By John Delong
Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal
June 1, 2006
The NBA draft was top-heavy with ACC stars last year. That's often been the case in the past.
Ain't gonna happen this year, though.
Scouts and draft analysts around the NBA agree that there are only three sure-fire first-round picks locked and loaded for this year's draft, which is scheduled for June 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
One is Duke's J.J. Redick, the ACC's all-time scoring leader. One is Duke's Shelden Williams, a strong and athletic defender and rebounder. The third is N.C. State's Cedric Simmons, an underclassman who, until recently, retained the right to withdraw and return to college. Technically, then, there are three sure first-round picks, at least to this point.
There are other ACC products who could sneak into the first round late, and there most certainly will be some second-round picks, but you get the picture.
Just as it was a down year for the league once March Madness rolled around -- with only four of the 12 teams receiving NCAA Tournament bids and only two making it to the Sweet 16 -- it's a down year for the ACC in the draft as well.
To put comparisons from last year to this year in perspective, seven ACC players were drafted in the first round in 2005, and two more went in the second round. Five were lottery picks: Marvin Williams (No. 2 to Atlanta), Chris Paul (No. 4 to New Orleans), Raymond Felton (No. 5 to Charlotte), Sean May (No. 13 to Charlotte) and Rashad McCants (No. 14 to Minnesota).
If the ACC sends a lottery pick to the NBA at all this year, it may be well down the lottery, into the early double-digit slots.
"It won't be like last year, that's for sure," said Kenny Williamson, the director of scouting for the Charlotte Bobcats. "But that's the way it is with the draft. These things go in cycles. The ACC isn't going to produce seven or eight first-round guys every year, nor does any league.
"There are all kinds of reasons for that. With some guys leaving early the previous year, that cuts into the next year's draft. Then it all depends on what underclassmen come out, too. The ACC has always turned out NBA players and it always will, but it's going to vary from year to year."
Billy King, the president of the Philadelphia 76ers and a former Duke star, agreed with Williamson's assessment and sees the league's contribution to this draft diluted by last year's early entries. Seven of the nine ACC players drafted last year were underclassmen.
"I think it's just a down year for the ACC," King said. "When you lose so many underclassmen last year, there obviously are not going to be as many this year."
This is the first draft since the NBA adopted an age requirement of 19, and there was much speculation that young college players would seize the opportunity to declare for this draft, with no prep stars available. Yet that didn't happen in the ACC's case, at least not on the grand scale some anticipated.
Only four of the league's underclassmen submitted their names: Simmons, Miami guard Guillermo Diaz, Florida State forward Alexander Johnson and Maryland forward Ekene Ibekwe. Diaz already has hired an agent, so he's gone, but the other three could retain their college eligibility. While Simmons decided to stay in the draft, and Johnson said he definitely won't return to Tallahassee, Ibekwe said he merely is going through the process of testing the waters and plans to return to Maryland.
New N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe, who has spent most of the last 23 years playing and then coaching at the NBA level, talked with Simmons and his family throughout May about the pros and cons of staying in school. Lowe, who said his information projected Simmons in the 18-24 range, pushed hard for one more year of college.
"I've told Cedric he's a lottery-type player, so he should work to become a lottery pick," Lowe said. "His pre-draft workouts (with individual NBA teams) could change things, but right now he's not a lottery pick, and the money is a lot different at No. 20 than it is in the top 10. I told him I can help him get there (in 2007), if he'll let me help him."
Several ACC underclassmen with obvious NBA potential -- forwards Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, Josh McRoberts of Duke, Al Thornton of Florida State and Jared Dudley of Boston College among them -- chose to remain in college when they could have been draft picks this year.
"I never really considered leaving for the NBA after this season," Hansbrough said. "However, Coach (Roy) Williams still provided me information he learned from his contacts in the league, and after listening to that information I still think it is best for me to come back and be with my teammates again and hopefully have another fantastic season.
"The NBA is definitely a goal of mine down the line, but right now I am enjoying college a great deal and feel I can improve in every phase of my game. I enjoy school, my teammates and being part of the Carolina basketball program."
Hansbrough and McRoberts, in particular, chose to stay in school despite the fact that they were projected as first-round picks. McRoberts' decision reportedly surprised the Duke coaches, after early mock drafts had him pegged as a likely top-10 selection.
"People are being more cautious, and that's a good thing," Williamson said. "Too many underclassmen have come out in the past when they weren't ready. What happened with a lot of players in the past was, they would play well against NBA guys in the summer, and they would automatically think that they were good enough to play in the NBA. But guys who look at it that way are only kidding themselves."
Williamson is quick to admit that opinions vary widely throughout NBA scouting circles on many ACC players. Nobody has the total package, and everyone has a wart or question mark in his game.
Redick may be the prime example. He was great at Duke, and yet translating great college skills to the NBA is never a given for any player. Still, Williamson sees more things to be excited about than things to be worried about.
"The question everyone is asking is, Can he get his shot off in the NBA?'" Williamson said. "I say, Did Steve Kerr get his shot off? Absolutely. Did John Paxson get his shot off? Absolutely.' Whoever drafts Redick will help him get his shot off. They'll find ways to fix that problem. Now, can he beat you off the dribble? That's a question, too, but he will get better at that. In terms of being a shooter, there's no doubt he can shoot, and there's no doubt he's going to be a first-rounder."
The presence of Redick and Williams as sure-fire first-rounders (they'll get guaranteed two-year contracts with options) assures that Duke will add to its growing list of alumni in the NBA. Duke had more NBA players (11) than any college this season.
That shouldn't be surprising, considering the talent coach Mike Krzyzewski has brought to Durham over the years. But it does buck a trend from earlier in Krzyzewski's years at Duke, and it shoots down a long-time stereotype that Duke players are less likely to make good pros than players from other programs.
Chris Duhon, a second-round pick of the Chicago Bulls two years ago who has blossomed into a solid NBA player, said there is a reason why more Duke players are in the NBA than ever.
"Coach K gives you a lot of freedom to play," Duhon said. "Defensively, he plays man-to-man, and in the NBA teams play man-to-man. Offensively, he likes to use pick and roll, a lot of picks for shooters, and a lot of penetrate-and-kick, and that's the NBA game. He usually has good post players where you can feed it in, and if they double-team we have shooters around him. That's all the NBA game. A lot of his style happens in the NBA all the time.
"Obviously, you have to have talent in the NBA. But the NBA is about finding a team you fit well with and a situation you feel comfortable in, and everything happens from there. The Duke guys in the NBA now, they're in good situations and situations they feel comfortable in."
King offered a more simplistic explanation.
"I just think that Coach K has been at Duke for a while now, and he's recruiting better players than the likes of myself," King said, "and I think that is why there are more and more of them in the pros."
Here's a look at the list of potential ACC draftees, plus other departing players who may wind up playing professionally overseas, in the NBDL, or perhaps not at all. Players in each category are listed in alphabetical order.
Note: The assessments below come from three NBA scouts who spoke on the condition of anonymity and are not associated with any of the persons or teams quoted previously in this article.
THE FIRST-ROUND LOCKS
J.J. Redick, 6-4, WG, Duke: Redick became the ACC's all-time career scoring leader and the NCAA's three-point record-holder in a fabulous senior season, averaging 26.8 points per game. But how will his game translate to the NBA?
Many NBA scouts think he'll be a good pro, even if he never becomes a star. There's no question about his shooting ability, as witnessed by 41-point eruptions against Texas and Georgetown, and his take-over down the stretch in the ACC Tournament final against Boston College. He also has the court awareness, savvy and work ethic scouts love to see.
But Redick was shut down by a variety of athletic wing players late in the 2005-06 season, which ended when he went 3-for-18 for 11 points in Duke's NCAA Tournament loss to LSU. That begs the question of how he'll hold up over 82 games against NBA shooting guards, who'll be taller and even more athletic. None-theless, he's a solid choice, especially compared to most of the other guards in this year's draft.
NBA scout: "I see him going in the 10-15 range. The questions are, can he defend NBA twos, and can he shoot over people? If he gets with the right team, I think he'll be fine. He needs to be with a team that has a star that gets doubled and can kick it back out. Some people bring up Trajan Langdon, but Langdon never played in a situation where someone else commanded the double-team, so he wasn't open and he couldn't get his own shot. They're both great shooters, but J.J. does more things."
Cedric Simmons, 6-9, BF, N.C. State: Simmons is exploring his options as an underclassman and can withdraw and return to State as long as he doesn't sign with an agent or otherwise act as a professional. But indications are that he will stay in the draft.
There are mixed feelings about Simmons because he was not featured in coach Herb Sendek's Princeton-style offense. Simmons disappeared at times but was brilliant at others. And he's still very raw in many facets.
The highlight-reel game was a 28-point, nine-rebound, seven-block effort against Will-iams in a loss at Duke. But Simmons averaged just 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2005-06, which punctuated the inconsistency. Another factor to consider is that he played only 27.5 minutes per game and averaged only 6.8 field goal attempts per game.
It's hard to imagine someone who finished 25th in the ACC in scoring and 17th in rebounding winding up as one of the first three ACC players drafted, but assuming Simmons stays in the draft, that's almost sure to happen.
NBA scout: "He's one of the guys who will get drafted on potential if he stays in the draft. There are still a lot of questions about him. Will he be a Theo Ratliff, or will he be able to guard players 15 feet away from the basket? His hands are so good, that's one of his biggest strengths, and that's why I think he'll be able to rebound in the NBA. One thing I wonder about is how tall he really is. If 6-9 is legit, that's one thing. If he's 6-7 1/2, then the flags go up. I think he'll be a pro, but I wonder about how good he would be next year. I don't see him being top 10 or anything like some people are saying. His (pre-draft) workouts would have to be off-the-charts for him to be that high."
Shelden Williams, 6-9, BF, Duke: Williams was overshadowed by Redick and others for much of his career, but he wound up with the kind of numbers everyone expected from him as a senior: 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.81 blocked shots per game. He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots, and he was second only to Redick in scoring. Williams also shot 59.7 percent from the field, which marked the third straight year he finished at 58 percent or better in that category.
Williams will have to make the transition from center to power forward in the NBA, but he could be a Charles Oakley-type capable of getting rough inside and stepping outside on occasion. Williams was the ACC defensive player of the year largely because of his shotblocking. He won't block shots like that in the NBA, but he's a great helper defensively.
NBA scout: "I have a variety of likes and dislikes about him. He could go ahead of J.J., or behind him. His physical play is a big plus, but I'm not sure how tall he really is. He's definitely a first-round pick, but I think his workouts are going to be very important and the size thing is going to be a factor in where he gets drafted."
Guillermo Diaz, 6-2, WG, Miami: Diaz's scoring (17.2 ppg) and shooting (41.5 percent) were down slightly in 2005-06 from his sophomore season. Numbers aside, he didn't elevate his game significantly in any facet, and he certainly didn't elevate his team, which underachieved. Some attribute Diaz's lack of progress to knee surgery last summer and say that he now is fully recovered and jumping out of the gym again in pre-draft workouts. There's no question about his athleticism, which is off the charts.
NBA scout: "People either love him or hate him. You see all the tremendous athleticism, but can he harness it and play within the team concept? Does he fit into what you want to do? Size is a big thing because he's probably really 6-1 or 6-1 1/2, and his ball-handling is not good enough to play point. You've got to be excited about that athleticism, but he's really all over the board. Depending on who pulls out (underclassmen), he could go at the bottom of the first or he could fall into the second."
Craig Smith, 6-7, BF, Boston College: Smith passed up a chance to be a first-rounder last year, in order to return for his senior season. Despite some inconsistency early, he averaged 17.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in 2005-06, and he was the force behind BC's impressive push in the NCAA Tournament. The problem is, he's a 6-7 power player entering a league that has 6-7 guards, although he's a much better passer and ball-handler than most big forwards. He might be able to fashion out a career like Corliss Williamson (6-7, 240), but it definitely would help him to jump into the first round and get a two-year guaranteed deal.
NBA scout: "He's one of those guys who will have to find the right type of place for him, like Udonis Haslem. He's a tough, physical player, but you have to worry about his height. Can he do the things inside in the NBA that he did in college? That's the question. I haven't heard anybody talking about him in the first round lately, so I'm thinking second round. But it only takes one team to like you to go in the first round."
Akin Akingbala, 6-9, BF, Clemson: Akingbala averaged 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and shot 57.6 percent from the field as a senior, but those numbers don't matter in this case. Scouts are fascinated by Akingbala's untapped potential, and the strides he has made even since the 2005-06 season ended. In a draft devoid of high school players, Akingbala could be the target of a team that doesn't mind gambling.
NBA scout: "An intriguing type of player. Maybe he'll go late second if somebody has a couple of late picks and wants to take a chance. He's come so far in the last year. He's a longshot, don't get me wrong, but somebody may take a flyer on him because you've got to like the development he's made in a short amount of time."
Cameron Bennerman, 6-4, WG, N.C. State: Bennerman was the leading scorer (14.1 ppg) on a team that stressed balance. He had some big games (26 versus Wake Forest and Virginia Tech) and hit some big shots, including a three-pointer to force OT at Clemson. He's explosive and athletic, and he's apparently moving up some draft boards. But second-round picks constantly have to prove and re-prove themselves, and going to the right team is essential.
NBA scout: "I thought he played selfishly at (the pre-draft Portsmouth Invitational camp in Virginia), but other people liked him. If he can go to Orlando and play well, he's got a chance to move up in the second round. He's very athletic. He does some things well. If he was a couple inches taller, I'd be really excited about him. But he's still got to play well in Orlando and in the individual workouts."
Justin Gray, 6-2, WG, Wake Forest: Gray was the fourth-leading scorer in the ACC last season at 18.2 points per game, and there's no question he can shoot. But he failed to convince anyone that he can play point guard in the NBA, after being forced to play there out of necessity sometimes this year. His assist-turnover ratio was 4.3 to 3.4, which only magnified the issue. Some mock drafts still have him going late in the second round, but he could be going overseas.
NBA scout: "He can shoot, and he's always shown a willingness and an ability to make important shots. He's very competitive. But because of his size, he's in the position of having to prove he can play point guard or else finding another role, which is difficult to do. So many teams are going smaller now that being a 6-2 shooting guard is less of an issue than it used to be, but he would have to find the right team and fit into the right role."
Robert Hite, 6-2, WG, Miami: Much like his teammate Diaz, Hite's numbers (16.4 ppg) slipped slightly from the previous year, and he too failed to expand significantly on his all-around game. He had more turnovers than assists as a senior. But he's a 41.1 percent shooter from three-point range and an 81.6 percent shooter from the line, so if anyone's looking for 6-2 wing guards, he can choose from among Hite, Gray and a hundred others.
NBA scout: "He just does one thing. He can shoot. I don't think he helped his cause at Portsmouth at all. You can say all the same stuff about him that you say about Justin Gray. He would have to be in the right place at the right time. He's got a chance to get drafted, but he's going to have to impress somebody in his workouts."
Alexander Johnson, 6-10, BF, Florida State: Johnson is one of the four early entries from the ACC, but he'll turn 24 in February so he's older than most seniors. He averaged 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game (with seven double-doubles) in 2005-06, and he was headed for a break-out game at Duke with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 14 minutes before a bogus technical foul ended his day. He also had 22 points and 13 rebounds against Miami in a key game in March. Some believe he would benefit from returning for his senior season, but Johnson has stated that he's intent on turning pro.
NBA scout: "The positive thing about him is he really changed his body around in the past year. He's really working on it, and he seems to be really committed, and he continues to get better. He had some good games late in the season. I would expect him to be drafted if he stays in the draft, but it wouldn't hurt him to go back to school, either."
David Noel, 6-6, WF, North Carolina: Noel was one of the keys to UNC's overachieving season in 2005-06, averaging 12.9 points per game and providing the leadership on a very young team. There's no question about his athleticism. But athletic players at his size are a dime a dozen in the NBA. Some are suggesting that Noel (an outstanding high school football player who once committed to the Tar Heels in that sport) should give the NFL a try, but others believe he should stick to basketball.
NBA scout: "He is absolutely going to be drafted. He has tremendous athletic ability, and his size and jumping will make him an instant defensive presence in our league. He is unbelievably fast. He is a real prospect."
Eric Williams, 6-9, BF, Wake Forest: Williams tested the waters after his junior year and returned, despite proclaiming himself a first-round pick. He averaged 16.3 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior, leading the ACC in field goal percentage at 61.9. But he was a 49.3 percent free throw shooter, which threw up red flags to many scouts. And his general approach to Wake's struggles left some scratching their heads. Some feel he did nothing to improve in the areas he needed to improve. On the positive side, he has long arms and a wingspan scouts love. Will that be enough for somebody to justify using a pick on him?
NBA scout: "Obviously, there are some things he can't overcome. He can't get off the ground, and he can't shoot from outside four feet. But he's got a few things going for him. He's a big fella, I'll tell you that. I don't know if he's going to get drafted or not, but I'd say he has a chance. Like they say, you only need to get one team to like you."
Nik Caner-Medley, 6-8, WF, Maryland: An intriguing prospect, after averaging 16 points and 6.2 rebounds as a junior, Caner-Medley failed to take his game up another notch and wound up 15th in the ACC in scoring this season at 15.3. He didn't exactly come to the rescue when the Terps imploded down the stretch, either. That combination will put you in the Lufthansa ticket line in a hurry.
NBA scout: "His stock slid his senior year, so now it's all up to his individual workouts. He's got good size, but I wonder, what is his NBA skill? You've got to have at least one NBA skill to make it, and I'm not sure what that is with him."
Ilian Evtimov, 6-7, BF, N.C. State: He speaks four languages and is fluent in fundamental basketball, but injuries and other frustrating factors reduced his averages to 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game this season. With Bulgarian and French ties, he'll have no trouble going back to -- and fitting into -- the European hoops scene.
NBA scout: "He'll go to Europe and make some pretty good money. He knows how to play the game, and he will count as a national (non-U.S.) player. The American pro game is too fast for him. His game is better suited for the college game. But he has a lot to offer teams in Europe."
Travis Garrison, 6-8, BF, Maryland: After starting 30 games as a junior, Garrison started only 10 this season and his production dipped to 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18 minutes per night. You don't take steps backward like that on your way to the NBA. But Garrison has enough size and skills to play somewhere.
NBA scout: "He played better at Ports-mouth than he ever played at Maryland, but he's a longshot to get drafted. His shooting and his showing in Portsmouth probably helped his foreign prospects. He needs to get with one of these agents with connections to teams in Europe. He could make some money over there, because he's got size and he can shoot."
Louis Hinnant, 6-4, PG, Boston College: Hinnant led the ACC in assist/turnover ratio, but he averaged only 7.5 points per game on a team begging for outside scorers. Since most European teams want their American players to score, Hinnant may have to look all over the globe to find a team.
NBA scout: "Decent size, but I don't see anything possible for him in the NBA. He probably needs to find a smaller country and try to make some money and work on his game there."
HOPING FOR DECENT JOB
Tony Bethel, 6-2, PG, N.C. State: Bethel fought injuries often at State, after transferring from Georgetown, and was inconsistent this season while averaging 9.3 points per game. He's a very nice kid who could have had a nice college career, but there's nothing nice on his scouting report. There are enough jobs to go around that Bethel could hook up somewhere globally, but it won't be in any of the 29 NBA cities.
NBA scout: "I don't see any chance at all for Tony. He's a 6-2 shooting guard, and I never really did see him do anything to make me think he has any NBA skills. He's just got to hope he can go somewhere and play and establish himself there."
Sean Dockery, 6-2, PG, Duke: Dockery averaged 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists and proved he can hit 40-foot game-winners at the buzzer. But his best hope is that King or Danny Ferry or someone else with Duke connections will invite him to training camp or point him in the right direction elsewhere.
NBA scout: "He'll get a shot somewhere, strictly because he's coming from Duke. He'll wind up with somebody's summer-league team, and he'll probably be in somebody's camp. But he came in with this big rep out of high school, and he never took the big step. He's not really a true point guard, either, and that's going to hurt. His defense is probably his biggest chance of sticking with somebody."
Chris Ellis, 6-9, BF, Wake Forest: Ellis (son of Dale) has the bloodlines, and NBA scouts kept waiting for him to maximize his potential. But he wound up starting only 10 games on a last-place team as a senior, averaging 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds. That's not the way he wanted to go out, and not the way to get into the NBA.
NBA scout: "I always felt like he offered a lot more than he gave. He has the big body, but it seemed like he always wanted to go outside and shoot threes. He'll play somewhere because he has the size and shooting ability, but it's hard to say where he'll wind up."
Chris McCray, 6-5, WG, Maryland: McCray was averaging 15.2 points through 16 games and NBA scouts were doing their due diligence, considering him a possible second-round pick. Then he was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester, and that opened a Pandora's Box of doubt that will be hard to overcome.
NBA scout: "He's got less chance than guys like Caner-Medley, in my opinion. The way his career ended will hurt him, because it's out of sight, out of mind. I think the stigma of (John) Gilchrist could hurt him, too. He's got some strengths, but what position does he play? I think he's a perfect candidate for the NBDL."
Shawan Robinson, 6-2, WG, Clemson: Robinson led Clemson in scoring at 12.3 points per game and led the ACC in free throw percentage at 91.3, which means he was even better than Redick at the line. But that gets you bragging rights, not a pro contract.
NBA scout: "I'm not sure if he even wants to play basketball anymore. I hear he's talking about following in his father's footsteps (as a coach). He might give it a fling, but I don't know how long that would last."
Diego Romero, 6-10, BF, Florida State: Romero averaged 3.9 points per game off the bench as a senior for the Seminoles. An intriguing recruit out of Argentina via junior college, he had eligibility issues when he got to FSU and then just never fully developed.
NBA scout: "He might be heading back home."
Trent Strickland, 6-5, WG, Wake Forest: Strickland averaged 11.6 points per game and had some spectacular individual moments, but he was one of the most erratic players in the ACC. Not many teams are looking for inconsistent hatchet men, but there's one place where they don't call fouls or worry about missed dunks, so he may not have to give up the game completely.
NBA scout: "If he wants to play any more basketball, maybe the Globetrotters would be the way to go."