Like I said yesterday, this past NBA Draft was just the 3rd since 2009 to not feature any Tar Heel selections, so it’s a pretty good bet that this doesn’t become a trend, and that this time next year, we’ll probably see at least one UNC player drafted. And while I’m sure we all have some idea as to who (plural) on the 2022-23 roster that could be, I think it’s a fun exercise to put down what the near future could look like, and also to write something that will inevitably make me look very silly in 52 weeks.
- Caleb Love is closer to the player the NBA wants him to be than he was a year ago, now that the outside shot is falling and he’s cut down on turnovers, and his unlocking of a historically good clutch gene just makes him more appealing. On the other hand, he’s still an inconsistent ballhandler and playmaker, and failed to get that much better from his freshman year at finishing around the rim. Despite his wingspan and decent vertical pop; he was seemingly limited by a lack of creativity and what looked like problems stemming from small hands. He started to flash some craft in the NCAA Tournament, with memorable difficult finishes against UCLA and Duke that didn’t look like flukes so much as a guy figuring things out. That’s going to have to be true, ultimately, for him to become the NBA prospect he was billed as coming out of high school. If it does, though, and he continues to improve on the defensive end (which should be helped by decreased responsibility to check ballhandlers), Love could work himself into the early 20’s or so. Then again, even this year he could well have been a second-round pick, and if his prospects aren’t improved after another year, he could decide to make the jump regardless.
- Pete Nance already had some fans on Draft Twitter this offseason thanks largely to a fantastic shooting season, high basketball IQ, and ridiculous passing ability out of the post, all of which he’ll hope to build on at UNC. Nance is very much a complementary big rather than a enterpiece — looking at yesterday’s first round, I’d call Banchero and Smith offensive centerpieces and Holmgren, Duren, Williams, and Kessler defensive centerpieces — and he’s older, so the second round is probably his season, but with his size and traits, if he can come close to replicating, in his own way, the season that Brady Manek just had, I think he’d make a team very happy in the second round.
Maybe (but Probably Not)
- Leaky Black is going to be one of the oldest players in college basketball next year, but he’s got some new life to him after a year where he singlehandedly held UNC’s defense together and even started to find an offensive groove late in the season. He’d been quite maligned the two seasons prior for his passiveness on the offensive end ruining possessions for his team, but it seems that having more offensively capable teammates eased some pressure off him and allowed him to get comfortable. He’s probably not going to become an offensive positive and even by the end of last season was still good for about one boneheaded possession per game, but if he maintains form from the end of last season, his elite defense could be enough for a team to take a shot on him, a la Matisse Thybulle.
- Seth Trimble isn’t really on the radar as a one-and-done player, but crazier rises have happened. He’s a great leaper off one or two feet with a ton of scoring craft around and above the rim, has a nice midrange jumper, and is a fierce defender on the ball. He’s only an average playmaker and the outside shot is still a work in progress, but if he can turn those two things into parts of his game that aren’t negatives, it’s not hard to see him going league. I expect it’s more likely in 2024 than ‘23, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
- Armando Bacot’s NBA prospects aren’t going to get better than they were after this past season, where he put up all the counting stats you could ask for while fighting an injured hand during the regular season and a twisted ankle in the Final Four. But for everything that he is — a stout positional defender, a skilled interior scorer with several reliable post moves, a phenomenal rebounder, and a great rim-runner who sets hard picks — the things that he isn’t are pretty damning for his NBA prospects. His lack of touch on his jumper limits his short-roll potential and thus the ways he could be used as a pick-and-roll big; he’s not a shot blocker; he doesn’t play above the rim in traffic and makes scoring harder on himself than he should; he’s not a bad passer but not a notably good one, either; and he struggles to contain perimeter players when pressed into doing so. Bacot could well be the best big man in college basketball next year, but an NBA team probably won’t invest a ton of resources in him.
The Longest of Shots
- R.J. Davis made a lot of strides as a pick-and-roll playmaker towards the end of the year last year, as previously mentioned. At his size, though (being listed at 6’0 feels generous for him), he’s going to have to be an elite one to have a hope of being drafted, in addition to proving he can create some havoc on defense in return for being victimized by bigger guards. His jump shot is legit, though.
- Dontrez Styles has an NBA-ready body and his athleticism pops, and he’s got an offseason to get comfortable at this level of competition and probably a much expanded role awaiting him. He’s just got to prove that some of his flashes as a rebounder, defender, and interior scorer are things he can turn into being a legitimately good player, and if all that happens this year, he could make the leap.
What do y’all think? Anybody I missed or am over/underrating? Bring the season on already, am I right?