UNC Basketball: How Tar Heel Draftees Fit with Their NBA Teams
Usually when your favorite college basketball players get drafted in the top 20, they're stuck on cellar dwellers and seemingly fall off the face of the earth.
That isn't so much the case for Tar Heel fans in 2012.
North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller were all taken before the 18th pick of the NBA draft. And their respective teams are now the Warriors, Suns, Bucks and the Cavaliers. Those four teams averaged a 27-39 record in 2011-12.
Looking at their records, one would think their situations are much like early draftees of the past. But as we dig deeper, you will see that these teams aren't so bad off—and neither are the former Tar Heels that were picked by these teams.
Is it a perfect situation for all? Hardly.
Phoenix is rebuilding, but it appears they may be picking up quality parts in the offseason to make the franchise a future contender. Milwaukee is looking less like Milwaukee, but they still leave me perplexed.
Barnes and Zeller appear to be with the best teams of the four, but we will see when the season rolls around. Golden State could flop with injuries, as they did last year. Cleveland has a potential Big 3, but I must put emphasis on the word potential.
The only thing that is a lock is Zeller starting for Cleveland. That's it.
But I will give you a deep look into their teams and how the latest Tar Heel draftees fit. I considered all of the latest offseason moves for these teams, but there will surely be more. Signings don't even start until July 11.
Harrison Barnes: Golden State Warriors, No. 7 Overall
The Golden State Warriors were very poor in Mark Jackson's first season as a head coach, finishing 23-43. That was good for 13th in the West—which is not so good.
Fortunately for Harrison Barnes, that had a lot to do with franchise point guard Stephen Curry only participating in 26 games. Their long-time leading scorer Monta Ellis is gone, but they received Andrew Bogut to clog up the middle.
2011 draftee Klay Thompson did just fine in Ellis' place, coming on strong in the second half of the season. Thompson averaged 21.6 points in his last nine games. He also buried 41.4 percent of his shots beyond the arc.
If there is anything this Golden State team can do, it's run the floor and knock down treys. Four players shot over 40 percent from downtown last season. As a team, they were second only to San Antonio, shooting 38.8 percent on threes.
Now they have Harrison Barnes, who comes from a fast-paced system in North Carolina and doesn't mind putting up a three. Barnes only shot 35.8 percent from the arc last season, but he was near 43 percent before injuring his ankle in February.
With the recent trade of Dorell Wright, the only question with Barnes' fit in Golden State is whether or not he will start over fellow draft pick Draymond Green.
It will be a tight competition, but I feel Barnes will win out. You can bet Green will get a nice chunk of minutes too.
Despite what some may say, Harrison Barnes also brings some much-needed defense on a team that ranked 28th in the league last season, allowing 101.2 points per game. Barnes isn't a playmaker on defense, but he locks down defenders and doesn't allow them space to get off a good shot.
By all accounts, the Golden State Warriors appear to be a perfect fit for Barnes. Barring any injuries, expect this team to end up in the playoffs.
Kendall Marshall: Phoenix Suns, No. 13 Overall
Steve Nash has teamed up with Kobe Bryant in L.A., leaving an opening at point guard for Kendall Marshall—right?
Not so fast.
The Suns also reached a verbal agreement with the Houston Rockets' Goran Dragic, who boosted his stock last year when starting point guard Kyle Lowry went down.
Will Marshall sit behind the career backup? There is a possibility, but if that's the case, still expect Kendall Marshall to pick up a good portion of the minutes at point.
They didn't draft him in the first round for nothing.
But this was a smart move for Phoenix, after losing Nash. They do need some insurance at point, considering there are still question marks over Marshall's head.
But who will they be dishing the ball to? After all, this team was 33-33 with Steve Nash last year.
Phoenix still has their leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker in center Marcin Gortat. They also have Channing Frye backing him up, so the Suns are pretty solid at the 5.
The Suns are also making some moves to fill the remaining voids on the team.
Small forward Michael Beasley has agreed to a deal with Phoenix and is expected to sign on July 11. They are also working on a deal with the Hornets' shooting guard Eric Gordon. Gordon has agreed to the terms, but New Orleans is reportedly working on matching that deal.
If things work out as planned, they look to have a pretty solid starting lineup.
With the Dragic move, it's tough to get a good read on where UNC's former floor general fits. But if the Beasley and Gordon deals go through, Kendall Marshall will have the scorers he needs to shine.
Marshall scored when he absolutely had to at the collegiate level but was never looked at as a major threat—and prefers to dish the ball anyway. That trend will continue in the NBA, so surrounding him with scorers is a step in the right direction.
Whether he starts in 2012-13 or not, he will be looked upon as the franchise point guard of the Suns' future. And it also looks like they are putting the right pieces in place to make it a promising one.
The Suns will also gain an additional first-rounder in 2013 and 2015—along with an additional second-rounder in 2013 and 2014—when the Nash deal is completed with the Lakers. They may not be a contender next year, but they will be set up down the road—if the front office plays their cards right.
John Henson: Milwaukee Bucks, No. 14 Overall
The Milwaukee Bucks are, well, a mess.
Talent-wise, they are starting to look pretty good. As I mentioned earlier, they snatched Monta Ellis from Golden State last season. They also managed to pick both John Henson and Kentucky's Doron Lamb in the draft.
But they lost their starting center Andrew Bogut in the Ellis trade. They picked up Samuel Dalembert from the Rockets to cover the 5. That isn't an eye-popping move, but it's better than playing Drew Gooden out of position, as they did last season.
The following is where the Bucks become a talented mess.
Power forward Ersan Ilyasova and point guard Brandon Jennings are both on the market, and the Bucks are desperately trying to keep them. Focus on Jennings, Milwaukee. Don't overpay Ilyasova.
Gooden is aging, but they just picked up Henson in the draft. How many power forwards do they need? They also got Ekpe Udoh in the Bogut trade.
For anyone who cares, that's two Roy Williams-coached players at the 4 (Gooden and Henson). Back to the mess in Milwaukee.
Mike Dunleavy appears to be starting at small forward, but they could make a move later on. He's a great role player and shooter, but not much more than that.
They picked up Ellis last year and drafted Lamb—both are shooting guards. That's a lot of scoring talent at the 2. And neither is tall enough to play small forward, so someone will be on the bench.
Or will they break out a three-guard set? That could speed up the game, like the Pistons and Blazers of old—and a fast game is right in Henson's wheelhouse.
I think John Henson could start over Drew Gooden, but they may split minutes as Henson settles into the NBA. Could he get time at center, too? That's a possibility, considering the positional mess.
Either way, don't look for Henson to make too big a bang in his first season with the Bucks.
But, really, who knows? The Bucks just have me puzzled. They may sort it all out over the offseason—or they could just continue being the same old Milwaukee Bucks.
Tyler Zeller: Cleveland Cavaliers, No. 17 Overall
Speaking of messes, it's time to talk Cleveland Cavaliers.
Though they finished paltry 21-45 last season, there is some certainty with the team—and Tyler Zeller.
Cleveland didn't give up their 24th, 33rd and 34th picks to the Mavericks for a backup. Zeller will start at center. He was one of the more developed players in the draft and shouldn't have a problem sliding into a starting role.
The 2012 ACC Player of the Year will need to put more meat on his bones to dominate the way he did at the collegiate level. But there is no question of his fit in Cleveland.
As for the rest of the team, 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving will be the obvious floor general. He also got some first-hand looks at Tyler Zeller during his lone season at Duke. I doubt he will be shy about putting the ball in Z's hands.
Look out in transition.
Cleveland also picked up Dion Waiters in the draft to play at the 2. There are some questions surrounding the No. 4 overall pick, but I think he may live up to the hype with Irving controlling the floor. Waiters has a tendency to be shot-happy but is a great penetrator and open-floor runner.
Though they could have a possible Big 3 in the making, that is on paper, and the other positions are a little shaky.
Former Tar Heel Antawn Jamison may be headed to L.A., which would likely make Anderson Varejao the starting power forward.
As for the small forward, will it be Omri Casspi or Alonzo Gee? Neither are superstars, but if Zeller and Waiters pan out as well as Irving, they may not need another superstar—just solid role players.
Surprisingly enough, the Cleveland Cavaliers may be on their way to getting out of their post-LeBron rut. This will be a high-octane team that runs the ball a lot. If the forwards stick to their roles and rookies adjust quickly, this will be a playoff team in 2013.