Bonnell

UNC, Duke likely major players in NBA draft

STAFF WRITERFebruary 23, 2012 

Four of North Carolina's five basketball starters this season could be first-round picks in June's NBA draft if they all make themselves available. In fact all four could be lottery picks.

That's the early sense from various NBA talent scouts, who say the best talent this season is centered at North Carolina, Kentucky and Connecticut.

Among the Tar Heels, Harrison Barnes is a virtual sure thing in the top five. Center John Henson, power forward Tyler Zeller and point guard Kendall Marshall could all go as high as top-15.

Meanwhile, Duke forward Mason Plumlee and guard Austin Rivers could go in the bottom half of the 30-player first round.

Where each of the six stacks up:

Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8 small forward, 18.0 ppg., 47 percent from the field: He'd be solidly in the top five of the 2012 draft. He's the best midsized shooter-scorer in college basketball. He has good mechanics on his jump shot and can shoot from distance. Scouts would like him to be better off the dribble and be a bit more athletic, but that's quibbling over little things. He should, at worst, be an eight-season starter at small forward.

John Henson, 6-10 center, 10.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game: He's likely a top-10 pick. Henson's height understates his length - he has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, which allows him to block shots from all over the court, whether it be against his own man or in help defense.

He runs the floor gracefully for a player of his size and has a jump hook with either hand. The concern is he's slight at 220 pounds. Until he adds strength and bulk, he'll get pushed around a lot at the NBA level.

Tyler Zeller, 6-11 center-power forward, 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds: He'll go 10th to 17th, and would likely be the first senior chosen in this draft. You're getting a proven low-post scorer who also has demonstrated enough shooting range to score in the pick-and-pop (where the big man sets the screen, then fades to an open spot, rather than roll to the basket).

He needs to toughen up some under the basket, because in the NBA he'll no longer be such a superior athlete that rebounds will naturally fall to him.

Kendall Marshall, 6-4 sophomore point guard, 9.7 assists per game: He'd go 13th to 20th. Part of the reason he'd go that high is this is not a strong point-guard draft. Marshall is the definitive pass-first point guard (thus the frequent comparisons to now-Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson). He's not been much of a scorer, but that might have changed Tuesday when he made four of five 3-pointers in a 22-point night against N.C. State.

Mason Plumlee, 6-10 power forward, 9.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game: He'd go in the bottom third of the first round. Plumlee is a very good athlete who needs to develop a more complete offensive game. He's a leaper who will always be a strong rebounder and could be an above-average shot-blocker at the NBA level.

Austin Rivers, 6-4 guard, 15.0 points, 45 percent from the field: Late first round. The question with Rivers is what position does he play in the pros? He's not a point guard and he's smallish to be an NBA shooting guard. But his frenetic energy and craftiness getting to the rim might be more effective in the NBA, where there are limitations to how much defenses can stay in the paint.

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