The Triangle has churned out eight lottery picks over the last five NBA Drafts, with Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State all represented.
When the NBA holds its draft Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, players from all three schools could go among the first 14 picks and the area’s basketball reputation will continue to shine.
Duke’s Jayson Tatum is projected to be the area’s first player off the board but N.C. State’s Dennis Smith, ACC player of the year Justin Jackson of North Carolina and Duke sophomore Luke Kennard should all join him in the first round if not in the lucrative lottery.
Here’s a look at the top players from Duke, UNC and N.C. State in this year’s NBA Draft
Jayson Tatum, 6-8, F, Duke, freshman
The latest of Duke’s one-and-done players, Tatum is projected to be selected among the draft’s first five picks with Boston at No. 3 the most popular choice among prognosticators. If that holds true, Tatum will give Duke top-three picks in four consecutive drafts following Jabari Parker (No. 2, Milwaukee, 2014), Jahlil Okafor (No. 3, Philadelphia, 2015) and Brandon Ingram (No. 2, Los Angeles Lakers, 2016).
Dennis Smith, 6-3, G, N.C. State, freshman
The Fayetteville native averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists per game in his lone season with the Wolfpack. His all-around skillset should cause him to be selected among the first 10 picks. N.C. State last produced a lottery pick in 2013 when Durham’s T.J. Warren, that season’s ACC player of the year, went to Phoenix at No. 13. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to Todd Fuller, who went No. 11 overall to Golden State in the 1996, to find an N.C. State lottery pick.
Luke Kennard, 6-6, G, Duke, sophomore
Kennard’s breakout sophomore season, when he averaged 19.5 points, gave a talented Duke team its surprising leading scorer. That led him to declare for the NBA Draft. He’s projected to go just outside the top 10 – maybe to Charlotte at No. 11 or Detroit at No. 12 – and is considered a late-riser as he’s impressed during pre-draft workouts.
Justin Jackson, 6-8, F, North Carolina, junior
The oldest player among Triangle players projected to go in the first round, the 22-year-old Jackson averaged 18.4 points and 4.7 rebounds for the NCAA champion Tar Heels. Jackson is projected to go in the mid-teens by most draft analysts. UNC hasn’t produced a lottery pick since 2012 when it had three: Harrison Barnes (No. 8, Golden State), Kendall Marshall (No. 13, Phoenix) and John Henson (No. 14, Milwaukee).
Harry Giles, 6-11, F, Duke, freshman
Arthroscopic knee surgery last October limited Giles during his lone season with the Blue Devils. Projected as the top player in this draft before he suffered torn ACLs in both knees during his high school career, Giles is a classic gamble for NBA executives. The reward could be huge, given his athleticism and the strong skills he showed during his pre-draft workouts. The risk is real, too, although NBA teams put him through a battery of medical exams and reported no major concerns. Most projections have Giles as a late first-round pick.
Other area prospects
Duke freshman guard Frank Jackson and UNC freshman center Tony Bradley waited until May before deciding to stay in the draft. Neither is projected as a consensus first-round pick although some mock drafts have them going late in the first round. Second-round picks don’t get guaranteed contracts like first-rounders do. However, both are hoping to make rosters, get paid while developing their skills and start the clock ticking toward more lucrative second pro contracts. Meanwhile, players like Duke seniors Amile Jefferson, (forward) and Matt Jones (guard), UNC seniors Kennedy Meeks (center), Nate Britt (guard) and Isaiah Hicks (forward) and N.C. State sophomore guard Maverick Rowan aren’t likely to be drafted on Thursday night. They’ll need to hook on with teams through the summer league route and hope to make a roster in training camp.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.