Ah, yes, it’s that magical time of the year when baseball begins to dominate the sports calendar. So before that happens, for the love of god, lets cling to the last little bit of fun sports that we have before the year resets: it’s draft season, folks!
This the also the moment when a lot of Triangle basketball fans stop caring about the players they just spent the last 1-4 years obsessing over — cognitive dissonance be damned!
As you’d expect, Tobacco Road is well-represented on this year’s projected draft broad. Next Thursday — June 23 — 60 guys will be drafted, 30 of which will get that sweet, sweet guaranteed first round draft pick cash.
Everyone loves comparisons! And we here in the world of sports media love making hasty and passionate judgments, so without further adieu, here’s a look at how some recent Triangle denizens project out as future NBA players:
Brandon Ingram, Forward, Duke
Pro comparison: Kevin Durant
Few players in college basketball produced like Ingram did. The freshman from Kinston was clearly one of the most-gifted amateur hoopers on the globe the last 12 months. A lot was asked of him during his brief stint in Durham, especially after Amile Jefferson went down, and he delivered.
Ingram, projected as a small forward in the NBA, had to defend post players and help Marshall Plumlee clean the glass. He’s a long-armed defender who blocked 49 shots during his lone campaign in Durham; that kind of positionlessness (making up words is fun!) is incredibly valuable in the NBA. However, Ingram will butter his bread with his incredible offensive talents.
Ingram made 80 3-pointers at Duke; Durant made 82 while at Texas. Both players shot above 40 percent from distance, too. Durant’s overall production was better than Ingram’s, no duh, but the two may compare more favorably than you’d think.
According to Mike Schmitz of the Vertical, Ingram outpaced Durant on isolation plays (0.94 points per possession to 0.88 points per possession), and he was better as a pick-and-roll player, too. Durant averaged 0.54 points per possession as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll action; Ingram, on the other hand, scored 0.72 points per possession ball-handling in PNRs.
The NBA is all about spread pick-and-roll action nowadays. A player like Ingram, who function as a screen-setting popping out for open threes, or as the ball-handler is massive. If teams go under the pick when Ingram’s handling, he can splash a three. If they fight through, he has the game to get to the rim. Ingram attempted only 5.5 free throws per 40 minutes (Durant registered an 8.2 in this metric), so he’ll have to work on attacking through contact.
Worth noting: This is also where comparison between Ingram and Durant can seem silly. Durant is one of the 2-3 best basketball players on the planet, and has been for some time. He’s amazing. And it would be wildly unfair towards Ingram to expect the kind of greatness that KD has achieved the last decade in the NBA. Their frames and games are similar, though. Let me live.
Durant went No. 2 overall in 2007 (‘Sup, Portland?), and Ingram is likely set to go No. 2 this year to the Los Angeles Lakers, assuming the Philadelphia 76ers go with Ben Simmons.
*insert played out Ben Simmons/ESPN joke*
Brice Johnson, Forward, North Carolina
Pro comparison: Taj Gibson
We all know that Roy Williams in incapable of producing NBA stars, so it’s a must that Brice’s comparison be yet another role player. Johnson capped his four-year career at UNC with a senior season for the record books: conference player of the year, an ACC championship, and run to the Final Four.
Johnson led the league in a variety of categories, including field goal percentage and rebounds. The advanced number honks (yours truly included) will admire Johnson’s production, too. Roy’s boy led the league in efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, and win shares.
It looks as though Johnson will be a lock for the first round. Where he goes among the first 30 picks, however, is somewhat of a mystery. Some mock drafts have him going towards the back end; most have him going in the early 20s, though, which means he could be headed to Charlotte — the Hornets own the No. 22 pick. Lets be real: if he’s there, Charlotte’s taking this dude.
Gibson has been in the league since 2009, when the Chicago Bulls selected him 26th overall out of Southern Cal. He’s come off the bench the vast majority of his career, but Gibson has been a warrior and a very important player for the Bulls. This was the first time in his career Chicago has missed the playoffs. He’s a rugged rebounder and a quality midrange shooter, which is where most of his offense is generated from.
Johnson is likely never going to be a guy that get plays run for him, but his springs on the offensive glass and ability to rim run and spot up from 18 feet make him marketable.
And hey, being a role player pays, too. Gibson has already stacked around $30 million in career earnings. Johnson will be on a cap-controlled rookie deal for his first four seasons, but after that, he can seriously bank some cash.
Cat Barber, guard, NC State
Pro comparison: Ish Smith
Simply put, Barber was a monster during his third and final season in Raleigh. This season, everything for Mark Gottfried’s offense ran through I-12.
Concerns over his size loom, but Cat may be the fastest player in this year’s draft pool. He’s a blur in transition, and that’s something he’ll have hang his hat on. Barber is an excellent free throw shooter, which is nice, and he has good form, but he’s far from a long-range sniper. If he can extend his shooting range, he can absolutely play in the NBA.
Even if he fails to develop an NBA-range jumper, Cat still has the chops to initiate pick-and-roll action. If he can translate this to the next level, Barber, like former Wake Forest point guard Ish Smith, can carve out a niche. Some question his play-making abilities because he shot so damn much last season, but um, who exactly was he going to pass the ball to? And it’s not like he was a black hole; the Cat still dished out 4.5 assists per game.
Smith shot just 22 percent on 3-pointers his senior season at Wake (Cat connected on 36 percent of his heaves), but he’s absurdly fast and he can operate pick-and-rolls. Despite going undrafted back in 2010, Smith has gone on to play 323 NBA games for nine different franchises. That may not be the glamorous professional career some would hope for, but it’s still damn impressive.
Keep getting them checks, too. Scared money don’t make no money in the NBA.
Marshall Plumlee, center, Duke
Pro comparison: Miles Plumlee
Prior to eight months ago, the thought of the Plumdog Trillionaire playing in the NBA would’ve seemed laughable. To be honest, I assumed he was all set to start his military career, like, right nowish.
That, however, isn’t the case: according to our buddy Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer (one of the best beat writers in the NBA), Plumlee’s military tenure will start once he’s done dunking the ever-loving shit out of basketballs (my words here, not Rick’s).
During his first four years at Duke, Plumlee scored a total of just 127 points. Not much, Bob! But he blossomed during his redshirt senior campaign in Durm. The Marsh Man averaged 11 points and 11 boards per 40 minutes; he was fourth on a Sweet 16 team in minutes played, and a really nice 69 percent from the field.
Most importantly, though, Plum’s 7-feet tall and plays his ass off. He’s an excellent defensive communicator, which may sound inconsequential, but it’s not. All 30 NBA teams care about that.
I’m not sure what it is, but for some reason, Marshall reminds me off another former Duke big man in the NBA: Miles Plumlee. Call it a hunch, but these two guys play like they’re related. It’s eery, y’all.
Marcus Paige, guard, North Carolina
Pro comparison: Barack Obama
Yo, Marcus. Listen in. You could spend the next 12-36 months of your life sweating it out for a roster spot in the NBA — playing in the D-League (what up, Newark, Delaware), learning how to speak Turkish while you play in Konya (eh, that actually sounds kinda cool, but alas). You could do that. It’s a pretty nice lot in life.
However, man, lets just cut to the chase. You’re the media’s darling; your approval numbers among sportswriters are through the damn roof. I mean, who else could’ve gotten this much of a pass for slumping so hard during their seniors season? We all know the media leans slightly to the left of your jump shot. It’s time to get your foray into democratic politics started now.
Let’s not forget — our nation has been run the last eight years by another left-handed hooper who won a state championship in high school: Barack Obama.
(Real talk, though: I’m just trying to keep Marcus out of sports media for as long as possible. Because it’s only a matter of time before he swoops in and takes a job from me. I HAVE BILLS TO PAY, MARCUS, DON’T BE SELFISH, MAN.)