Today marks one of the most glorious days on the calendar year: the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. Before vegging out on the couch, and watching hoops for the next 96 hours, I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight some of the league’s top players that are likely playing in their last NCAA Tournament.
For the second straight year: a look at the top 8 NBA Draft prospects from the ACC, Part 1. To help me out, I brought in Spencer Percy from Queen City Hoops, who was kind enough to break from his De’Andre Hunter-induced sadness to help me to analyze the league’s top NBA prospects — starting with Marvin Bagley.
Marvin Bagley, Duke
Marvin Bagley was a scary-productive player in his freshman season at Duke. Right from the jump, Bagley has popped out — a double-double machine, that runs like a gazelle and has one of the quickest, most explosive second jumps in recent history.
Bagley is one of three Division I players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and shoot 60 percent from the floor this season — joined in this distinction by another future lottery pick, DeAndre Ayton of Arizona.
In 21 of his 29 games this season, Bagley’s posted a double-double with points and rebounds; he also has seven games of 30-plus points.
While on the floor this season, Bagley has grabbed 13.7 percent of available offensive rebounds, which ranks 34th nationally; the lefty teamed up with Wendell Carter (more on him in a minutes) to form the nation’s No. 1 offensive rebounding team — with an offensive rebound rate of 39.1 percent.
On put-back attempts after an offensive rebound, Bagley has scored 1.33 points per possession (68.5 FG%) — a top-25 number nationally, per Synergy Sports. When Duke misses, it’s essentially instant-offense, thanks to Bagley.
Bagley leveraged his athletic advantages in impressive fashion at the rim. According to Synergy, on non-post-up attempts around the basket, Bagley shot 73 percent and scored 1.48 points per possession. That’s not too far behind what Anthony Davis produced during his solo season at Kentucky: 1.59 points per possession (77.5 FG%). He also recorded 83 dunks this season — second most in the ACC, per Adrian Atkinson.
As dominant as Bagley has been this season for Duke, there are still some holes, too. I’m not sure any Blue Devil has benefited more from the team’s transition to full-time zone defense than Marvin Bagley.
His pick-and-roll defense is shaky, which has to be a concern on the next level, and he’s not quite the explosive shot blocker some would expect. Bagley blocked just three percent of opponent two-point attempts while on the floor this season. If Bagley projects as a 5 in the NBA, then that number isn’t quite high enough to qualify as a rim protector.
The ACC is a fantastic league, filled with future pros; Duke plays a tough national schedule, too. However, NBA defenders are a whole different animal. Bagley dominated college ball despite not having a right hand.
Even when MB3 drives or spins right out of the post, he still needs to get back to his left hand to finish. Sit on that left hand, and you can make him force up some tough looks at the basket. Carter has explored a left-handed hook shot; the same can’t be said for Bagley, though.
According to Synergy, Bagley turned to his left shoulder on only 14 of his 110 post-up possessions this season.
This is something that Bagley can work on and improve, but it will be a concern in his rookie season, when he can no longer physically dominate every opponent.
Spencer will touch on it more in a moment, but Bagley’s range shooting doesn’t jump off the page as a plus skill…just yet, at least. The southpaw has scored 1.17 points per possession (57 eFG%) on catch-and-shoots this season. That’s pretty damn good, but it’s on a low volume of attempts, too — 36 possessions.
I’m more bullish than most on how he projects as a shooter in the NBA; we are just sort of scratching the surface in how we grade and evaluate big men that can shoot. Bigs are now graded a curve that their predecessors didn’t deal with. We weren’t worried about Chris Bosh’s range shooting back in 2003, or shit, even that of Anthony Davis in 2012. So much has changed in the last 5-6 years.
I think his stroke looks fine, and on a smaller sample, the catch-and-shoot numbers are pretty good. There are certainly some caveats here, but if he finds a three-pointer as a pro, then the those rim protection/PNR defense red flags are less of a concern.
Bagley is an incredible athlete at 6-foot-11, but I wouldn’t describe him as explosive. The smoothness in the way he moves is breathtaking. It’s almost as if Bagley is floating just above the floor. It’s calming to simply watch Bagley run, and the effortless nature of how he goes about it has always been one of the most intriguing aspects of Bagley as a prospect.
Bagley doesn’t even appear to be in a full sprint as he beats the entire Notre Dame defense down the floor and finishes the oop from Grayson Allen.
I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a college basketball player get off the floor as quickly as Bagley. He has pogo-sticks for legs, and his second jump is even more impressive than the first. Add to that a 7’1 wingspan and you have a player who’s destined to be a terror at the rim.
Here, he displays the wingspan/reach and the second jump — a rare ability.
Bagley turned 19 this week; he’s young, but there’s still zero sign of a right hand. Everything is going left from the start and coming out of the left hand to finish, so that will help NBA scouts rest a little easier when preparing for Bagley during his rookie year. Defenses are going to dare him to use his right hand on the next level, so sharpening the skill-set in that area will be a key development measuring unit for Bagley.
Offensively, Bagley has a tendency to hold the ball and force tough shots in traffic — an assist rate of only 9.1 percent was good for 65th in the ACC among qualified players this year. He’s certainly a capable passer and flashed examples of vision throughout the season, but very inconsistently.
It’s still a mystery to whether or not Bagley can shoot. The stroke isn’t broken, but he does rotate his body to the right with a slight hitch. Bagley was 20-of-54 (37 3P%) from behind-the-arc this season. A small sample size that is sure to be debated.
In addition, Bagley was 62% (114-184) from the free-throw line during his freshman year — a stat that has traditionally been an accurate barometer to whether or not a shot will translate to the NBA.
Defensively, his effort comes and goes. Bagley may be a fluid athlete that’s quick off his feet, but he consistently gets pushed back around the basket. Off the ball, there’s a tendency to get caught in no-man’s-land often.
Bagley can be considered a positional tweener. His skill set should be versatile enough offensively to make that a non-issue, and his offensive rebound numbers are further proof of that. He won’t have to stretch it to the three-point line on day one to make an impact offensively.
However, the other end of the floor should be considered a concern.
To me, Bagley won’t be able to guard NBA centers his rookie season. If ever. On the other hand, can he be fleet of foot enough to check power-forwards over the course of his career? Athletically, I think so, but the attention to detail and effort must improve. If it clicks, Bagley would become a devastating second-side rim protection special agent that doesn’t have to bang against centers.
I don’t mind the Chris Bosh comparison here — smooth athlete, left-handed, 7-footer. I’ll be honest, I don’t have a comparison that I’m comfortable throwing out with Bagley — he’s just a very unique athlete. That said, I am worried that the Michael Beasley comparison might, just might, be the best I’ve heard. Uh oh.
Wendell Carter, Duke
I was fortunate to catch this guy up close a lot this season; Bagley got the hype, but man, on plenty of nights, Wendell Carter stole the show.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more balanced big dude in college basketball; Carter stands out in a variety of ways. Like Bagley, Carter is a double-double machine, who cleans the offensive (13% offensive rebound rate) and defensive glass (23% defensive rebound rate).
Carter isn’t a high-riser, but he can play with some bounce, and he’s a sensational blend of power and efficiency at the rim. According to Synergy, he scored 1.43 points per possession (68.6 eFG%) on non-post-up possessions at the rim — where 80 percent of his attempts originate from.
It’s far from fully-formed, but it’s been fun to watch Carter work on a three-point shot. At this point, he still needs space and time to get the shot off; his release is a little methodic. But that deliberation paid off, too: Carter scored 1.44 points per possession (71.9 eFG%) on catch-and-shoots this season, per Synergy.
That obviously came on a relatively low number of attempts; however, it’s encouraging to see. By the end of the season, Carter jacked trailer 3-balls with confidence, and in the loss at UNC, the 6-foot-10 forward splashed a spot-up triple while playing on the wing in a jumbo-sized lineup for the Blue Devils.
For a freshman big, Carter is also skilled as a passer (15.5 assist rate in ACC games); this was on display in the win over Louisville — one of games Bagley didn’t play in. That night, Carter put forth a virtuoso performance, and handed out six assists, which is a career high, including a gorgeous dime off a short roll to the basket.
Carter also flashed the ability to make plays in the middle of the floor if an opposing defense iced a pick-and-roll. Handoffs are an important element of Duke’s offense, and Carter took the mantle from Amile Jefferson as this team’s DHO hub.
Duke scored 1.13 points per possession on handoffs this season, and Carter played a tremendous role in that. This is something that should serve him well on the next level, too. You can already see him as one of those guys that runs a play-action DHO with some wing, keeps the ball himself, and finishes at the rim with authority.
For me, one of the of the last things that stands out with Carter is his footwork — on both ends of the floor. It’s tough to post-up Carter; he stays vertical with his arms, and plays with a strong base. Carter forces opponents of their spots, and does an excellent job contesting.
He’s also remarkably clever at using the baseline as an extra defender. You will find him planting a foot on the endline in an effort to force a ball handler back to the middle of the floor. It’s the little stuff like that with WC that adds into what makes him such a special prospect.
Love this guy and fully expect his stock to rise prior to the draft. Carter isn’t a player that will blow you away with his athleticism or explosiveness. That said, he’s very polished, and has an array of tricks. He also plays with consistent effort on both ends of the floor. I’d consider Wendell Carter to be one of the safest picks in this draft class.
Like Bagley, Carter has had a limited sample size of three-point attempts during his freshman year at Duke, but I’m a believer in the shot, so I want to start here. Look, the stroke is perfect for a big man – high release, squared chest to the target, perfect rotation on the ball.
Carter is 19-of-41 from behind-the-arc this season. Yes, small sample size, but again, I just believe in this stroke. Mechanically, it’s hard to take apart. He leans back slightly on the release and brings the ball down below his waist on the gather, but for a big, it’s pretty damn good. Carter was 73.3 FT% from the charity stripe, adding some validity.
The polished nature of Carter’s offensive game is rare to find in a 19-year old. The combination of excellent footwork, plus the ability to finish with both the right and left hand, make Carter an extremely intriguing prospect.
Check out this footwork with his back to the basket. Quickness and balance on the spin move gives the help defense no time to react.
There is very little wasted motion in Carter’s offensive approach. He has great coordination and gets off his feet quickly. Carter isn’t an explosive leaper, but again, the decisiveness and strength are enough to get him from point-A to point-B efficiently.
The fact that Carter can use both hands to finish is my favorite part of his game, offensively. He’ll bruise defenders with old school post-ups, face-up from the elbow, and attack a closeout – just to name a few tools in the offensive arsenal.
Ball fake, two dribbles right, spin left, finish with the left. What a big time move from a 6-foot-10, 260-pound athlete.
Sorry for the using the game at Miami as a highlight compass; however, that was a 15 point, 14 rebound, 4 blocks and 3 assists performance. Obviously, one of his most complete performances of the season.
Again, showcasing the polished skill set here. Face-up, jab-step left, power dribble right, spin back to the left, and finish with the left. Juicy.
Carter prefers spinning back to his left hand, but make no mistake – he has a silky smooth touch with the right as well. I’ve said it more than once, and I’ll say it plenty more leading up to the draft – the polish and feel for the game that Carter possesses is special.
One of the knocks you’ll read on Carter in the coming months is that for the most part he only jumps off of two feet, limiting his explosiveness, and putting more pressure on his strength on both ends of the floor. The folks that will write this narrative also said the same thing about Donovan Mitchell, and although it might carry more weight for a frontcourt player, just keep that in mind.
On the other end, Carter’s ceiling is lower, but he still plays with the same poise. Understanding positioning and angles is 90 percent of being an effective defensive player, and Carter checks those boxes.
Lacking explosive athleticism didn’t limit Carter from being a force around the basket this season defensively. His block rate of 7.9 percent is good enough for top 60 in the country, a respectable ranking for a limited athlete. Getting vertical and timing are important traits for a frontcourt player that can become effective at bothering shots at the rim, even if they’re not an elite rim protector. Cody Zeller is a great example of this, and Carter shares similar traits.
The question on Carter is what position he ultimately lands on as a pro. He simply isn’t as nimble of an athlete as a prospect like Bagley, so projecting him as a power-forward is dangerous. It’s also tough to slot him in as a center in the NBA at 6’10. The league has certainly become more positionless with the influx of small-ball, but it’s a tougher proposition with frontcourt players, especially centers, where you still need to be able to guard your position. The 260-pound frame helps in this regard, but a mystery nonetheless.
The ideal situation for Carter is to improve his lateral quickness, allowing him to move his feet quicker and stay in front of forwards. Power forward is where I’d like to see him end up.
In terms of comparison, think Derrick Favors. Carter has a chance to be a better player due to his ability to stretch the floor already. For context, Favors attempted 1 three-pointer at Georgia Tech, and he’s just now trying to add an outside shot to his game.
Wendell Carter is the safest prospect on Duke’s roster, and my personal favorite. So there.
Lonnie Walker, Miami
Lonnie Walker is one of the mysteries of this draft, to me. Usually I’m a sucker for freaky athletes that love to dunk and bomb threes, and there’s clearly a lot of talent here — Walker can be a scary, explosive athlete at times. However, something about Walker makes me hesitate — perhaps more than most.
Over 32 percent of Walker’s possessions this season at Miami were of the spot-up variety. On those looks, Walker scored just 0.92 points per possession (46.3 eFG%). Of the 44 ACC players that recorded at least 100 spot-ups this season, Walker ranks 34th in efficiency.
In Miami’s ball screen-heavy offense, Walker shot just 30.2 percent, according to Synergy, out of the pick-and-roll. He dribbles into a lot of tough shots, which is why I think shot selection is an interesting topic for Walker.
He scored well in isolation (1.11 points per possession), but there’s not a whole lot to go on there, either. And on jump shots off the dribble, Walker shot just 26.2 percent, and scored 0.66 points per possession. As a freshman, not surprisingly, Walker was much better off-ball — in transition (1.18 points per possession) or as a cutter, which is something he will get to do more of in the pros.
Walker rarely coughs the ball up — a turnover rate of just 11.1 percent — and he shoots a ton of threes — 51 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc. There’s value in that; add in his athleticism, and how he could become a powerful wing defender — there’s still a lot to like.
I struggled trying to scout Lonnie Walker. As of now, he appears to be more of a one-trick-pony above anything else.
Over 50 percent of Walker’s field goal attempts came from behind-the-arc this season. There were plenty of ill-advised chucks sprinkled into that sample size, and that hopefully helps explain the average shooting season (34.6 3P% on 5 attempts per game). There’s plenty of athleticism and feel for the game suggesting Walker is more than just a shooter, but you have to start with his picture perfect stroke.
Walker had a higher Usage% (22.4) than his draft counterpart Gary Trent Jr. (19.3) from Duke, but the assist numbers didn’t really follow suit. The assist rate of 13.5 barely got Walker into the top 40 in the ACC. Conversely, he only turned the ball over 11.1% of his possessions (top-10 mark in ACC), so the Canes got some distribution bang-for-their-buck from a player that will need to develop his second-banana creation skills to be a meaningful role player on the next level.
Back to Walker’s athleticism. It’s real. At just 6-foot-4, this dude can get up. Not only that, but he flashes an explosive first step when attacking closeouts and can get to the rim in one dribble from the perimeter.
This is what ultimately separates Walker from Gary Trent Jr. (you’ll see the two compared more-and-more as the draft nears). Trent doesn’t have the wiggle or explosive juice that Walker does. That’s not to say that Walker is 100 percent the better prospect, but his ceiling is probably higher because of this trait.
Walker’s quickness and athleticism have helped him become one of the most efficient isolation scorers in the country — he ranked in the 98th percentile in this category during his freshman year. Yowza.
His quick feet, 6’10 wingspan and strength will benefit him defensively in the NBA. He should be able to guard across the 1-2 positions fairly easily.
Only 2.07% of Walker’s defensive possessions ended in steals this season, a number that seems low for a defensive player with his physical tools. It will all depend on the system he’s placed into, but it feels like Walker might have another gear guarding the ball, being more of a disrupter.
Walker reminds me of Sean Kilpatrick athletically, but he’s got a chance to be a much better shooter than Kilpatrick. The ceiling here in something in the mold of Gary Harris, but Walker will have to become more of an offensive creator to reach that height. All of the physical tools are present, so the ceiling is pretty damn high.
Gary Trent, Duke
So, full disclosure: Gary Trent was my guy in the ACC this season. I’m partial to shooters, but there’s more to like with Trent than just his ability to let it fly from deep.
Trent doesn’t panic; he just keeps moving and shooting. When he blends those two elements, Trent can be special. The son of former NBA forward Gary Trent Sr., the junior Trent knows a variety of off-ball movements, and how to set up defenders before exploding around screens.
According to Synergy, Trent scored 1.2 points per possession off screens (61.8 eFG%) this season; he also posted an effective shooting rate of 60 percent on catch-and-shoots.
As the season went along, more and more, Trent started to look for other parts of his game. The pick-and-roll remains a mystery to him, but he improved as a straight-line driver to the basket. Trent has a pull-up jumper he likes to get to; according to Synergy, the 6-foot-6 wing shot 36 percent on jumpers off the bounce.
Trent didn’t get to the rim much in the half-court this season, and when he did, the results weren’t exactly clean; He’s not a super explosive athlete, like Walker; I’m sure that will give some pause, too. It’s a worthy concern; according to the fantastic Adrian Atkinson, Trent he just six dunks in over 1,000 minutes of action this season.
However, give me plus-perimeter shooting and the knowledge of how to move without the ball, and I’m happy.
Plus, go back and rewatch the semifinal matchup with UNC up in Brooklyn; he was relentless getting to the bucket at times. According to Synergy, Trent was 5-of-8 on attempts inside the paint or at the rim against the Tar Heels.
It’s tough to get too much of a read on Trent’s individual defense this season; Duke played over 40 percent of its half-court defensive possessions in zone. Trent isn’t a steals or blocks guy, but he’s certainly not a sieve on that end of the floor, and he tries, too.
You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Gary Trent Jr. — dead-eye sniper that can shoot the opposition right out of the gym. He’ll be a fairly safe pick in the draft, but I’m not sure I can wrap my arms around his full potential — as to say, I’m not sure there’s that much here.
Trent shot 43.5 percent from deep in ACC play this season — best for 4th in the league. He also rarely commits turnovers — TOV% of 11.3 was 11th best in the ACC. Trent knows his role — keep the offense moving, shoot when open, defend. And he does all of those things well.
Like Lonnie Walker, Trent has a clinical shooting stroke, but with even a quicker release. He can be streaky, but when Trent sees a few go in, the defense is in trouble.
You won’t be able to find many, if any, players in this draft class with a greater off-ball impact than Trent. His usage rate of 19.3% is low for someone who averaged 14.3 points per game. Trent almost exclusively ate out of catch-and-shoot situations.
When Trent is on the move coming off of screens, the high IQ is obvious. When the defender tries to cheat the screen, he fades. If the defender’s attached to his hip, Trent can curl and make a play off of one or two bounces. His game is simple, but supremely fundamental. This will make him very attractive to certain front offices in the league – the learning curve should be very low.
Trent isn’t an explosive athlete like Lonnie Walker can be, but he has a smoothness to his game and his 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame will help him finish closer to the basket. When crowded, Trent struggles to blow by defenders, but again, the length aids in getting into his shot over smaller defenders. How this translates on the next level will be interesting (I worry). Trent shot just 40.2% on two-point field goal attempts during conference play.
There effectively no evidence that Trent will be a second creator type of player, or that he can be a ball-handler in a pick-and-roll. Then again, he was surrounded by Trevon Duval and Grayson Allen at Duke, so he never really had the chance. If Trent is able to handle the ball more on the next level, and develop a heightened creator mentality, that unlocks everything.
Trent has a chance to be an average defender on the next level, and maybe a little bit better because of how fundamentally sound he is, but the impact on that end will likely be limited. He has a 6’9 wingspan, which is fine for his frame. Not great, but fine.
You don’t have to be freakishly athletic and flashy to become an impact player in the NBA, but you must have numerous above average basketball traits and I’m just not convinced that’s Trent now, or ever will be.
Wesley Matthews would be Trent’s ceiling comparison. This considers he could add some off the bounce magic. Personally, I project Trent as a late first-round pick.