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Duke vs. North Carolina: Ranking the NBA Potential of Every Starter

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterJune 3, 2016

Duke vs. North Carolina: Ranking the NBA Potential of Every Starter

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    The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels will tip off on Saturday, March 9 for the second time this year.

    Duke took the first meeting by five, but North Carolina enters round two riding a five-game winning streak playing its best ball all year.

    The story for Duke recently has been the resurgence of Ryan Kelly, who has scored 54 total points in his two games since returning from injury.

    But instead of analyzing the matchup, we're going to take a look at the NBA talent that will grace the floor in Chapel Hill. There's a good chance we could see seven or eight starters from this showdown play a role in the 2013 NBA draft. 

10. Marcus Paige, North Carolina, 6'1'', PG

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    Marcus Paige doesn't pass the physical test for an NBA point guard, lacking the athleticism, strength and explosiveness you typically see at the position.

    He's done a nice job of facilitating North Carolina's offense, but hasn't done anything to stand out individually.

    Paige hasn't shown much range on his jumper (33 percent from three) or as a dynamic playmaker in the half court.

    When you look at the NBA depth charts and focus at the point guard position, there's just not many job openings available. And with a slew of exciting young point guards coming out this year and next, Paige's future NBA outlook could be bleak.

    He's got to find a way to differentiate himself from the pack, which seems unlikely to happen given his physical limitations.

9. Quinn Cook, Duke, 6'1'', PG

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    Quinn Cook has been solid by all accounts in his first year running the show full time for Duke.

    He's averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 assists with a much-improved 42.6 percent three-point stroke. Cook has shown the ability to stay mentally locked in, playing with fire and intensity at both ends of the floor.

    But like UNC point guard Marcus Paige, Cook needs to find a way to separate from the crowd and give scouts a reason to believe he offers something most don't.

    Cook seems more like a reliable, four-year college guard than an NBA prospect at this point in his career.

8. Dexter Strickland, North Carolina, 6'3'', PG/SG

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    Dexter Strickland is a combo guard who projects strictly as two-way energizer to an NBA's backcourt.

    The big issue with Strickland is his inability to connect from the perimeter. Few guards that can't shoot actually serve a purpose on the floor.

    He's super quick and speedy with the ball in his hands, which helps him create opportunities for himself in transition and his teammates in the half court (four assists per game).

    But he's made four three-pointers all year, and remains limited to line-drive attacks and perimeter defense.

    Strickland should be looking to prove he can make an Avery Bradley-like impact, but without the ability to shoot, the package he offers is less appealing.

    The second round is possible, but there will have to be a team who is specifically seeking out Strickland's services.

7. Seth Curry, Duke, 6'2'', SG

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    Despite averaging 17 points per game as Duke's go-to guard down the stretch, Seth Curry doesn't project very strongly at the next level.

    At 6'2'' he's severely undersized at the off-guard position, and lacks the quickness and explosiveness off the dribble to get to the rim.

    However, nobody is going to question his perimeter game, where he's shooting above 42 percent from three for the second time in three years at Duke. He's also improved his ability to create his own shot on the perimeter, making good use of step-back and pull-up jumpers.

    We're not doubting that Seth Curry can ball; rather, the transition he must make against bigger, stronger and quicker NBA guards.

    He's got a shot at being targeted in the second round based on what he brings to the table in terms of reliability and shot-making.

6. Ryan Kelly, Duke, 6'11'', PF

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    NBA teams scouting Ryan Kelly know exactly what they're looking at. There won't be any question marks about his role or position at the next level, which gives him a label on draft day and improves his odds of being targeted.

    Kelly is a stretch-4 or 5 who can catch and shoot from anyone on the floor.

    He's knocking down threes at a 53 percent clip this season, and though the sample size is small, he shot it 40 percent as a junior. His 36 points on seven-made three-pointers against Miami was just a glimpse of what Kelly can do as a spot-up threat on the perimeter.

    With his size and shooting ability, he takes a big man away from the rim which improves the offensive spacing dramatically.

    Duke is currently 17-0 with Kelly in the lineup this year.

    NBA teams looking to diversify their front lines could give Kelly looks anywhere from the end of Round 1 to the end of Round 2. If he's not drafted, he'll get a training camp invite somewhere.

5. P.J. Hairston, North Carolina, 6'5'', SG

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    P.J. Hairston has been one of North Carolina's deadliest perimeter weapons, averaging 13.3 points on 2.4 three-pointers made in only 21 minutes per game.

    He's got an incredibly smooth stroke with deep, NBA range, showing the ability to catch and shoot with rhythm whether it's a contested look or a clean one.

    At 6'5'' he's got good size for an NBA 2-guard, and possesses the strength and athleticism necessary to man the position at the next level.

    Though he's not an adept shot-creator off the dribble, Hairston projects as a specialist—a perimeter microwave who can spread the floor and light it up from deep.

    Teams won't be lining up at the door for Hairston's services, but there's a niche in the NBA for athletic guards with defensive tools and a sweet stroke.

4. Reggie Bullock, North Carolina, 6'7'', SF

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    Reggie Bullock is having his best season in blue, averaging 14.2 points on 2.6 three-pointers made at a scorching 44.4 percent clip from deep.

    As a 6'7'' athlete, Bullock fits the bill as an NBA wing. He'll be sure to wear the "Three and D" name tag on draft day, for his ability to spread the floor as a shooter and guard the perimeter as a defender.

    Though he projects mostly as a long-range threat, Bullock has flashed the ability to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim when there's space in front of him.

    Bullock is a shot-maker, but has the upside to provide more than just three-balls to a rotation.

    There aren't many question marks surrounding the transition. It's just a matter of what role he'll play, which will determine his value on a draft day. Though likely a second-rounder, if a playoff team is specifically searching for an athletic two-way wing, Bullock could generate attention in the No. 20 to No. 30 range.

3. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, 6'4'', SG

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    Rasheed Sulaimon has progressed since day one, expanding his range and confidence as an off-ball scorer.

    He's an excellent slasher who can catch, gather and finish at the rim. Sulaimon has also shown touch shooting on the move, and complements his attack game with a reliable three-point stroke. He's making 1.5 long-balls a game on 39 percent from downtown, a number that's likely to remain steady for the rest of his career.

    Sulaimon's effort level is noted on both sides of the ball, where he projects as an excellent perimeter defender thanks to long arms and fluid athleticism.

    He's got the ability to convert shots from long-range, mid-range and at the rim, yet also poses an effective ball-mover and complement to his more ball-dominant supporting scorers.

    It will be Sulaimon's birthday on Saturday for the big showdown, so expect the hard-nosed guard to come out with fire and energy. Although it's not like he wouldn't if it were any other day.

2. Mason Plumlee, Duke, 7'0'', PF/C

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    Mason Plumlee's production has taken a hit since the start of the year, but his size, athleticism and mobility all remain intact.

    Even if he never truly develops a refined offensive game, his ability to play above the rim at 7'0'' should allow him to impact the game in the paint on both sides of the ball.

    However, he's flashed a reliable over-the-shoulder jump hook, as well as a quick first step facing the rim in the post. He's improved his ability to create his own offense, and with more spacing in the NBA game he'll have a better opportunity to showcase his isolation skills.

    Worst comes to worst a team gets a rebounder, finisher and shot-blocker with legitimate center size and top-shelf NBA athleticism.

    He's averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game, and should be a lock for the top 20 in 2013.

1. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina, 6'9'', SF/PF

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    Many have soured on James Michael McAdoo, which might have to do with the unrealistic expectations he was given.

    He's lost steam as an NBA prospect despite averaging nearly 15 points and eight rebounds.

    But at 6'9'' with natural talent and physical tools that can't be matched, the potential down the road still exists.

    He's developed a confident mid-range stroke and the ability to create it. They aren't falling right now consistently, but he just turned 20 years old and there's plenty of time for them to start dropping.

    McAdoo's efficiency has taken a hit, primarily because his responsibilities in Carolina's offense are overwhelming. McAdoo projects as a complementary contributor, like a Josh Smith, who makes plays off the ball based on reactions and athletic abilities.

    There's no doubt he needs work as a decision-maker and shot-maker, but these are very fixable flaws.

    McAdoo's extraordinary physical tools, including strength, size, mobility and athleticism, along with a developing offensive arsenal that consists of post moves, mid-range jumpers and a face-up game, give him minimal risk as a draft pick with the potential for heavy reward in time.

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