Does it seem to you like the talent level in ACC men’s basketball isn’t what it used to be? Didn’t it seem like every team in the early/mid 90s had at least one legitimate NBA player and now there might be a handful in the entire league?
There are some reasons why I might think there has been a talent dropoff in the ACC. One is pure nostalgia, you can often remember things being a lot better “back in the day” then they actually were. Perhaps the NBA has changed over the years where the potential and upside of high school players, one-and-done players and foreign players have been given more weight than the experience of a college senior. There has been the rise of the mid-major programs, talented players no longer have to play at a big name school to get national exposure and can get immediate playing time. Maybe the caliber of coaching in the ACC is not what it once was. Or more than likely, it is a combination of all those things and perhaps others.
So being a guy that likes to play around with sports stats, I thought I’d research some numbers and see what I could find out. I’m planning on having three entries, one on the ACC and NBA players in general (the entry you are reading now), one on the All-ACC first team and one on the ACC Player of the Year (although bear with me, there may be some time between entries as the other 2 aren’t done yet).
I looked at stats for only the ACC time period (I did not include pre-ACC Southern Conference players) and only for the time each school was an ACC member (for South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida St, Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech).
I needed some way to determine if an ACC player went on to have a successful NBA career (or ABA career for players in the late 60s and 70s). I’ve seen various formulas you can use to rate players but with over 50 years worth of players over 13 different schools, doing something like that would be an undertaking. So I decided to use the simple metric of averaging double figure points for a player’s career. It is certainly not ideal, as solid NBA players like State’s Nate McMillan or Clemson’s Dale Davis for example don’t meet my criteria. It also may affect younger players, like State’s J.J. Hickson or Carolina’s Ty Lawson that are early in their NBA careers and still have time to get their career scoring average up. But overall, I figured if you scored in double digits over your entire career in the pros, you were probably a pretty good player and had a successful career.
Overall – 1954 to 2009
If I didn’t miss anybody and www.basketball-reference.com is correct, there have been 296 ACC players that played in the pros (NBA and/or ABA). Even though the current NBA season has just started, the player lists and stats are from the end of the 2009-2010 basketball season. Here are the number of players from each ACC school:
• North Carolina – 70
• Duke – 49
• Maryland – 35
• NC State – 33
• Georgia Tech – 30
• Wake Forest – 26
• Virginia – 17
• Clemson – 14
• Florida St – 10
• South Carolina – 7
• Boston College – 3
• Miami – 2
• Virginia Tech – 0
Of those 296 players, 25% of them (74 players) averaged double figure points over their entire pro career:
• North Carolina – 24
• Duke – 16
• Maryland – 7
• Clemson – 4
• NC State – 4
• Wake Forest – 4
• Florida St – 2
• South Carolina – 2
• Virginia – 2
• Boston College – 0
• Miami – 0
• Virginia Tech – 0
The four NC State players are David Thompson (22.7), Kenny Carr (11.6), Thurl Bailey (12.8) and Tom Gugliotta (13.0).
First I want to share some overall numbers by decade and then break down each decade.
1950s: 8 pros, 1 double digit scorer (12.5%)
1960s: 32 pros, 11 double digit scorers (34.4%)
1970s: 44 pros, 12 double digit scorers (27.3%)
1980s: 62 pros, 16 double digit scorers (25.8%)
1990s: 81 pros, 21 double digit scorers (25.9%)
2000s: 69 pros, 13 double digit scorers (18.8%)
While the decade of the 2000s produced the 2nd highest number of pro players, it also produced the 2nd lowest percentage of double digit scorers and lowest since the partial decade of the 1950s. While the percentage of double digit scorers remained in the 25-35% range from the 1960s through the 1990s, there has been a dropoff in the 2000s down to 18.8%. The 2000s also produced 12 less NBA players than the 1990s.
Again, some of the younger players still have time to improve their careers and that number may go up in the future. But that does tell me that this past decade has not produced as many immediate impact NBA players that come in right away and start scoring.
As noted above, from 2000 to 2009 the ACC produced 69 NBA players. Duke had the most with 14, followed by North Carolina with 13 and Georgia Tech with 10. NC State produced 5 NBA players over this time period (Anthony Grundy, Julius Hodge, Josh Powell, Cedric Simmons and J.J. Hickson).
Thirteen of those 69 players (18.8%) have a career double digit scoring average. They are:
• Carlos Boozer, Duke – 17.2
• Mike Dunleavy, Duke – 12.2
• Luol Deng, Duke – 15.8
• Al Thornton, Florida St – 13.3
• Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech – 20.2
• Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech – 10.6
• Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech – 12.5
• Anthony Morrow, Georgia Tech – 11.6
• Raymond Felton, North Carolina – 13.3
• Rashad McCants, North Carolina – 10.0
• Marvin Williams, North Carolina – 11.9
• Josh Howard, Wake Forest – 15.3
• Chris Paul, Wake Forest – 19.3
Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina produced 53.6% of the ACC’s NBA players in the 2000s and 76.9% of the double digit scorers. Virginia Tech was the only ACC school to not produce an NBA player. The other 11 schools produced at least 2 NBA players and 5 schools produced a double digit scorer.
From 1990 to 1999 the ACC produced 81 NBA players. North Carolina had the most with 16, followed by Duke and Georgia Tech with 13. NC State produced 6 NBA players over this time period (Chris Corchiani, Brian Howard, Rodney Monroe, Tom Gugliotta, Kevin Thompson and Todd Fuller).
Twenty-one of those 81 players (25.9%) have a career double digit scoring average. They are:
• Elden Campbell, Clemson – 10.3
• Christian Laettner, Duke – 12.8
• Grant Hill, Duke – 17.8
• Elton Brand, Duke – 19.3
• Corey Maggette, Duke – 16.6
• Sam Cassell, Florida St – 15.7
• Dennis Scott, Georgia Tech – 12.9
• Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech – 12.6
• Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech – 19.3
• Matt Harpring, Georgia Tech – 11.5
• Walt Williams, Maryland – 11.8
• Joe Smith, Maryland – 11.0
• Steve Francis, Maryland – 18.1
• Tom Gugliotta, NC State – 13.0
• Jerry Stackhouse, North Carolina – 18.0
• Rasheed Wallace, North Carolina – 14.6
• Vince Carter, North Carolina – 22.9
• Antawn Jamison, North Carolina – 19.8
• Bryant Stith, Virginia – 10.1
• Rodney Rogers, Wake Forest – 10.9
• Tim Duncan, Wake Forest – 21.1
Again, the top 3 schools of Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina produced over half (51.9%) of the ACC’s NBA players in the 1990s but only 57.1% of the double digit scorers compared to 76.9% in the 2000s. All 9 ACC schools produced at least 4 NBA players and at least one double digit scorer.
From 1980 to 1989 the ACC produced 62 NBA players. North Carolina had the most with 13, followed by NC State with 12 (Hawkeye Whitney, Chuck Nevitt, Thurl Bailey, Sidney Lowe, Lorenzo Charles, Spud Webb, Nate McMillan, Cozell McQueen, Chris Washburn, Vinny Del Negro, Charles Shackleford and Chucky Brown).
Sixteen of those 62 players (25.8%) have a career double digit scoring average. They are:
• Larry Nance, Clemson – 17.1
• Horace Grant, Clemson – 11.2
• Mike Gminski, Duke – 11.7
• Gene Banks, Duke – 11.3
• Johnny Dawkins, Duke – 11.1
• Mark Price, Georgia Tech – 15.2
• Albert King, Maryland – 12.1
• Buck Williams, Maryland – 12.8
• Thurl Bailey, NC State – 12.8
• Al Wood, North Carolina – 11.8
• James Worthy, North Carolina – 17.6
• Michael Jordan, North Carolina – 30.1
• Sam Perkins, North Carolina – 11.9
• Brad Daugherty, North Carolina – 19.0
• Kenny Smith, North Carolina – 12.8
• Ralph Sampson, Virginia – 15.4
Other than Clemson with 2 NBA players, the other 8 ACC schools produced at least 6 NBA players and every school but Wake Forest produced at least one double digit scorer.
From 1970 to 1979 the ACC produced 44 NBA/ABA players. North Carolina had the most with 16, followed by Maryland with 9. NC State had 5 pro players (Vann Williford, Tom Burleson, David Thompson, Monte Towe and Kenny Carr).
Twelve of those 44 players (27.3%) have a career double digit scoring average. They are:
• Randy Denton, Duke – 11.5
• John Lucas, Maryland – 10.7
• David Thompson, NC State – 22.7
• Kenny Carr, NC State – 11.6
• Charlie Scott, North Carolina – 20.7
• Bob McAdoo, North Carolina – 22.1
• Bobby Jones, North Carolina – 12.1
• Mitch Kupchak, North Carolina – 10.2
• Walter Davis, North Carolina – 18.9
• Phil Ford, North Carolina – 11.6
• Tom Owens, South Carolina – 11.3
• John Roche, South Carolina – 11.2
Every ACC school produced at least 2 NBA/ABA players. Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest did not produce a double digit scorer.
From 1960 to 1969 the ACC produced 32 NBA/ABA players. Duke and North Carolina had the most with 9. NC State had 2 pro players (Ken Rohloff & Eddie Biedenbach).
Eleven of those 32 players (34.4%) have a career double digit scoring average. They are:
• Randolph Mahaffey, Clemson – 11.9
• Art Heyman, Duke – 13.0
• Jeff Mullins, Duke – 16.2
• Jack Marin, Duke – 14.8
• Bob Verga, Duke – 20.2
• Mike Lewis, Duke – 12.1
• Lee Shaffer, North Carolina – 16.8
• Billy Cunningham, North Carolina – 21.2
• Larry Brown, North Carolina – 11.2
• Doug Moe, North Carolina – 16.3
• Larry Miller, North Carolina – 13.6
Every ACC school but Virginia produced at least 1 NBA/ABA player. Duke and North Carolina had 10 of the 11 double digit scorers.
From 1954 to 1959 the ACC produced 8 NBA players. NC State and North Carolina had the most with 3 (Ronnie Shavlik, Whitey Bell & John Richter) while Maryland and Wake Forest had 1 each.
One of those 8 players (12.5%) has a career double digit scoring average:
• Gene Shue, Maryland – 14.4
After looking at these players and their stats, there are a few points that come to mind. It does appear that the number of ACC players that go on to have a solid, productive NBA career has diminished over the past decade. It also appears to me that the double digit career scorers from the 80s and 90s contain more NBA stars and hall of fame candidates than the ACC players from the past 10 years.
To no surprise, North Carolina has been the consistant top school throughout the history of the ACC in producing both quantity and quality of NBA players.
Over the past 20 years, the axis of NBA caliber players has revolved around Chapel Hill, Durham and Atlanta. From this perspective, Georgia Tech had the 3rd best talent level in the conference but I don’t know if you would consider them the 3rd most successful ACC program over the last 20 years (Maryland perhaps?). This points to the fact that a lot of those talented players didn’t stay at Georgia Tech for more than a year or two.
As I mentioned above, I am planning on 2 more entries focusing on the All-ACC 1st team and the ACC player of the year since those players are supposed to be the cream of the crop. Those entries are both still works in progress but look for them at some point.
Do you think the talent level in the ACC is on the decline? Based on the numbers, why aren’t there as many successful NBA alumni as in years past? Is this an ACC issue, an NBA issue or both? I’d love to hear the thoughts and opinions of SFN’s readers on this topic as well as any other observations and conclusions.