CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 30: Harrison Barnes #40 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots over defense of the Wisconsin Badgers during play at the Dean Smith Center on November 30, 2011 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 60-57. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Led by Harrison Barnes, North Carolina has the deepest crew of future NBA players in the nation. But are they all as good as they look? Jonathan Tjarks grades the players' basketball tools.
With all apologies to Kentucky, North Carolina under Roy Williams has become the gold standard in college basketball. An excellent academic school with a gorgeous campus in the middle of a state mad for college basketball, the Tar Heels have everything -- tradition, location and an up-tempo system -- an elite basketball recruit would want. Unlike their rivals at Duke, they dominate without being hated.
As a result, Williams has an embarrassment of riches up and down his roster. Most coaches have to choose between NBA-level athleticism and NBA-level skill level in recruiting prospects; he does not.
Everyone in his rotation played in a McDonald's All-American Game; his bench would be a top-15 team this season. UNC's two freshmen would be stars on 95 percent of the teams in college basketball; they get spot minutes in Chapel Hill. They lost a player to a season-ending knee injury (Leslie McDonald) with more NBA potential than the entire roster of some of their ACC competitors without blinking an eye.
However, when evaluating Williams' players for the next level, NBA scouts have the same problem that NFL ones did during the Pete Carroll era in USC: is everyone that good or are some benefiting from playing with such talented teammates that their individual weaknesses are hidden?
Of the four first-round picks from UNC's 2005 championship team -- Ray Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May and Marvin Williams -- only Felton has lived up to expectations at the next level.
It's still too soon to fairly evaluate the careers of the four first-rounders from the Tar Heels 2009 championship squad -- Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Ed Davis and Wayne Ellington -- but early returns have been mixed for all but Lawson, especially for a team so dominant at the college level.
6'8 sophomore small forward
- Shot creation: Makes up for lack of elite athleticism with great feel for the game. A 6'8 jump-shooter with excellent ball-handling skills and a smooth, quick release. Looks for a pull-up jumper off the dribble and can score over smaller defenders in the post. Excels at drawing fouls (averaging 5.3 free-throw attempts this season) by changing speeds and using shot fakes. Should be an 18-20 point scorer at the next level, but needs to finish at the rim more to become an All-NBA player.
- Defense: Has prototypical size and speed for an NBA 3. Could become a plus defender against most small forwards.
- Outside shot: Offensive game revolves around threat of the jumper. Most dangerous spotting up, whether in transition, off the double-team or a drive-and-kick. Career 36.6 percent three-point shooter and 74 percent free throw shooter.
- Passing: Can lead break and make every pass, but doesn't really look to create for others, which may partly be a function of role in UNC's offense. Career averages of 1.4 assists and 2.0 turnovers.
- Rebounding: Good size and athleticism, but playing with so many talented big men has depressed career rebounding average (5.5).
- Best case: Efficient small forward who can score without dominating the ball while still being an effective defender -- Danny Granger.
- Worst case: Can't score efficiently off the bounce against NBA-caliber athletes and becomes a role player/secondary ball-handler -- Mike Miller.
6'11 junior power forward
- Shot creation: Can attack basket if given driving lane and can score over the top of smaller defenders in post. However, still struggles to establish post position against athletic defenders and get around ones who can attack dribble. Offensive game has steadily improved in three years at Chapel Hill; worth checking to see where it is in March.
- Defense: A truly unique defensive player: preposterously long 7'4 wingspan and quick feet at 6'11 and 220 pounds, can swallow up 3's and 4's on perimeter. Could conceivably contest Kevin Durant's shot! Doesn't have strength to hold position against athletic low-post scorers at the 4, but few NBA teams will be able to exploit that. Can change game with length inside as well as ability to close out on shooters. Averaging 3.3 blocks in last two seasons.
- Outside shot: Inconsistent shooter but has shown ability to knock down baseline jumper. His 46.5 percent career free-throw percentage is a huge red flag.
- Passing: Excellent passer for a big man. Can see over the court as well as hit cutters out of high and low post. Averaging 1.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers this season.
- Rebounding: Good length and athleticism to grab boards above the rim. Averaging 10.4 rebounds in last two seasons, but can be pushed around by stronger players with lower centers of gravity. "Fit" with teammates will be huge: should be paired with a strong, rebounding 5 like Kendrick Perkins. This is why a jumper is so crucial, as guys like Perkins usually can't shoot.
- Best case: Develops outside shot to space floor while dominating at the 3 and 4 positions as a defender and shot-blocker -- a "Black Swan" type of player unlike anyone currently in the NBA.
- Worst case: Inability to score or hit an outside shot makes consistent playing time difficult -- Jared Jeffries.
7'0 senior center
- Shot creation: Good feel for the low post, can finish over both shoulders with jump hooks. Excellent footwork: can score with up-and-under, turn-around J and spin move. High center of gravity is a huge problem; Michigan State's big men easily pushed him out of the lane. Can give an NBA team low-post offense, but isn't going to be a primary offensive option.
- Defense: Long and athletic, challenges shots at rim as well as takes charges. Big concern is skinny frame, which hurts trying to hold position against traditional 5s. Doesn't have foot-speed to defend on perimeter either.
- Outside shot: Good touch in paint and an excellent free throw shooter (career 75.4 percent from the line). Consistent mid-range jumper would be huge.
- Passing: Excellent passer out of low and high post. Has size to see over double-teams and make correct decision. Can turn and face the basket and play high/low or look for cutters. Averaging 1.2 assists and 1.9 turnovers as senior.
- Rebounding: Good energy level but high center of gravity makes it very hard to establish position in the paint. Averaging only 7.5 rebounds over last two seasons, which is weak for a 7-footer playing in an up-tempo offense.
- Best case: Develops strength to hold ground in low post and improves outside shot -- Tiago Splitter.
- Worst case: A "4.5" (too weak to be defensive anchor and too slow to venture outside the paint) that floats around league as third big man -- Spencer Hawes.
6'3 junior combo guard
- Shot creation: A one man fast break who is one of the fastest players in college basketball. Can get into the lane at ease and finish acrobatically at the rim. Has a nice-looking floater, which is crucial for any 6'3 slasher. Could be an instant offense type off an NBA bench.
- Defense: Physical tools to be an All-Defensive PG and handle all but biggest shooting guards.
- Outside shot: Slightly awkward release and doesn't look for three-point shot; he has not attempted a three-pointer this season. Inability to space floor is real problem for UNC team who likes to play inside/out. Only a career 68.8 percent free-throw shooter.
- Passing: Can lead break and find open man. Decent drive-and-kick player who can find open shooters. Able to create shots for others but doesn't seem comfortable running point. Career average of 2.1 assists to 1.6 turnovers.
- Rebounding: A strong rebounder for a guard due to incredible athleticism and wingspan. Career 2.3 rebound average depressed by huge front-line.
- Best case: Third guard who can change game w/defensive intensity and ability to attack the rim, but lacks floor game or outside shot to be a starter -- Shannon Brown.
- Worst case: Inability to hit outside shots or run point neutralizes incredible athleticism -- Marcus Banks.
Guys worth keeping an eye on
Reggie Bullock -- 6'7 sophomore shooting guard with quick feet, long arms and a strong frame; can attack slower players and swallow them up defensively. Projects as elite defender at both wing positions if recovery from season-ending knee injury last year continues. An excellent outside shooter who can make the extra pass but likes the pull-up J. Hard to judge ceiling as a player when rarely given chance to be a shot-creator at UNC.
James McAdoo -- 6'9 freshman McDonald's All-American. Size, athleticism and skill level of NBA power forward, but averages only 13.9 minutes a game as Henson and Zeller's understudy. Nephew of NBA Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo.
PJ Hairston -- 6'5 freshman McDonald's All-American. An excellent athlete who is shooting 42.9 percent from the three-point line this year. Like Bullock and McAdoo, waiting for chance to become shot-creator at UNC.
Kendall Marshall -- 6'4 sophomore point guard. Insertion into starting line-up changed dynamic of team last year. Incredible vision in the open-court and always plays with head up, but gaudy 10.2 assist to 2.7 turnover average this season is padded by so many NBA-caliber teammates. Doesn't have lateral quickness to get into the lane consistently or defend NBA point guards. Ability to stick at next level will depend on outside shot: career 35.6 percent three-point shooter but has slow, deliberate release.
Leslie McDonald -- A 6'4 junior shooting guard with ability to knock down threes (career 33.2 percent three-point shooter). Could be a replacement-level NBA player: can defend a position (shooting guard) and has a plus tool (shooting). Likely out for the season after tearing ACL over the summer and will probably apply for medical red-shirt.