We’re approaching that magical time of year when the NBA playoffs ever so slowly grind to a climax, when spring gives way to summer and summer provides the decapitation of college talent in the form of the pro draft.
But, wait! No playoffs.
No NBA draft lottery with team execs, player alums and other minor luminaries posed like contestants on TV’s Hollywood Squares while awaiting their turn to gamble millions on young men they hope will be future stars.
No NBA draft combine, with exhilarating competition in vertical leaps.
No debate over where LeBron James ranks in the pantheon of NBA greats.
No problem. We still have the two rounds of the NBA draft to contemplate, debate and savor, set to go barely a month from now on June 25.
Social distancing may keep the top prospects from gathering wherever it is they were supposed to gather. But, as with the NFL draft, ESPN certainly will bring cameras to the homes of top prospects, affording viewers the opportunity to enjoy the sartorial splendor and carefully crafted celebrations of the young men and their gathered families/coaches/posses.
Unfortunately the logistics will make it difficult for Kentucky coach John Calipari to insinuate himself into his players’ celebratory moments, as per usual.
Among the ’20 draft selections will be a smattering of seniors, a representative sample of the 42 international players who cast their lot with the world’s best basketball league, and a smattering of the 163 undergrads who spurned their final allotments of college eligibility. This even as three of the best American prep prospects skipped college altogether in favor of a G League payday.
Eleven of this year’s early risers hail from the ACC, representing eight of 15 programs. Duke, as has become customary, has more quick release players than any other ACC school with three, followed by a pair from Florida State, Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. (Raise your hand if you noticed Williams, who appeared nowhere among ACC statistical leaders.)
Six of the top 10 all-conference choices had eligibility remaining at the conclusion of the 2020 season; of that group only UNC’s Garrison Brooks, the ACC’s Most Improved Player, did not declare for the draft.
His freshman teammate, Cole Anthony, made All-ACC third team. A skilled scorer but unpolished playmaker, Anthony improved considerably after the injuries and media gushing were behind him. He’s expected to be chosen well ahead of any other ACC player in this June’s draft.
For the longest time Duke was noteworthy for avoiding the loss of any players early to the pros. This while premier programs all around college basketball leaked talent. Duke’s rare stability endured as the likes of Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill came and went, earning All-American honors along the way.
All that changed in 1999. Soon thereafter Duke departures exploded as the era of one-and-done players dawned. (By some reports that little-loved state may continue indefinitely, early signs of hopeful change notwithstanding.)
In the 22 drafts since 1999, 30 Blue Devils have jumped to the pros. All but five of the 27 prior to 2020 were chosen in the first round. This is the fifth season in the last six Duke saw at least three players leave early.
Only Marques Bolden, hampered by injuries and employed behind a pair of superior big men, Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, left early and was not drafted in 2019.
Four Duke players were picked first in a draft — Art Heyman (1963), Elton Brand (1999), Kyrie Irving (2012) and Zion Williamson (2019) — more than any other ACC program.
($ First Pick Overall, *Undrafted, 2 Second Round)
|Year||No. Lost||Players||Draft Notes|
|2020||3||Vernon Carey, Jr.||This year's order projected|
|2019||4||Zion Williamson$||First three in top 10|
|2018||3||Marvin Bagley III||Bagley, Carter top 7|
|Wendell Carter, Jr.|
|Gary Trent, Jr. (2)|
|2017||4||Jayson Tatum||First three in top 20|
|Frank Johnson (2)|
|2016||1||Brandon Ingram||Second pick|
|2015||3||Jahlil Okafor||All in first round|
|2014||2||Jabari Parker||Parker second pick|
|2011||1||Kyrie Irving $|
|2009||1||Gerald Henderson||No. 12, one spot ahead of UNC scuffle foe Tyler Hansbrough|
|2007||1||Josh McRoberts (2)|
|2002||3||Jay Williams||Williams, Dunleavy in top three|
|Carlos Boozer (2)|
|1999||3||Elton Brand$||All in top 14 with sr. T. Langdon|