How early is too early to start attempting to formulate a vision of who will make the All-ACC team? Well, we’ve made it to August so that seems long enough to wait.
All-ACC honors have always been difficult to garner. With the addition of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame there’s even greater competition to earn the honor of being one of the conference’s top five players.
The upcoming season is going to be extremely interesting, not just because of the new teams and the Terps making their final lap around the ACC. The conference will boast a healthy mix of superstar freshmen, established upperclassmen and returning starters.
Duke might be the most talented team in the ACC, but there is going to be plenty of competition for individual accolades. What follows is a list of Duke players with the best opportunity to distinguish themselves among their peers in the newly enlarged ACC.
Cook has always been pretty good. As a freshman he had some turnover issues, but last season he seemed to have his ball-handling under control. As a full-time starter last season, he also showed an impressive set of offensive weapons.
Cook isn’t a high-volume outside shooter, but he can—and will—knock down open three-pointers. But it’s his ability to penetrate that is the most fascinating aspect of Cook’s repertoire.
Against Clemson, Cook drove the lane over and over and the Tigers were simply unable to stop him. Cook finished that game with 27 points on 12-for-16 shooting. Though Cook didn’t show that kind of dominance consistently, he finished the year averaging 11.7 points per game.
For the upcoming season, however, it will be Cook’s assist numbers that are more likely to rise. As a distributor on a team replete with scorers, Cook should improve on last season’s 5.3 assists per game.
That opportunity for assists, his scoring ability and being the conductor of what will likely be one of the country’s best offenses will get Cook plenty of attention. If he’s successful as Duke’s floor general, it’d be hard to overlook him as deserving of an All-ACC nod at the point guard position.
Best of all, his primary point guard competition will probably come from Olivier Hanlan at Boston College. As good as Hanlan is, his team is still a work in progress. That gives Cook a slight edge that he’s more than capable of taking full advantage of.
I’m a big fan of Sulaimon. So predicting big things for his sophomore season could be written off as me being affected by my bias. That being said, he is the most complete scorer on a Blue Devils team that is full of scorers.
Sulaimon still has some work to do on his three-point shot. Last season he was just 37.1 percent from three. However, the young shooting guard developed a real knack for getting points inside. His ability to penetrate off the dribble put defenses in a bind. Once in the paint, Sulaimon routinely finished strong at the rim or drew fouls.
Especially late in the season, Sulaimon was one of Duke’s most reliable scorers.
He also developed a good mid-range game. Between Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, Duke will be deadly from 10 to 12 feet. In all, Sulaimon has the skills to score from just about any spot on the floor.
The problem for Sulaimon’s All-ACC credential is twofold.
One, he’ll have to share the scoring load with Parker, Hood, Cook and Andre Dawkins. If Sulaimon were shouldering the scoring burden by himself, his stats would be so eye-catching that he’d be a near shoe-in for individual adulation. However, it’s difficult to distinguish yourself when you’re surrounded by other supremely talented players.
The second problem Sulaimon will face is that there’s a lot of competition at the shooting guard position. Unlike Cook, who is one of only a couple attention-grabbing point guards, Sulaimon will have to beat a bevy of good shooting guards in the ACC.
The biggest roadblock to All-ACC honors will be Virginia’s Joe Harris. The Cavaliers will once again be almost entirely reliant on Harris’ offense. The senior should put up gaudy numbers while being a real threat to compete for the ACC’s overall MVP.
Ultimately, unless Sulaimon shows off undeniable NBA talent above and beyond his highly talented teammates, he’ll struggle to secure a spot on the ACC’s first team.
Hood has the same problem as Sulaimon. He’s a small forward type of player and the ACC this season will have an abundance of supremely skilled wings.
No one will deny Hood’s potential to shoot and slice his way to high point totals. He’s also a strong defender. Along with Sulaimon and Parker, Hood will compete to be the highest scorer on a team full of high scorers.
All of that will earn him a national spotlight and plenty of accolades, but the competition at the forward spot might be simply too much to overcome.
If UNC's PJ Hairston plays, he might drive—probably in a rental car—to the front of the line in terms of the ACC’s best forwards. Syracuse’s CJ Fair is a popular pick for a player who could end up as the best overall player in the conference. Maryland's Dez Wells is an excellent guard-slash-forward, not unlike Hood, and could make his team's last season in the ACC something special.
Among all those highly touted wing players, it will be difficult for Hood to earn All-ACC honors. He’s obviously talented and on a potentially really special team, so Hood could force himself to the top of the pile. But between beating out players on other teams and his own teammates, it’ll be a tough road to hoe.
The most heralded incoming freshman in the ACC has a shot to make the first team All-ACC right off the bat.
Though they don’t necessarily pick a player from every position, there’s usually at least one post player who gets included. Parker, even as a freshman, has the potential to be the conference’s most versatile post player.
To be sure, Parker has the post moves that are a prerequisite to bang inside with the big boys. But his biggest asset is an ability to step away from the basket. Parker has a good mid-range jumper and if defenders press-cover him he can drive to the hoop.
Defensively Parker has a game that is built for the NBA. He’s athletic and can defend multiple positions. He’ll need to work on his timing to develop his shot-blocking ability, but based on raw talent alone he’ll effectively create some defensive havoc.
Given that Amile Jefferson and Plumlee are the other two Duke bigs, Parker will get a lot of playing time and serve as the Blue Devils’ best scorer in the paint. The potential for good stats is certainly there and his impact inside could be a crucial component to Duke’s success. That should add up to a persuasive resume in regards to All-ACC honors.
Beyond that, the ACC doesn’t have a ton of talent in the post. There’s James McAdoo at UNC, TJ Warren at NC State, Devin Thomas at Wake Forest and Talib Zanna at Pitt. While those are all good players, none of them have the scoring prowess and dynamic skill set of Parker.
If Parker lives up to his potential, he could certainly distinguish himself above other players on weaker teams or with more limited offensive options. Parker won’t redefine the power forward position in his first year at Duke, but he can absolutely open plenty of eyes by playing inside and out.
He’ll be a unique specimen and that could easily make him a popular pick for the All-ACC team and the NBA draft lottery.