A tradition unlike any other, the NBA Draft watch.
It must be spring. The leaves are showing, the flowers are beginning to bloom, pollen is on your car and UNC fans are sitting around waiting to see who from this year's team will toss their hat into the NBA Draft ring. Last season Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Brandan Wright all weighed the decision to turn pro. Only Wright made the jump, the other two came back with a national title in mind. The Heels came up a game short and now we wait to see if the two returnees from last season and Wayne Ellington will make the jump.
Tyler Hansbrough-Chance of Returning: 80%
Tyler Hansbrough is on record as saying he wants to win a national title that he will stay until that gets done or he graduates whichever comes first. The problem is players say things like this all the time and as much as I would like to think he is sincere in that, I know better than to just buy it. There is something to be said for Hansbrough feeling as though there is nothing left to attain on an individual level. However, Hansbrough has also made it clear he values team success above his own. In terms of his draft status, returning will not hurt it unless he gets injured. Playing another season and improving certain aspects of his skill sets should help it. At present the mock drafts I have seen have Hansbrough in the middle to late first round. If he decides to go is will be because he is ready for a new challenge and wants to step into that stage in his life.
Wayne Ellington-Chance of Returning: 70%
The main impediment for Ellington from a stock standpoint is he does not appear to really have any right now and by that I mean he does not appear on mock drafts I have seen. On one level Ellington has some NBA cailber moves and is a tremendous shooter. On the flip side he is very streaky and not quite as good at finishing in the lane nor can he create his shot consistently. And all of this might mean absolutely nothing to Ellington or the NBA data UNC gets might paint a different picture. Still I am not convinced NBA scouts are going to cast Ellington even in the top 20 much less the lottery which means Ellington might decided to test the waters to go through the process or make the jump because he wants to play at the next level right now. In the end I think Ellington will be back for at least one more season given the concerns about his game but we will have to wait to see how the information gatherin process goes.
Ty Lawson-Chance of Returning: 40%
I actually might have that a tad high. Lawson has been projected at the edge of the lottery which might be enough to entice him to make the jump. Obviously the input Roy gets from the NBA will paint the picture he needs to make an informed decision. However, you get the feeling that Lawson wants to go the NBA as soon as possible and that is easily right now since he will get picked based on potential more so than the body of work which was seriously truncuated by the midseason injury. The main complaints about Lawson will be his size and shot but his speed will garner the most attention from the scouts. I still hold out hope that when the data is examined he will decide to play more season for improvement's sake but the fact UNC is openly recruitng another player with no scholarship available makes me think Lawson as already told Roy he is going.
Scenario #1: Everyone Comes Back
UNC enters the season as the prohibitive favorite to win the national title. Bobby Frasor steps into the reserve PG role vacated by Quentin Thomas. Freshman Larry Drew restores the three man depth at PG. The addition of Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis afford UNC more frontcourt depth. The rest of the returning players all step up their games, especially on defense. It will be the most hyped UNC team since 2005 considering they return everyone from a Final Four team that went 36-3.
Scenario #2: Lawson goes to the NBA; Ellington and Hansbrough stay
It was said repeatedly that UNC could not win a national title without Lawson at the point. And given that I am not convinced Lawson was ever 100%, what we saw this past weekend might be small proof of that theory. Without Lawson you are looking at Frasor as the starter and Drew as the backup with Marcus Ginyard as the third option. Assuming Frasor is fully recovered from his ACL tear it is a safe assumption he will give you solid minutes at PG and possibly play better defense on the ball than Lawson did. Granted some of the wrinkles Lawson brought to the floor will be gone but Frasor operates with a great A/TO ratio. The addition of frontcourt depth and more consistent games from everyone else might compensate for having Frasor at the point rather than Lawson. I think what you are talking about is UNC going from being a clear favorite ahead of other teams in the national title hunt to being among the favorites.
Scenario #3: Only Hansbrough returns; Lawson and Ellington go to the NBA
The national title is probably not in the cards but UNC could still win the ACC. These two defections would require players like Danny Green and Will Graves stepping up to have career seasons. It also means Ginyard has to much more than play defense. Without this season's starting backcourt UNC would need to find the perimeter offense from somewhere and also lack depth at the guard spots. The weakness of the ACC still makes a UNC team with Tyler Hansbrough in the middle formindable but still ordinary in many ways.
Scenario #4: All three leave for the NBA
If all three decided to make the jump, your likely starting lineup for next season would be: Frasor, Ginyard, Green, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson. Drew, Zeller, Davis and Graves would be the key reserves. In this scenario Thompson and Stepheson need to make huge waves with their frontcourt play. I also think Green becomes scoring option #1 in this scenario. The question is whether one of the freshman can be an impact player or if Graves can springboard into being a double digits scoring threat, especially from the outside. The question is whether this team can continue to run at the tempo Roy likes. I would say not as much and if this is the UNC tema next season then the ACC will be a huge dogfight at the top between Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, UNC, and Duke for starters.
I think Scenario #2 is the realistic best case scenario. The general feel is that Lawson will leave and if they can retain Hansbrough and Ellington then Frasor might be enough given the motivation factor to cut down the nets in Detroit. And while Scenario #3 might not mean a national title, it will be enjoyable to see Hansbrough play his senior season and break all kinds of records. So, #1 is the dream with #2 puttng UNC in the running for a title, #3 giving us a full season of Hansbrough appreciation likely without a title and #4 still looking 50 times better than things looked after the defections of 2005 happened.
Now the waiting begins...