Ranking Former Tar Heels Currently in the NBA
Besides being a college powerhouse, the University of North Carolina's basketball team also has a habit of producing great NBA players. Since 1948, the Tar Heels have had 98 players selected in the draft with 12 currently playing. That number of players ties them with Kansas for fifth on the list of colleges with players in the league. That's four off the leader, which is their archrival Duke. The Heels aren't complaining though because their five draft picks (which would have put them in first) from last year all decided to stay for this season to compete for a National Championship.
A true showing of how good of a program North Carolina is, is that out of the 12 players, 11 of them were first round draft picks. Danny Green was the only exception, who was selected in the second round in 2009. Along with that, out of the 12, only Brandan Wright—who played in the 2006-2007 season—did not get a chance to play in a Final Four. The rest played in at least one, some two, and Brendan Haywood even got to play in three.
The following list is based off this year's performances, not the player's entire careers. There are several players that are in the D-League and playing overseas as well, but this is just accounting for the players that are on the actual roster as of the day this was written.
12. Jerry Stackhouse: Atlanta Hawks
If you follow much of the NBA, I think this was a fairly obvious choice.
Though Stack has had a very respectable NBA career, he's hit the end of the road. At age 37 and in his 16th year, it seems that his days of contributing to his team on the floor are just about over. Through 14 games, the Hawks are sporting a 10-4 record. Stackhouse however, has only seen action in four of those games. His season high is eight points in a loss to the Pacers, and on the year is only averaging 3.3 points per game. Seeing that only two of their games have been decided by three points or less, you could make the case that he is basically irrelevant.
I'm sure that he means a lot leadership-wise to that team and that could be a large part of their early season success. If that's the case, then numbers don't matter, but as for now I think Jerry has earned his ranking on this list.
11. Ed Davis: Toronto Raptors
Ed Davis was supposed to be a difference maker for the Toronto Raptors when they selected him 13th overall in the 2010 Draft. Unfortunately for those who watched him in his two seasons at UNC, he has yet to live up those standards.
Coming off the bench for the 4-10 Raptors, Davis is putting up mediocre numbers in his limited playing time. In his 13 games, he's averaging 19.5 minutes on the floor and has more rebounds per game (5.4 RPG) than points (5.2 PPG).
To his defense, the other power forward on the team, Amir Johnson, is having arguably the best year of his career thus far and is taking up a lot of his minutes.
With another year or two under his belt, and a few more pounds as well, Davis should turn into a highly productive player. Until then though his ranking, just like his numbers, will remain low.
10. Brandan Wright: Dallas Mavericks
It saddens me when I hear his name, because I can only think of just how many more championships the school could have won if he had only stayed around a few more years. Instead, he opted out early for the big bucks, and was rewarded by being selected with the eighth pick in 2007 by the Bobcats and was then traded to the Warriors.
Since then he's moved around a bit, and as of this year he finds himself sporting a defending champion Mavericks jersey. He's playing behind arguably the best power forward in the game, so it's understandable that Wright is only averaging 8.7 minutes per game. His 5.2 points per game and 2.5 rebounds aren't great numbers, but it's hard to find playing time on a team with so much talent and depth.
He's playing his role nicely, and if his numbers continue to stay respectable, he should be finding his number called more and more as the season rolls on.
9. Wayne Ellington: Minnesota Timberwolves
Wayne will always be a loved alumni by the Tar Heel faithful, if for nothing else, earning the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player in the team's title run in 2009. He was a shooter with one of the prettiest shots that has ever dawned the Carolina Blue.
So far though, he's yet to find that stroke consistently (which Heels fans can relate with as well) throughout his NBA career. In his past two games, Ellington has come on strong dropping 13 on the Hawks and then 15 on the Kings. That brings his season average to only 5.5 points per game, but if this is the beginning of Wayne gaining his confidence, he'll be upping those numbers in a hurry.
Being on a team that has struggled to find their go-to-guy from outside of the paint, Ellington could easily become that guy. He is streaky, but when he's on, he is on, and the Timberwolves would be stupid not to play him in those instances. If he can settle down on a regular basis then I don't think it's too outrageous to predict 15-20 points a night from him.
8. Danny Green: San Antonio Spurs
As many talented players that have come out of Carolina and not made it far in the NBA, I'll be the first to admit that I thought Danny Green would join that group. To the surprise of me and many others, he has proved us wrong. Especially of late.
In the month of December, Green was only averaging 6.8 minutes per game. He came on for the first time in his career in the month of January, averaging over 20 minutes per game and bumping his season average up to 15.9. He had his first 20 point game against Denver early in the month and followed it up by putting in 13 a few nights later. For the season he's scoring 7.3 points with 3.4 rebounds per game. On a team that is old and slowing down, Green has been part of a youth movement that has put a spark beneath them when they have needed it most.
Green has never really had a problem with consistency unlike Ellington, so what you see is what you get. What you see is a player who will give his all for you every night and will play his role as best as it can be played. He proved that in his collegiate career and is showing that now in his pro career as well. He's a true example of hard work paying off.
7. Brendan Haywood: Dallas Mavericks
Haywood has never been a big number type guy throughout his 10 year career, but was a valuable piece to have in his seven years of starting in Washington and in his coming off the bench play for Dallas. Though his numbers have never been big, they have always been consistent. For his career he's averaged 7.3 points per game and around 6 rebounds, and that's about what you can expect every time he's on the floor.
At his peak he was only averaging just under a double-double for the season, and has since come back down to earth. Though he's a starter for the Mavericks, he's still seeing limited time with 19 minutes per game. His five and six numbers on the season aren't impressive, but he is a big key to the Mav's success. He came up big when they needed him last year on their way to winning the team's first ever NBA Championship. By winning it all, that makes him the only Tar Heel on the list with a ring.
A ring's not everything, at least when it comes to this list. Though he has been one of the more consistent players from Chapel Hill, he's never quite emerged as a big name player like the players in front of him.
6. Vince Carter: Dallas Mavericks
It was hard to rank Vince this low, seeing that he's my favorite player of all time, but since this list is based on this year and not a career, I had no choice.
After being traded to the Mavericks, he's seeing career lows in nearly every category. At the beginning of the season he had earned a starting role, but has only earned 5 out of 13 since. The once high-flying act is now being limited to only 21.7 minutes per game. It hasn't stopped the energetic Carter from still going out and being productive, but his numbers have been affected due to the lack of PT. So far, he's averaging 9.8 points per contest, along with 2.2 assists, and 2.7 rebounds.
He's adjusting to his new role as just a key player instead of the team's star just fine though. He's becoming more team oriented, and is enjoying the success of his teammates and therefore the team's in general. His step out of the starlight might not be benefiting his numbers, but it could help him on his chase for his first NBA Championship.
With three UNC Alums on the team (Wright,Haywood, and Carter), how could they not win another ship?
5. Marvin Williams: Atlanta Hawks
To be honest, I could easily put Marv in any of the remaining spots, but for now I'm sticking him at five.
The only other one and done on the list, went out on top of the college basketball world with a title in '05 and then became the second overall pick in the draft a few months later. Since earning the starting small forward role in his second season, he has been one of the most underrated players in the entire NBA.
His numbers have dropped off just a bit from his career averages in the early parts of this season, but 10.6 points per game mixed with 6.2 rebounds is still very good. Especially if you consider the fact that he's a little less in shape than normal due to the lockout.
He has been and still continues to be a key part in the Hawks' success and that is why he finds himself so high on the list. If I had have done this list at any point in the past few years, he probably would have found himself a little higher. Though he was the hardest player to rank for me, none of that matters as long as he's doing the school proud. Which he always has and always will.
4. Tyler Hansbrough: Indiana Pacers
Entering the league, almost every NBA talent scout thought Hansbrough would amount to nothing in their league. Apparently they forgot who they were talking about.
In his third season, Psycho-T continues to improve his numbers in every way. His minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, and steals are all at career highs right now and I don't see that changing as the season plays out. He hands down has the hardest work ethic out of anyone to play the game—all he has needed was the time to adjust and learn how to handle the size difference he has been facing.
The size difference alone is why I chose to put him ahead of Williams. Marv and Tyler are the same height and only differ five pounds in weight, but they play two totally different positions. With Hansbrough being down low, he gets beat up a lot more and is for the most part shorter and lighter than anyone he matches up against. Despite that, he still averages 11 points and 6 rebounds per night.
Only time will tell just how good of a player he can turn out to be, but if his continuing improvements are any sign, he could become a threat in the years to come.
3. Antawn Jamison: Cleveland Cavaliers
Besides maybe Vince, Antawn Jamison has had the best career out of anyone on this list.
Excluding his one year as a Maverick (behind Dirk, mind you) Jamison has been a starter in almost every single game he has played in. At the age of 35, he is still going strong. With young players surrounding him in Cleveland, he continues to show the leadership and playing style that has gotten him this far. In his 14th year, he is averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and over 30 minutes per game. His stamina alone shows just how good he is.
His numbers are dropping slightly, but for the first time in a while, he has a few teammates around him that are feeding off of his success. Even with that though, his play is good enough to rank him number three out of twelve.
2. Raymond Felton: Portland Trail Blazers
Coming off his best year as a pro, Felton has continued to show the hard work and consistency that got him so far as a college player.
He is an extremely underrated player. Not only does he put up very good numbers, he just simply knows how to manage a basketball game. He is the definition of floor general and proves that no matter what team he has played on. His numbers so far this season are 11.1 points per game with 6.8 assists, while hauling in 2.8 boards a night as well.
He's surrounded by talented teammates, but I can only help but wonder how many more assists a game he'd be averaging if Brandon Roy was still a part of the Blazers. I think it's reasonable to suggest that he'd be nearing a double double a night. Felt makes every teammate around him a better player, and that is why he is deserving of the number two spot.
1. Ty Lawson: Denver Nuggets
I couldn't be more happier that Ty Lawson is the number one guy on this list, and he has earned that rank for sure. After improving little by little in his first two seasons he has come on strong now that he is the full-time point guard for the Nuggets. After a couple years of tutelage from Chauncey Billups and Felton, Lawson has combined that knowledge with his flat-out skill to become a force to be reckoned with.
If Felton is one of the most underrated point guards in the game, then Lawson could very well be the most underrated player overall. For the numbers he is putting up every night and for what he means to his team, he gets nowhere near enough credit for the job he is doing. He's brought that speed and explosiveness we all miss so badly when watching the Heels play, to the NBA and has evolved his game to something not many could have imagined.
With arguably three of his best teammates stuck overseas for the time being, Lawson has stepped up and led his team to a 8-5 record. Through those 13 games, he is averaging 16.8 points, 6.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and almost 2 steals per game. His quickness has a lot to do with his jump in numbers, but make no mistake he has arrived in the NBA, and it looks like he's here to stay for a long while.
All stats are from ESPN.com