Local players cope with uncertainty as NBA Draft arrives

Two Duke players and NC State’s leading scorer have a wide range of potential landing spots

Duke's Dereck Lively II was one of college’s basketball top defensive players and is expected to be a first round pick in this week's NBA Draft. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

The NBA Draft will take place on Thursday in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The first pick will be French big man Victor Wembanyama, considered to be a once-in-a-generation, franchise-altering pick, going to San Antonio.

After that, things will likely get wild.

The Charlotte Hornets pick next, and there is no consensus on who they’ll pick. The uncertainty tumbles through the first round like dominos as mock drafts have players scattered up and down the draft order below Wembanyama.

Prospects with connections to North Carolina colleges are feeling the uncertainty as much as anyone as four players with local ties hope to hear their names called at some point during the night. When that will occur, however, is anybody’s guess.

As usual, Duke has multiple players expected to be drafted in the first round as the Blue Devils send two more one-and-done freshmen to the league. This year, however, the Blue Devils’ prospects will not go off the board in the first few picks, and one or both may have extended waits.

The year is similar to 2017’s NBA Draft when Duke had a talented freshman class that went one-and-done. But injuries hampered their brief Duke careers, giving them a bigger question mark than usual for NBA teams.

One of the players from that Duke team six years ago entered college as one of the nation’s top prospects but missed eight games at the start of the season and battled injury all year long, not really hitting his stride until late in the season. The other was also one of the top high school players in the nation before injuries slowed him. He never found his footing in his year at Duke, missing 11 games. He entered the draft with loads of potential but little production to show for it.

The first player, Jayson Tatum, has developed into one of the NBA’s up-and-coming stars. The latter, Harry Giles, started just 17 NBA games and hasn’t played in the league in the last two years.

Once again, the league has a pair of star-crossed Duke freshmen to choose from. Dereck Lively seems more likely to be this year’s Tatum, making teams forget about his college injuries. He got a late start to the season and struggled to get back into game shape. By the end of the year, he had developed into a shot-blocking defensive force, but his offense never really was a factor as the Blue Devils had other options by the time he was ready to contribute on that end of the floor.

Teams seem willing to roll the dice on Lively. According to Yahoo’s mock draft, he’s one of the fastest risers in the draft class, jumping from mid-to-late first round up to late lottery or even top 10, thanks to some impressive workouts and showcase performances. He’s expected to do better in the NBA, where the game is more spread out, giving him extra room to work. His predraft performances also allowed him to show off his outside shooting and versatility, and he was more aggressive than he appeared during his season with the Blue Devils.

ESPN and Bleacher Report have him in the top 10 in their mocks, while most services now mock him near the tail end of the lottery. His lowest mock is No. 23, by SB Nation.

Teams aren’t as high on his teammate, Dariq Whitehead. The wing player was almost as highly regarded entering college, but injuries also slowed the start of his season and he struggled to get up to speed, missing eight games throughout the season.

His injury concerns have only gotten greater during the predraft process after reports surfaced two weeks ago that he had undergone a second procedure on his injured foot, keeping him from giving any last-minute workouts to teams.

He still has plenty of potential, but it comes with a healthy supply of question marks. Only two of the major mock drafts have him going ahead of Lively, and the consensus has him going in the mid-to-late 20s. One mock, SB Nation’s, has him selected in the lottery, and another, NBADraft.net, has him falling into the second round.

The only other player with local connections who may go in the first round never actually played in the state. GG Jackson was a UNC commit for next season before reclassifying and coming to college a year early, and attending South Carolina since UNC didn’t have a scholarship available. Most mocks have him going in the final three or four picks of the first round, with a risk of him falling into Round 2.

In the second round, the local player with the best chance of being drafted is NC State’s Terquavion Smith. The Wolfpack scorer is mocked from as high as No. 31 — the first pick of the second round — to as low as 48th, but all two-round mocks had Smith getting a call.