David Kehrli, Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C.- Up to eight local prospects could be selected in Thursday’s 2017 NBA Draft.
Here’s a look at the strengths and weakness of those talented players from UNC, Duke and N.C. State.
Jayson Tatum, Small Forward, Duke
An elite scorer who averaged 16.8 points per game at Duke, he is also a good rebounder for a wing, averaging 7.3 rebounds a game.
At 6-foot-8-inches with a 6-foot-11-inch wingspan, the 19-year-old has an NBA frame that will likely fill out as he matures.
His size combined with his great athletic ability make him a very difficult player to guard one-on-one.
Tatum is at his best in the mid-range area, where his fluidity, agility and footwork allow him to beat his defender and either shoot over him or get to the rim.
In isolation situations, Tatum is unstoppable with his wide array of moves (in-and-out dribbles, crossovers, jab steps, spins and more).
Tatum does need to improve his game on the defensive end, where he too often got beaten off the dribble.
He did struggle at Duke going against bigger players in the post — something he will obviously face more of in the NBA — but adding lower-body strength should help.
Dennis Smith Jr., Point Guard, N.C. State
Perhaps the best athlete of this year’s draft, Smith has a dominant first step and is explosive when he takes off.
He has good size for a point guard (six -foot-three-inches, 195 pounds) and more than enough strength for the position.
That combination of elite quickness, agility, size and strength make it very difficult for defenders to prevent him from getting to the rim.
Smith is excellent at creating his own offense — something he had to do a lot of for the Wolfpack.
The Fayetteville, N.C. native needs to improve his decision making to become an all-around point guard rather than one focused solely on scoring.
He is an underrated passer, but too often took matters into his own hands rather than passing it to a teammate with a better opportunity to score.
At times when he feels the need to put all the offense on his shoulders, he takes bad shots and turns the ball over.
Defensively, Smith was lackadaisical and showed minimal effort at times.
He has potential on the defensive end, he just needs to make a commitment.
Luke Kennard, Shooting Guard, Duke
Kennard’s biggest strength is obviously his elite level shooting ability.
He shot 43.8 percent from 3-point range and averaged 19.5 points (second in the ACC), 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists en route to ACC First Team honors this past season.
He is an extremely smart player who is crafty and just finds ways to score.
Time after time he came up for Duke in the clutch.
He knows how to use screens and his ability to move well off the ball creates space.
Kennard isn’t as good of an athlete as the players who will be drafted around him.
That’s not to say he’s a bad athlete, he just doesn’t have the physical tools that lottery picks usually have.
He struggles against length and size because he doesn’t have great explosiveness or quickness.
Defense is a concern because of his own lack of length.
Guarding against bigger, stronger and faster NBA players will be a challenge because of the lack of quickness and length.
Justin Jackson, Small Forward, UNC
After testing the NBA Draft waters last year, Jackson ultimately returned to UNC to work the areas of his game that scouts suggested.
That decision paid off as Jackson improved in every aspect of his game and is now a clear first rounder.
His shooting has improved drastically throughout his collegiate career, culminating with him hitting a UNC single-season record 105 3-pointers made on 37 percent shooting in his final season with the Heels.
NBA scouts will love his height (6 foot 8 inches) and length (6-foot-8-inch wingspan) although he needs to fill out and add muscle.
That exceptional length allows Jackson to score over and around defenders, and make plays on the defensive end.
Unlike many young players, Jackson takes the defensive part of the game seriously, where he makes just as much of an impact as he does on offense.
His lanky frame is a concern if he doesn’t put on much-needed muscle to go against stronger NBA players.
Jackson needs to improve his rebounding, especially on the defensive end where he averaged just 4.0 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes.
Harry Giles, Power Forward, Duke
Giles has all the talent in the world and is easily one of best bigs in the draft as far as potential goes.
He has prototypical NBA big man size at 6-foot-11-inches and 220 pounds, plus an exceptional 7-foot-3-inch wingspan.
Giles is physical down low and finishes in both traffic and around the rim.
His quickness, athleticism and length are all above average and a big part of his game.
The big issue with Giles is clearly his injury history.
He has had numerous knee surgeries and torn the ACL in both of his knees, in addition to an MCL tear.
Essentially Giles is an enormous risk, because as extremely talented of a player he is, it’s questionable if he will be able to stay on the court or if injuries will continue to derail his career.
Other than injuries, the other big concern is his inability to hit a jump shot.
He is around the basket, but developing a jump shot would make him a much more difficult player to defend.
Tony Bradley, Center, UNC
Despite playing just 14 minutes a game, Bradley became UNC’s first one-and-done player in almost a decade.
Much like Giles, Bradley looks like an NBA big man with his 6 foot 10 inch, 250-pound size and 7-foot-5-inch wingspan.
He brings a tremendous amount of energy to the court and provided the Heels with a needed boost off the bench.
His size makes him tough to defend in the paint as he easily scores around the rim.
The energy he brings is seen through his intensity on the glass, where he averaged 6.9 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes — the best average of all players in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Bradley lacks explosiveness and isn’t much of an athlete, so he wouldn’t fit in a fast-tempo offense.
He has the size, but the lack of athletic ability will hurt his defense.
Finally, it’s hard to know if you will consistently get this same type of player since he didn’t play very much at UNC.
It’s also worth noting he could have looked better than he is because he was surrounded by so much talent on a national championship winning team.
Frank Jackson, Shooting Guard, Duke
Talk about a scorer — Jackson can put it through the hoop from anywhere on the court.
He can get to the rim, score from mid-range and most impressively hit from behind the arc, where he made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.
His quickness, explosiveness and athleticism allow him to get past his defender and to the bucket.
There must be some concerns about his consistency as he tended to score his points in bunches at Duke, while being quiet for the rest of the game.
Additionally, Jackson is another example of a great player without a true position.
He turned the ball over too much as a point guard, and he doesn’t have great handles or decision-making ability.
It will be interesting to see where he fits on the court, but at this point it’s more likely at shooting guard than point guard.
Isaiah Hicks, Power Forward, UNC
Hicks’ size is the number one reason he has a chance to be drafted.
At 6-foot-9-inches and 242 pounds, he fits the mold of an NBA power forward.
His athleticism and size allow him to score in the paint, but he lacks a scoring threat from beyond 15 feet.
His quick feet have helped him develop into a solid defender as he is able to stay in front of the opposition.
Like his teammate Bradley, Hicks brings a high level of energy to the court which will certainly help his chances of being drafted and making a team.
There are certainly questions about just how he will handle NBA talent seeing how he benefited from playing with Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, who drew the opponent’s best players, leaving Hicks with a favorable match-up.
He is also foul prone which hurt his ability to get in a rhythm and play his game at times.