As the college basketball season approaches we’ll be running a series of articles on the top NBA prospects by conference. To start here’s our list of the top prospects from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen is the only player from Duke’s 2014 recruiting class returning for his sophomore season and should have a breakout year ahead. He had a huge performance in last year’s national championship, scoring 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and actually had a case to declare for last year’s draft despite averaging just 4.4 points per game. Playing a smaller role on a national championship squad, Allen showed glimpses of stardom, such as a 27-point showing against Wake Forest, and should blossom into a first round prospect with a consistent year. Most of his offense came as a spot-up shooter, but it will be interesting to track Allen’s role in the upcoming season. The former McDonald’s All-American has the tools to become an NBA shooting guard with a 6-foot-5 frame, large hands, and plenty of athleticism.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: The powerful 6-foot-6 wing will bring excitement to Tallahassee as an athletic freshman scorer. Bacon is tough to stop in transition while he can create his own offense in halfcourt settings. He can finish through contact when attacking the basket and should help take some of the scoring load off of Xavier Rathan-Mayes. His physical tools are translatable to the NBA, especially on the defensive end, but can improve his instincts as a defender. Something to remember is that Bacon is already 20 years old, making him older than some players selected in the NBA Draft two years ago, such as Aaron Gordon and Bruno Caboclo. Nevertheless, he’ll be one of the top NBA prospects in the conference with a chance to contend for Freshman of the Year honors.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: One of the top “glue-guys” in the country, Brogdon is an underrated draft prospect to monitor this season. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is one of the top defenders in the country, using his savvy and length to disrupt opposing offenses. While there’s potential that Brogdon could excel in a “3-and-D” role in the NBA, he’ll need to improve upon his 34.4% shooting from three-point range as a junior. Brogdon did shoot 37% from deep as a sophomore and better than 87% from the free throw line the past two seasons, so there’s a chance he’ll have a better showing as a senior. With most of his offense coming off of screens and spot-ups, Brogdon could boost his stock by improving his ballhandling, an area where he showed potential in limited situations. Brogdon is the type of player that will likely be on an NBA roster next season due to his defensive prowess and feel for the game.
Brandon Ingram, Duke: The preseason favorite for ACC Freshman of the Year honors, Ingram will try to become the third consecutive Duke freshman to be drafted in the top five of the NBA Draft. Ingram has already made early headlines in the preseason with his insane vertical leap, where a video showed Ingram using his 6-foot-8 frame and 7-foot-3 wingspan to nearly touch the top of the backboard. Combined with a smooth jump shot, Ingram has all of the tools to become the next one-and-done star from Duke. The key for Ingram will be adding strength, as he’s extremely skinny at this stage.
Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Although Jerian Grant received most of the headlines for Notre Dame last season, Jackson was terrific in his own right for the Fighting Irish. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1 Jackson averaged 12.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.6 steals Now that he will have to carry a larger load, Jackson has a chance to make his case as a lottery talent. He’s a quick and explosive lead guard with a tight handle and strong frame. Jackson has also showcased a knock-down jumper, connecting on 42.5% of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons. He can lose a defender with a spin move or crossover and isn’t afraid to make the extra pass offensively. While there may not be a lot of upside with Jackson, he should put up even bigger numbers as a junior due to his increasing role.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson returns for his sophomore season after averaging 10.7 points per game as a freshman. The 6-foot-8 small forward has good size and length on the wing and has a knack for finding ways to score. While he shot just 30.4% from three-point range last season, he was 47.7% from the field and was at his best in transition. Jackson isn’t a great athlete, but runs the floor well and fills lanes effectively. To raise his stock, he’ll need to add some bulk and shoot better from deep this season.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson has shown steady improvement each season and will have a chance to play at the next level after his senior year. After averaging 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior, Johnson has shown an effective post game and big-time athleticism. Perhaps the most underrated part of his game is playing in the pick-and-roll, where he can use his mobility and coordination to catch and finish on the move. While he has put on plenty of mass during his time at North Carolina, Johnson is still somewhat skinny and a tad undersized at 6-foot-9. With the way the NBA is headed, however, Johnson could be a center in small-ball lineups, although his primary position will be at power forward. He hasn’t shown much of a jumper at North Carolina, but will be one of the youngest seniors in the country, so there’s still time to develop for the 21-year-old.
Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville: After a strong showing with the USA FIBA U19 team this summer, Onuaku looked like an NBA prospect despite averaging just 3.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a freshman at Louisville. At 6-foot-10 and 246 pounds with a 7-foot-2.5 wingspan, Onuaku has good size for the center position. He uses his size to impact the game defensively, as Onuaku blocked 1.2 shots per game as a freshman despite averaging just 17.8 minutes per contest. Offensively, Onuaku will need to improve by adding a go-to post move inside. He’s still fairly raw offensively and can improve his footwork to help his offensive arsenal. With his role likely to be expanded as a sophomore, Onuaku will be one to watch.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige will be one of the most experienced floor generals in the country this season. The 6-foot-2 point guard has already established himself as a knock-down shooter, connecting on 39.2% of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons, and has a good feel for his mid-range game as well. He’s a good passer, averaging just over four assists per game in all three seasons at North Carolina, and can play in the pick-and-roll. Paige is most effective as a shooter, however, whether it’s spotting up or coming off of screens. The southpaw reads defenses well and has a quick release that prevents defenses from helping off of him. His age and lack of elite athleticism will likely prevent him from jumping into the first round, but Paige will certainly have a shot in the NBA, most likely as a second round prospect.
Theo Pinson, North Carolina: After being named a McDonald’s All-American, Pinson had an unfortunate freshman season due to a foot injury that happened 19 games into the year. Pinson missed the following ten games and played in just five of the last nine, where he clearly wasn’t 100%. He had surgery during the offseason and should be back to full strength as a sophomore. As a 6-foot-6 wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and freakish athleticism, Pinson has all of the physical tools for the next level. The key will be adding a consistent offensive game, whether it’s as a shooter or slasher. This season will be the first real look at the 19-year-old.
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