I'm doing an "NBA Draft Toolbox" series over at SBNation, breaking down the top prospects for the 2012 draft, which should be at least as good as 2008 (Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love) if not 2003.
Last week, I looked at North Carolina, which seems relevant given UT's game against the Tar Heels Wednesday:
As a result, Williams has an embarrassment of riches up and down his roster. Most coaches have to choose between NBA-level athleticism and NBA-level skill level in recruiting prospects; he does not.
Everyone in his rotation played in a McDonald's All-American Game; his bench would be a top-15 team this season. UNC's two freshmen would be stars on 95 percent of the teams in college basketball; they get spot minutes in Chapel Hill. They lost a player to a season-ending knee injury (Leslie McDonald) with more NBA potential than the entire roster of some of their ACC competitors without blinking an eye.
However, when evaluating Williams' players for the next level, NBA scouts have the same problem that NFL ones did during the Pete Carroll era in USC: is everyone that good or are some benefiting from playing with such talented teammates that their individual weaknesses are hidden?
The first thing you notice about the Tar Heels is their size: they go 7'0, 6'10, 6'8 with first-round picks across the front-line, and all three can score and pass out of the post.
If you have physical, athletic big men like Michigan State you can push Henson and Zeller, both fairly lanky with high centers of gravity, off their spots and make them far less effective. This is going to be a huge game for Alexis Wangmene, who has to stay out of foul trouble.
Barnes isn't quite as good as his reputation, but if you put a shorter/slower wing on him, he'll abuse them on the block and shoot over the top of them very easily.
They've got three future pros off their bench in 6'9 James McAdoo (nephew of Bob), 6'7 Reggie Bullock and 6'5 PJ Hairston. Bullock and Hairston are both extremely athletic and they can both fill it up from behind the 3-point line in a hurry; the fact they are getting spot minutes in Chapel Hill is rather absurd.
** I wouldn't be surprised if Bullock and Hairston become better pros than Barnes. **
If Texas is going to make a game out of this, it will have to be in the back-court.
Kendall Marshall, a 6'4 point guard w/excellent floor vision, is the engine for North Carolina's offense, but he's also their weak link defensively. He doesn't have great lateral quickness, and he can get beat off the dribble by smaller guards.
The Tar Heels use Dexter Strickland, their 6'3 starting shooting guard, as their back-up point, but he's not nearly the floor general Marshall is. Strickland is one of the best defensive guards in college basketball, and Williams will likely sic him on J'Covan Brown. A lot of the questions about how Brown's game translates to the next level revolve around his ability to create shots against longer, faster defenders; this will be a great opportunity for him in front of a lot of NBA scouts.
Whoever Marshall guards has got to attack him relentlessly, because the Longhorns aren't going to get much scoring from their front-court. Henson anchors UNC's defense inside, and he's one of the more unique players to come through college basketball in a long time:
At 6’10, 220 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan, it’s physically impossible for the average college big man to contest the release point on his jumper, much less block it. When he extends his arms, he is playing on a different plane than the rest of the sport: he had nine blocks against Michigan State, including three on perimeter jumpers.
Henson and [Kentucky's Anthony] Davis are the inevitable defensive response to the wave of super-sized jump-shooters that has emerged over the last generation. In essence, they’re similar to the new types of offensive tackles that began to appear in the NFL to combat the emergence of pass-rushers like Lawrence Taylor in the 1980’s.
If the best 6’10+ offensive players are no longer interested in banging in the low post, why should the best 6’10+ defensive players bulk up to 240-250 pounds? What’s the point of emphasizing core strength if you’re spending most of your time chasing players around the perimeter? Why not stay lean in order to emphasize lateral quickness instead?
It's as if you took an NBA wing player, copy and pasted him into Microsoft Paint and then dragged him out an extra foot without adding any extra weight. Henson is basically a human fly-swatter, and any Longhorn who ventures into the paint had better be aware of where he is.
In the big picture, the better Kabongo plays, the better Texas' chance to win. That could be an issue because this is an incredibly weak draft at point guard. The only other guy getting serious first-round discussion is Kentucky's Marquis Teague, whom I haven't been that impressed with so far. If Kabongo can reliably knock down three-point shots the rest of the season, he'd be the first PG taken in 2012.
** With Washington sitting at 5-5 after losing to South Dakota State (!!) last night, I'm going to assume for now that Tony Wroten, a Tyreke Evans clone, will end up coming back. **