Are Duke Prospects Being Slept On?
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Heading into the 2020 NBA Draft, there are dozens of players hoping to hear their name called. Three of those players attended Duke University last season and find themselves being projected to go later in the draft. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has produced a top-three pick every year since 2013, including number one pick Zion Williamson and number three pick RJ Barrett last year. That streak will likely be coming to an end this year, as no player is even projected to be in the lottery this year. So it begs the question of what happened with this past year's recruits? It also begs the question of are these players being slept on? Let's take a look at Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley and Vernon Carey to see what they could bring to an NBA team and why they might be ranked so low.
Tre Jones 6'2" PG Sophmore
BR Final Mock Draft Ranking #30
Tre Jones, the brother of NBA player Tyus Jones, grew a ton in his second year at Duke. Year one was tough, being in the shadow of three top ten picks, but even then he found himself on the ACC All-Freshman team. Tre's second year was even better, as he was third-team All-American and won ACC Player of the Year and Defensive player of the year. So with all these accolades why do people feel he is a fringe first-round pick?
Well for starters there are concerns around his size. Being 6'2" in the NBA is one thing, but when you are also not an explosive athlete, teams have concerns about whether you can contribute. The leadership, ball handling, defense, and passing are all there which is why he is even considered an NBA prospect. However, when you lack size, teams with athletic or longer point guards could exploit you, even if you are a good defender.
The other issue teams have is with Tre's shooting. His brother Tyus was a much better shooter coming out of college, and even he can struggle to find minutes at times. Tre shot just 42 percent from the field his sophomore year. But what teams need to recognize is his three-point shooting drastically improved. He shot just 26 percent in his freshman year and increased that to 36 percent his second season. While there is still room to improve, the mechanics are there and if he works hard he could definitely become a solid backup point guard.
To me, Jones is actually the least desirable in this Duke class, due to the lack of upside. But if a team drafting late in the first round or early second just needs a guy to run their second unit effectively, Tre Jones is your guy. Toronto at #29 could be a good destination if Fred VanVleet is indeed leaving. If not Minnesota at #33 or Washington at #37 seems like a solid fit.
Cassius Stanley 6'6" SG Freshman
BR Final Mock Draft Ranking #47
Cassius Stanley, to me, is one of the rawest talents in the draft. But if nurtured he could turn into a productive NBA player. Stanley quite simply has gifts that can't be taught, which is why I am so high on this guy. This kids vertical is insane, breaking Zion Williamson's Duke record of 45 with a 46-inch vertical. When you think about how athletic Zion is, that is crazy. I also love how efficient he was for a guard scoring the ball. He shot 47 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc at Duke, which is very impressive. Critics would say the volume was not there, but that could increase if he goes to the right team.
The biggest plus I see with Stanley is how well he rebounded for Duke in his first year. To average almost five rebounds a game in college as a guard is incredibly impressive. Once again this comes back to his ability to leap and climb over guys to get rebounds, which has a ton of value in the NBA where all players are athletic. I also think this would allow teams to have Stanley guard multiple positions, which is another valuable characteristic in today's NBA. His 195-pound frame is small, but in a year or two, if he puts on 15-20 pounds, watch out.
People will often point out the negatives in Stanley's game though, so it is important to recognize those. For one thing, he was not a great passer at Duke, averaging only one assist per game his freshman year. But when you have Tre Jones running the point, his role was never to be a distributor, so I think he could produce an average assist total in the league. Critics would also point out that Stanley was a subpar defender, despite being more athletic than his opponents. This is something that can definitely be taught in the right system though. It is not that Stanley CAN'T defend, it is that he needs to concentrate more on the defensive end, which, once again, the right coach could instil in him.
Two destinations that I think would be great for Stanley are Denver at #22 and Oklahoma City at #25. Denver is a win-now team, but with such a big rotation why not take a shot on a talent like that? They did it with Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol, both of whom showed flashes of being solid players last year. If they pass, what has Oklahoma City got to lose? They moved Schroder and many other pieces will likely be moved as the Thunder rebuild. Take a shot with your late pick on a guy like Stanley and who knows, you might hit the lottery.
Vernon Carey Jr. 6'10" PF/C Freshman
BR Final Mock Draft Ranking: NR
This is why Bleacher Report can absolutely baffle me sometimes, as Vernon Carey went undrafted on their final mock draft. Now while I think they are way off, many other websites have him comfortably in the second round, so I will not gripe too much about it. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: Vernon Carey could absolutely contribute to an NBA team right away.
Carey Jr. weighed in at 270 his freshman year, but multiple reports state that he has lost roughly thirty pounds since then. So at 240 pounds Carey will be much quicker, which bodes well given his skill set. He is a good athlete for his size and is incredibly strong as well. Now, while Vernon lacks NBA range with his jump shot, so do many players at his age do entering the league. It just takes time to develop. Where I think Carey could be elite, even in the NBA, is on the defensive end. He was a solid rebounder (8.8 per game) and an above-average shot blocker at 1.6 per game. At a near double-double per game, it is no wonder he was second-team All-American.
So what is the issue people have with Vernon? Well, many analysts feel he is undersized at the center position. He is only 6-10, so without that NBA range shooting wise, it limits his ability to play minutes at the power forward position. He also lacks quickness off the dribble, which once again limits his ability to fit into an NBA rotation. Throw in the fact that he shot just 67 percent at the free-throw line at Duke and there are many things Vernon will have to develop to find significant minutes.
Ideally, Vernon Carey Jr. finds himself on a roster that requires a backup big man. The "small ball era" can be both a blessing and a curse depending on where you end up. If he finds himself in a situation like Philadelphia or Orlando that does not need a backup center to play significant minutes, he could be out of the league in a couple of years. But teams like Boston, Houston, and Washington could use a big like Carey in their rotation. Only time will tell whether or not Carey Jr. gets a chance to prove himself.
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