs, dunks, and lay-ups, he still possesses two moves: the turnaround jumpshot and a kiss off the glass from about ten feet in. He has a very nice touch, which is promising considering his size and the fact that Tyler Hansbrough and Ed Davis will eat minutes in the low post. His willingness to use the backboard on his jumpshots is very nice, but it only helps him around the basket, as he tends to throw the ball at the glass instead of relying on his shooting mechanics from farther away. He shows a high release point on his jumpshot, but his form is slow, which does not bode well for his ability to get his shot off at the next level. In terms of footwork, the only things that Thompson looks good doing at this stage are a nice looking jumphook, which he tends to launch from his left shoulder (he drives right a remarkable 77% of the time) and a very good looking turnaround jumpshot. The problem is that he does not know how to do much else based on film; he struggled late in the season to find his offense.

Defensively, Thompson showed that he could be a solid collegiate defender, but that he has a long way to go before thinking about playing at the next level. The biggest problem seems to be his below average lateral quickness. He looked slow-footed around the perimeter and had a lot of trouble staying with perimeter-oriented power forwards last season. He does possess a nice wingspan, however, and in the post, is solid, using his body to alter shots around the rim as his 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes represents. Consistency is the key here, however, as for stretches of the game, he was a matador in the post. Developing a mean streak would do wonders for his game on this end of the floor as he simply has to prove himself in any way that he can this coming season.

Deon Thompson is a four-year player, but this season he will have to show scouts that he deserves to remain in the draft conversation. Minutes will be even harder to come in a stacked frontcourt rotation, but if he can thrive in his role and can set himself up for a solid senior campaign, we might be writing about Thompson again next year. He simply has to get better offensively and more consistent on both ends of the floor. It’s a tall order for a player who did not take advantage of his increased minutes last season, but Thompson has surprised us before. It’s not out of the question that he could surprise us again.

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