When four North Carolina players were chosen in the first 14 picks of the 2005 NBA draft, I thought, No chance of repeating this.
It wont be repeated this time, but I wont be the least surprised if senior Tyler Zeller and underclassmen Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall all go within the first 20 picks of Junes draft. UNC announced Thursday that Barnes, Henson and Marshall are all making themselves draft-eligible.
Funny how much has changed since October; back then Barnes seemed a top-five lock and few saw Marshall as someone whod even consider turning pro. Then Marshall became the countrys assist leader and we saw wing shooter Barnes reputation shrink seemingly an inch a day.
Barnes is probably still the first Tar Heel drafted, although thats no sure thing. Zeller might be the safest pick and could go higher than generally expected, somewhat the way UNCs Tyler Hansbrough did in 2009. Based on recent conversations with various NBA scouts, heres how I see these guys prospects:
Barnes NBA prototype: Jamal Mashburn.
The skinny: As recently as two weeks ago, a scout whose team will have a high pick still thought Barnes was top-five worthy. He said Barnes jump shot, combined with his 6-foo-8 size, make him one of the safer bets in this class.
But Barnes passive play in the NCAA tournament and lack of development as a driver raise questions. Coaches find it frustrating when they want it more for the player than the player wants for himself. So far Barnes hasnt demonstrated much in the way of fire or desire.
Barnes could make some sense for the Charlotte Bobcats (although not necessarily top-4, where the Bobcats would likely pick). Barnes figures to be a small forward and Corey Maggette is currently aging out as the starter at that position. Theres no clear heir-apparent to Maggette.
Zellers NBA prototype: Joe Smith.
The skinny: I think one of the funnier misconceptions about Zeller is that hes not enough of an athlete. There was a play Zeller made against Virginia this season when he split two defenders, drove straight to the rim and finished so explosively, I thought, This is a non-athlete?
Zellers jump shot will be highly useful in NBA offenses, which tend to employ more pick-and-pops where the big man gets the ball back 12 to 17 feet from the rim. He has the size and toughness to average eight to 10 rebounds. You rebound, and coaches always find a way to play you. And teams keep offering you contracts.
Hensons NBA prototype: JaVale McGee.
The skinny: Lets get the obvious out of the way Henson must gain bulk and strength to hold up in the lane over a long NBA career. Weve seen many guys with his body type Hilton Armstrong and Ryan Hollins come to mind. Theyre all wiry, but you need to be wiry-strong.
Having said that, Henson has advantages: Hes ambidextrous, which makes him more effective as both a shot-blocker and a shooter. And he runs the floor aggressively. Ive never met an NBA coach who complained, That big guy just runs the break too much for my liking.
Marshalls NBA prototype: Mark Jackson.
The skinny: I admit it, I was wrong. A year ago I couldnt see Marshall as an NBA point guard, for his limitations as a shooter and athlete. But hes such a sophisticated passer and ballhandler that you cant turn your back on those skills.
He needs to be a better shooter, but NBA coaches say all the time thats the easiest thing for a player to fix once basketball is his full-time profession. Also, market forces work in Marshalls favor; since the NBA started strictly enforcing the no-hand check rule in defending ball handlers, point guard has become the leagues most important position. The last few drafts were rich in elite point guards, providing the NBA with Derrick Rose, John Wall and Kyrie Irving. Theres no player like that in this draft, so a next-level playmaker like Marshall should be in some demand.