By Mychal Hunter
Before the season, I made predictions on eight players that I thought would be breakout players in the ACC. I ranked them 1-8 in descending order of likelihood of the breakout. Now that we are roughly 18-20 games in to the season I want to take a look back and critique the list and see where I went wrong, but more importantly, where I was correct. The original notes are in regular text, the new notes are in RED.
#1: Jordan Nwora-Louisiville
2017-18 Statistics: 5.7 ppg 2.2 rebounds 44% 3pt% in 12 mpg
Anyone who has listened to any of my recent pods or appearances knows, I am a huge believer in this kid. Size, shooting ability, rebounding are all talents he possesses and now he will have his opportunity. Nwora’s game and skill set is superior to VJ King in my eyes and with the way new coach Chris Mack likes to use his wings, the opportunities will be plentiful.
Nailed it! My number one selection for ACC breakout player was spot on. Nwora has not only made himself into a player, but has Louisville looking like a second weekend team. He is one of only three players in the league that is averaging better than 18 points and 8 rebounds per game and if you toss in three point percentage, he is the only one to put up those numbers and shoot better than 40% from three.
#2: M.J. Walker-FSU
2017-18 Statistics: 7.0 ppg 1.7 rpg 1.1 apg 34.5% 3pt%
Walker is probably the most naturally talented player on this list. A former five star prospect in the 2017 class. Expect that percentage from deep to rise around 5 points and the average to nearly double.
Walker should become a featured part of the offense this season, receiving the bulk of the minutes at the two guard spot. I like him there so he can concentrate on his scoring, which is his natural way of playing. I am not sure he will ever be a big time contributor in the other categories, but he will eventually be a huge scorer for the Seminoles.
This one? Not so much. Walker has moments of brilliance, but in a Florida State offense that lacks a true point guard he sometimes struggles in his role. The talented sophomore’s efficiency is down across the board and he is shooting a horrific 32.7% from two point land this season and 33% overall from the floor. As far as god given talent he is the highest ceiling player on Florida State’s roster and they need him to put it together after a 2-4 start in league play. It should be noted that he did miss some time with a knee injury recently so he is hopefully rounding into shape. Though last night’s 6 point, 5 foul performance against Clemson in 20 may suggest we need to be more patient.
#3: Brandon Childress-Wake Forest
2017-18 Statistics: 9.1ppg 2.7rpg 3.6apg 38% 3pt%
Is this one a cop out? Maybe. Do I care? Obviously not. If Wake Forest has any chance to break into the top 10, Childress has to be dynamite. I think they have the talent to do that, but are lacking in some other key areas. Childress however, will be the upper classman that this talented group of freshmen turn to for on court leadership. He does a little bit of everything, he has the pedigree and he has his old man, a Deac’s legend, on the bench to motivate him. I think he could put up Bryant Crawford type numbers this season, but with maybe more efficiency.
I was one of the few people that cover the ACC that really liked Childress coming into the season. The prediction/comparison with Bryant Crawford has come through very well. In fact their numbers are strikingly similar with the exception that Crawford what a better assist man and Childress is a better shooter from deep. Brandon took a little bit longer to get here, but I doubt he foregoes his senior season like Crawford did so expect his number to continue to climb next season.
#4: Curtis Haywood II-Georgia Tech
2017-18 Statistics: 5.3ppg 2.9rpg 2.3apg 37% 3pt%
Let me try to not be biased. Ok. Curt is a player who would have made a name for himself last season had it not been for a tough luck injury. Now, seemingly fully recovered, CurtGoneBad (i love that twitter handle) is about to receive as much as he can handle as far as opportunity goes. Apart from freshman Mike Devoe, Haywood will be the Yellow Jacket’s primary threat from outside. Word out of Atlanta is Pastner wants to run more and shoot more triples this season. Talent and opportunity people, when those two things meet, good things tend to happen. I have said many times in the past year, if you are going to teach someone shooting form watch CH2 shoot the ball. Factor in that he owns a 2:1 A/TO ratio and rebounds fairly well, you could argue that he could be the Jacket’s best player this season.
Haywood, or CGB as he is affectionately called by Yellow Jacket fans, has yet to put it all together in his second season. His points per game have improved a bit, but his percentage from deep has declined a bit as well. He has not been very aggressive on the offensive end, but he plays the passing lanes very aggressively on defense. He still has one of the prettiest jumpers in the ACC, I just may have been a year early on him busting out.
#5: Aamir Simms-Clemson
2017-18 Statistics: 4.0ppg 3.2rpg 32.6% 3pt%
In order for Clemson to get back to the dance, Simms is going to have to provide quality production. At 6’7 240 he has the size and athleticism to play the hybrid forward type position. He should slot in to the spot vacated by Donte Grantham, which he also did last season. In order for Aamir to be a productive member of this Tiger’s rotation he needs to put up better percentages. He doesn’t have to put up Grantham numbers, but he has to be efficient. 45% (conference play) from the FT line isn’t going to get it done. He has talent around him so he shouldn’t feel a ton of pressure. There is also the trend of the biggest progression happening between years 1 and 2. He should be fine.
Seven games of 12 or more points, six games with five points or fewer, consistency has not been Simms’s strong suit. His percentages are creeping up to respectable levels and the free throw shooting has been nice, jumping from 58% to 75%. With the volume that he figures to receive next season he will be the number one option for the Tigers and if his progress continues on this trajectory the Tigers may have a star on their hands.
#6: Alex O’Connell-Duke
2017-18 Statistics: 3.3ppg 1.4rpg 48% 3pt%
Normally O’Connell would be way up on this list. Unfortunately for him, he may only have the talent part of the talent + opportunity equation. He is going to play, although he is currently injured, but he will more than likely be a role player type. Alex is the type of player that would have starred on old world Coach K teams. A Chris Carrawell, Shane Battier type player. I think he really blows up as a junior as the Duke recruiting class probably won’t be as vaunted next season. He can really stroke it and has crazy athleticism. Yes. CRAZY athleticism.
Duke basketball. Where four stars players go to be treated like 2 star players. Unfortunately, AOC is only seeing 1 more minute per game than during his freshman campaign and his numbers have not changed much either. His shooting from deep is still a respectable 37%, but not quite the 48.9% of last year, though the sample size is pretty small. He may be a repeat candidate next year as Duke’s class lacks the same luster as the 2018 class, but we will just have to wait and see how it shakes out.
#7: Shamiel Stevenson-Pitt
2017-18 Statistics: 8.5ppg 4.4rpg 1apg 37.5% 3pt%
Stevenson is a player I talked about a lot last season. I like his game, I like his versatility. The reason he is so low on this list is I don’t know how high of a ceiling he has. 9 and 5 is great for a freshman, but I don’t know if we’ll see a huge jump in those numbers. He was actually pretty efficient last year as well. Until we see how Capel is going to play this time around in his coaching career it is hard to project. Stevenson will also be playing with a freshman back court and co-wing player in Jared Wilson Frame that likes to chuck it up. It’s possible, but I am not sure.
Stevenson only appeared in 4 games before transferring to Nevada. To say this prediction didn’t pan out would be an understatement. He simply did not fit into Jeff Capel’s plans for Pitt basketball.
#8: Mamadi Diakite-Virginia
2017-18 Statistics: 5.4ppg 3rpg 58% fg%
Diakite is the most likely recipient of the minutes ACC DPOY Isaiah Wilkins left behind. At 6’9 he has the height, but at only about 200 pounds he is still a bit thin. He is certainly athletic enough to be an above average help side defender as the pack line defense funnels players to the middle of the bucket. One thing that does concern me is that he averaged more minutes per game as a sophomore, but his blocks per game regressed from 1.2 as a freshman to 0.5 last season.
Diakite will never be a good scorer, but neither was Wilkins. The style that Coach Bennett likes to play doesn’t really require him to be anyway. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will take care of that anyways. If Mamadi can protect the rim, hit the glass and make his free throws that will be perfect. He won’t put up huge numbers, but he will be a key piece on a very good team.
Is he averaging career highs across the board? Sure. Has he “broke out?” Eh. He has played well in a season where Jack Salt is getting a ton of minutes at the five and Braxton Key was granted his eligibility and Jay Huff decided it was his time for 5-7 minutes a night. This Virginia team is deeper than I originally anticipated when made this prediction. His per 40 minutes are nice and he’s probably one of, if not the best bench big men in the ACC. There was a reason I had him at the lowest probability. When Jerome, Guy and Hunter are on this Virginia team what kind of scraps are expected to be left over?