Even though it’s only been half a year or so since the last one, the 2021 NBA Draft is tomorrow, and as with last year, there is one UNC player in the draft mix: Center/forward Day’Ron Sharpe. Sharpe’s been pretty active in the pre-draft process, starting with leaving the NBA Combine almost as quickly as he got there, not even taking the time to get officially measured. Since then, he’s been working on his body and his game, reportedly losing somewhere between 20 and 25 pounds since the end of the college basketball season and reworking his jump shot — and fitting interviews with DraftExpress and workouts with NBA teams in the meantime, including a recent workout with the 11th-picking Charlotte Hornets. With all of that over with, now, all that’s left is to see where he goes and who selects him. If you’re wondering what your team might be getting if they draft Sharpe on Thursday night, you’re in the right spot. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Day’Ron Sharpe grew up in Winterville, North Carolina, near Greenville, and attended South Central High School before transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida his senior year. UNC offered him a scholarship when he was a relatively unheralded sophomore and he committed to UNC, a school he’d grown up rooting for, within a month, spending the majority of his time in high school knowing he’d be a Tar Heel at the end of it. By the time he got to Chapel Hill, though, Sharpe was far from unheralded; he had established himself as a bona fide 5-star recruit, a top-20 player in his class after continued development of his skills (though being at Montverde and having more exposure didn’t hurt). Even with that pedigree, Sharpe came off the bench for UNC, who had preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks and another five-star big returning to the lineup. The 6’10, 265-pound big man quickly impressed even in limited minutes; he averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game but averaged 9.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and almost 1 steal and block each per game — that’s roughly 20/16/3/1.7/2 per 40 minutes. His relentless motor made him a fan favorite very quickly (and became the only thing about him commentators seemed able to praise), and he had several standout performances, such as the 25/9 effort against Notre Dame and hanging 21/11 on Louisville on over 70% shooting. Over the course of the season, he started 4 games as UNC’s lineup was a little fluid. After UNC’s season ended in the NCAA Tournament, he decided to enter the draft process and eventually signed with CAA, cementing his entry into professional basketball.
- Rebounding: Sharpe is both an instinctual and a technically proficient rebounder. He reads the ball off the rim quickly and accurately, and vacuums up any ball off the rim in his zip code (his 20.9 rebounding percentage was among the highest rates in the country) — if he gets a finger to the ball, he’ll grab it. But just as important as his size and hand strength is his willingness to box out: if opposing bigs are crashing the glass, he will find their bodies and turn them away from the basket. Sharpe’s a particularly adept offensive rebounder, though, and his offensive rebounding rate would have led the country if his minutes played qualified him for the list. He has an excellent ability to quickly locate where a missed ball is going to go and get to a spot before a defensive body finds him, and this led to a ton of putback opportunities for him at UNC.
- Passing: Sharpe has excellent vision and a surprisingly diverse repertoire of deliveries, making him an extremely useful playmaker from the top of the lane or in transition as a trail big. During his time at UNC, which arguably undersold his passing abilities, he displayed the ability to fire accurate passes with just his right hand, quickly process the court and make touch passes in and around the paint, and even run a reasonably successful fast break, along with all the basics. He’s no Nikola Jokic, but he should come into the NBA as one of its better playmaking centers.
- Athleticism: Sharpe is an adequate vertical athlete who’s capable of finishing above the rim, but that’s more an NBA baseline than something that actually makes him stand out. Where he does stand out is in his lateral mobility. He showed the ability to switch on screens and check ballhandlers without getting embarrassed for the most part, keeping the ball in front of him and ably contesting jump shots. This will be vital for him in the NBA as the interior anchor of a defense. He also accelerates well out of screens; he’s a nimble diver off pick-and-roll and horns actions, which projects well to running pick-and-roll in the NBA. And, as mentioned before, he has a quicker-than-baseline second jump, which helps with those offensive rebounds.
- Defensive Acumen: Sharpe led UNC in defensive rating among players who played more than 10 minutes per game, at a phenomenal 93.0. He’s a good rim protector thanks to his bulk and timing, which led to over 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes. He blocks shots against guards and bigs; he’s mobile enough to deny the former and strong enough, though a tad undersized (6’11, his listed height at UNC, seems an inch and a half generous), to deny the latter. Sharpe’s also a very good team defender, seemingly always making the right rotations when his teammates were starting to get in scramble mode and able to get into a surprising amount of passing lanes for a big. To average more steals than blocks at his position, when averaging a decent number of both, is definitely notable.
- Motor: I’ve put it at the end so it doesn’t overshadow his other strengths, which are real and refined and not just a result of playing hard (as ACC Network commentary would have had you believe this past season), but Sharpe plays hard. Throughout his career at UNC, every minute he played felt like two because he was so obviously trying to make things happen all the time, and usually succeeding. He had an impact on the team of a guy playing 150% of the minutes that he actually did, just because of his want-to. He sets hard screens, commits to the boards, and runs the floor on every fast break, regardless of how guaranteed it looks. I know everybody on the floor is trying hard, but Sharpe’s effort does indeed just look different from most of his peers, and I expect that to continue for him as a pro.
- Offensive skill/touch: I don’t know what to do with this, exactly. It’s clear to anybody who watches Sharpe that he has skill around the basket. He has good footwork and showed the ability to finish from a lot of different angles over the course of the season. The problem, and it’s not a small one, is that he seems to have decided early in his career what his go-to move would be, and it’s a frustratingly inefficient spin on the right baseline into whatever he can put up depending on how close that spin gets him to the basket. When it works, he’s slid past his defender’s body and is deep in the post for an easy two. But when a defender’s ready for it and can put a body on the spin, as happened more and more often as the season went on, instead of adjusting, he too-often just tried a left-shoulder hook or push shot that he never got the hang of. This was a major contributor to a not-fantastic 58% finishing rate around the rim for the season, but you can’t really ask him to get rid of it without first developing another go-to, or at least a consistent counter for when that baseline spin gets stopped. I’m slightly bullish on this happening with some time in the gym, but it’s not a given.
- Shooting: I’m pretty confident that Day’Ron Sharpe will be a better shooter as a pro than he was at UNC. A UNC fan and analyst named Trevor William Marks has documented the development of his shooting form, which involves a lot of storytelling. To make a long story short, Sharpe smoothed out a wonky shooting form at Montverde and hit a couple of pick-and-pop 3’s as a senior, but regressed while at UNC. In pre-draft workout videos, he seems to have re-fixed his release and looks comfortable shooting from distance in an empty gym, so that’s a reasonably good sign for him.
The problem is that “better than he was at UNC” still doesn’t mean very good, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable projecting Sharpe to be anything more than a below-average shooter for a big man even after that fix. He missed the only two three-pointers he took, but more tellingly, he was only 37% on midrange attempts (and most of those came 15 feet and in) and just over 50% from the line. You could make the argument that Sharpe’s free-throw shooting was more streaky than bad all the time; he had games where he went 7/9, 5/6, and 4/5, but also clunkers where he was 1/5 (twice!), 4/10, or 1/4 (four times!). But that’s probably just variance, and it’s most correct right now to consider Sharpe a non-shooting big prospect until he proves otherwise.
- Stamina: I don’t know if this is a consequence of his high motor, a genuine problem, or if the two aren’t actually separate things, but Sharpe got visibly gassed after a few possessions of running multiple times over the course of the season. You could catch him lagging as a trail big on offense, or making his cuts and screens a step slow, or just suddenly losing explosiveness after a few intense possessions, and this was while playing just under 20 minutes per game. This is weird for a UNC player under Roy Williams, who famously had pretty stringent stamina requirements for his players, which Sharpe must have passed for him to start any games at all. The good news, if you can call it that, is that he never really allowed this fatigue to affect his defensive stoutness; all inconsistency this issue causes are with his offense. This is something I do expect to improve now that he’s lost as much weight as he has; he should be more used to carrying around ~255 pounds than the ~275 he’s reported to have been as a Heel.
- Defensive Fundamentals: Sharpe has good defensive tools, instincts, and awareness; he’s not just one of those toolsy guys who projects to be a good defender if they get coached from Square One. He is a good defensive player already. That said, he has two major weak points on that end of the ball. The first is an occasional propensity for over-fouling. He only averaged 4ish fouls per 40 minutes as a Heel, which isn’t awful for a big man, but that number spiked against teams with competent opposing bigs, like Florida State (in the first game between the two, he had 4 fouls in 12 minutes) or Iowa (4 fouls in 14 minutes). Because he’s slightly undersized, he has trouble contesting shots vertically, and often comes down with his arms too early and gives referees an easy call. The second is that while he’s laterally mobile enough to check ballhandlers, he isn’t yet comfortable in a stance or with sliding on the perimeter, so he hasn’t yet been able to stay with those ballhandlers for more than a few seconds before losing a step and giving up a driving lane. That’s something that can be fixed with time, as he has the athletic ability and it’s one of the first things his new coaching staff is going to want to drill into him, but it’s going to keep him from seeing a ton of minutes immediately as a pro unless he’s very quick to pick it up.
Sharpe’s got kind of a weird projection to the NBA because, unlike most of the bigs UNC has sent to the NBA in the past decade, he’s not a fossil — he has displayed lateral mobility and modern defensive instincts and he’s a creative playmaker from the 4 and 5 spots, and he’s got the rebounding ability of Roy Williams’ best big men, so there’s a lot to like about him. But he’s not a shooter and he’s kind of small for a non-stretchy 5, which isn’t a dealbreaker for him as an NBA center but probably either takes him off or vastly lowers his position on some teams’ boards. I think his success as an NBA player hinges on two (and a half) things: first, developing a counter for the baseline spin when it doesn’t get him under the basket as well as a reliable post move that doesn’t require being on the baseline, and second, getting comfortable in a stance on the perimeter (the half is consistently finishing as a roll man in PnR, but I think that’s already so close to true that it’s barely worth mentioning). If he can do those two things, along with all his other gifts, he’ll make an NBA team better off the bench and potentially as a starter down the line. If the shot improves to even average for his position along with those developments, he’ll be a minor star, and there’s room for still more optimism if enough things break his way. Based on positional value and what he is right now, I don’t think I’d be comfortable taking him in the lottery and think his value stands right around 22nd-24th or so; I don’t think he’s an immediate impact high-usage player in most scenarios that turn out well for both sides. He’ll be a positive contributor as a backup center to start (especially on a pass-happy team that doesn’t have an iso star), and hopefully whoever drafts him invests just more than the bare minimum into his development so that he can become a key piece on a winning team like he clearly can be.