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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC, Part One (#1-5)
Sep 16, 2011, 10:27 am
Continuing to evaluate the top returning NBA prospects in college basketball, we turn our attention to the ACC. North Carolina dominates, with four of the five best returning prospects: Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall. They're joined by Mason Plumlee of Duke.

Freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA level before we come to any long-term conclusions.

-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, #1-5
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, #6-10
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, #11-15
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, #16-20

#1 Harrison Barnes, 6-8, Small Forward, North Carolina, Sophomore

Having profiled Barnes 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 2010-2011 game footage.

#2 John Henson, 6'10, Power Forward, North Carolina, Junior

Kyle Nelson

John Henson is an intriguing physical prospect, at 6'10 with a massive wingspan. He is an excellent athlete, as well, extremely mobile for his size and explosive around the basket. There are few big men in the NBA, let alone the NCAA, with Henson's athletic profile.

His frame is still skinny, however, and despite almost three years of weight training and conditioning, he only weighs around 220-pounds.This is a tremendous development considering he weighed just 183-pounds as an incoming freshman, but he still has a lot of work to do before proving that he's strong enough for the NBA post.

Similarly, despite his intriguing physical profile, his offensive game is still very raw, both inside and outside.

Henson has developed some decent footwork in the post, which allows him to better utilize his quickness to finesse his way to the basket. His back-to-the-basket game is still unpolished, however, and he struggles to score against stronger defenders. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Henson converts just 42.4% of his attempts in post-up possessions. Furthermore, he rarely looks to pass out of double teams to any of the elite scorers waiting on the perimeter.

His perimeter game is in need of some serious work as well. For one, he has regressed significantly as a shooter. While he is fairly successful shooting the ball within 10 feet of the basket, his mechanics and overall effectiveness unravels as he moves towards the collegiate three point line. He made just 25.5% of his spot-up attempts according to Synergy, which juxtaposed alongside of the facts that he is shooting 5/24 from beyond the arc and a miserable 48% from the foul line suggests he has a long way to go before being able to contribute in catch-and-shoot or spot-up capacities.

Henson is outstanding in pick-and-roll sets, however, thriving alongside of Kendall Marshall, and showing Tyson Chandler-esque qualities rolling to the basket and finishing emphatically. It is not hard to envision him playing a similar role in pick-and-roll-friendly NBA offenses.

Henson is a formidable defensive presence, as well, with some noticeable limitations in regards to his NBA future. At the NCAA level, however, he is capable of guarding every frontcourt position, inside and outside, due to his outstanding combination of lateral quickness, length, and explosiveness. An issue at the NCAA level, which will undoubtedly remain problematic in the NBA, is his strength. Despite his length and athleticism, he still gets backed down far too easily and frequently. Scouts will be watching intently this season to see if his added strength helps him as a junior.

He is a fearsome shotblocker--one of college basketball's best--to the tune of 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted, and his timing and explosiveness, both on his first and second jumps, are almost unrivaled at this level. In addition, he commits just 2.4 personal fouls per 40 minutes pace adjusted, anomalous amongst elite shot blockers.

He is an outstanding rebounder, as well, averaging 13.9 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, which is one of the best rates amongst returning prospects in our database. His length and athleticism allow him to be all over the floor, and only improved fundamentals hold him back from being truly elite at any level.

Henson enters his junior year with significant expectations as his body and skills continue to mature. Furthermore, while his sophomore campaign was not without inconsistencies, he seemed to learn how to play more towards his strengths as the season continued. Even if he does not develop his offensive game significantly, there are few players in the world with his elite physical profile and defensive potential. Barring a very disappointing season, it seems safe to say that Henson will be a high pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA Draft.

#3 Tyler Zeller, 7-0, Junior, PF/C, North Carolina

Having profiled Zeller 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 2010-2011 game footage.

#4 Mason Plumlee, 6-11, Junior, Power Forward, Duke

Joseph Treutlein

Coming off a limited but intriguing freshman season, Mason Plumlee saw his minutes expand as a sophomore, but remains largely the same player from a skills perspective. A player with excellent physical tools and hints of skills in a few areas, Plumlee has yet to put it all together consistently at the collegiate level, but will have yet another chance as a junior.

The biggest area where Plumlee made strides as a sophomore is his propensity to get open in off-ball cut and pick-and-roll type situations. Possessing great size, hands, and mobility, along with an impressive knack for elevating quickly around the rim, Plumlee is a massive and reliable target in this area of his game. This is the one area of his game where he displays consistent toughness in his style of play, really excelling to the best of his abilities.

While he does a good job getting open in this aspect of his offense, he's still heavily reliant on his point guards to consistently perform, something that became more evident when teammate Kyrie Irving was out with injury. From a stylistic standpoint, this propensity in the pick-and-roll game combined with the increased talent level could theoretically make Plumlee a more effective offensive threat in the NBA if he lands in the right situation.

The other area Plumlee made strides with on the offensive end this past season is with his rebounding—where his production increased by nearly 50% on a per-minute basis from his freshman to sophomore seasons. He's placed more of an emphasis on crashing the glass consistently, showing a decent nose for the ball and pursuit ability. His good hands and excellent bounce allow him to get a lot of put-back attempts in this manner, but he could be more assertive as a finisher in this area, occasionally shying from contact and hurting his ability to finish consistently.

As for Plumlee's developing individual offense, there was really nothing to see from a face-up perspective this season, as his ball-handling remains largely undeveloped. His post-up game is featured much more frequently, but it also remains raw. Plumlee shows an excellent ability to consistently separate with his size and athletic ability, but he often relies on hook shots and turnaround jumpers in the 5-10 foot range, where he doesn't show great touch and shies away from contact.

Developing more of a power post game where he can take better advantage of his physical tools and mitigate his lack of touch would be helpful for him in the long term. He rarely makes power drop step moves despite having the quickness to get by his man and bounciness to easily elevate around the rim, and this is something he should focus on.

Plumlee's free throw shooting regressed last year, from an already mediocre 54% to an even more dismal 44%, which hints at the struggles he's had performing under pressure at times.

On the defensive end, Plumlee once again has good physical tools and shows flashes of ability in man-to-man defense, but his awareness is lagging behind. He has a groundwork of fundamentals in post defense and does a decent job using his mobility to stick with the opposition on face-up drives, but is prone to being caught out of position and can lose focus easily. This is the area where Plumlee could see the most dramatic improvement if he put in the work, as his physical tools make him uniquely positioned to be an above average shot blocker, post defender, perimeter defender, and pick-and-roll defender from an NBA perspective, but it would require much more commitment and improvement on this end of the floor, particularly from a mental perspective.

Looking forward, Plumlee obviously has a lot of talent and potential to improve, but hasn't shown a significant learning curve in his two years in Durham. With many of last year's leading minute-getters moving on to the NBA, Plumlee has an opportunity to step up into more of a leadership role this season, and will have ample opportunity to expand his game and develop more consistency.

Going into his junior year, Plumlee cannot rest on the laurels of his upside any longer. NBA scouts will want to see clear signs of maturation both physically and especially in terms of his mental toughness, something that there are some doubts about at the moment. Plumlee can ease those concerns with a productive and consistent season as a key cog on one of the deepest and most talented teams in college basketball.

#5 Kendall Marshall, 6-3, Sophomore, Point Guard, North Carolina

Walker Beeken

It was no coincidence that North Carolina's season took a turn for the better after Kendall Marshall was promoted to the starting point guard role on January 18, 2011. The Tar Heels finally started playing up to preseason expectations with Marshall running the team, earning a number two seed in the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the Elite Eight to Kentucky. It was clear that Marshall's leadership, unselfishness, and ability to get his teammates the ball at the right time, in the right place, was a big key for the team's success.

One of the knocks on Marshall as a prospect, as we mentioned when we saw him in high school, is that he doesn't possess the superb athleticism that we often see from most of the top point guards in the NBA today. He has good size for the position at 6'3”, with a solid frame, but he lacks the prototypical speed and explosiveness to overwhelm his opponents physically on either side of the floor.

Marshall instead stands out with his incredible feel for the game, court vision, and passing ability, making him the type of point guard that most any player would love to play with. The lefty's willingness to throw the ball ahead to the open man, whether it's over the top to a big man running the floor, threading the needle on a bounce pass, or just making the simple pass to a teammate a few steps ahead, makes him the perfect fit for Coach Roy Williams' up-tempo system.

In the halfcourt, Marshall does a great of running his team and getting his teammates involved and finding them in the right spots, as evidenced by his leading all prospects in our database last season in assists per-40 pace adjusted and Pure Point Rating.

Of his offensive possessions last season, nearly 25% came in isolation situations, and although he lacks a great deal of explosiveness, he still manages to get by his man on a pretty regular basis. He uses a deceptive first step and excellent changes of pace and direction moves to get into the paint, where he's most comfortable kicking out to open shooters or dishing off for easy buckets, with the ability to get the ball there in a variety of ways.

Marshall does struggle as a finisher on dribble penetration, however, as his lack of elevation prevents him finishing above the rim, and he's forced to find more creative ways to score. Although he showed some craftiness as a freshman with runners and scoop shots, he'll need to get much more proficient in this area to become more of a threat offensively, as he shot a poor 43% on 2-pointers last season, the lowest rate of any player in our top-100 rankings. His lack of a weak hand is a detriment in this area as well, as he much prefers driving left, and has a hard time finishing with his weak hand.

Marshall rarely got to the free throw line last season as well, ranking in the bottom five of our top-100 prospects in this category. This is an area scouts will want to see development in, as its unlikely to improve at the NBA level where defenders are bigger, stronger, longer and more athletic.

As a shooter, Marshall shot a respectable 38% from 3-point range last season, despite not having the prettiest release, as we noted from watching him in his high school days. He looks to be more comfortable catching the ball with his feet set and seems less fluid when shooting off the dribble. Putting the work in and improving as a shooter will likely play a big factor in how good he can become down the road, and will be something to keep an eye on this season to see if he's made strides.

On the defensive end, Marshall will again face questions because of his lack of physical tools, but he can make up for some of his limitations with his smarts, effort, and good instincts. He'll likely never be a standout defensively, but he appears to be a guy who will maximize what he has and will be able to get by.

Overall, Marshall will surely be a player that scouts are divided on when assessing his NBA potential. He has an unorthodox game and some glaring weaknesses, namely his lack of athleticism and subpar shooting and finishing abilities. With that said, he is a very unique player who appears to have excellent intangibles and an uncanny understanding of how to play the game from the point guard position. With North Carolina among the preseason favorites to be one of the top teams in the country, he'll have plenty of opportunities to turn any doubters into believers.

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