Player of the Week
Miami had a tough start to the season. DeQuan Jones was suspended for the first ten games of the year and Julian Gamble injured himself over the summer and isn't expected to play a game in 2011-2012. Center Reggie Johnson wasn't always around to help in the frontcourt either, having missed the first nine games of the season recovering from knee surgery and trying to get back into game-shape ever since his return. The Hurricanes have managed to get through all of that without losing any substantial ground in the ACC standings, and both the team and Reggie Johnson are starting to heat up. Miami has won four straight games, the most recent of which was an overtime victory at Duke. Like the Seminoles before them, the Hurricanes used their size advantage to stage the upset. Johnson scored a career-high 27 points on 11/17 shooting, while pulling down a season-high 12 rebounds. Standing 6'10" at 285 pounds, he's a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams in the ACC. If he stays healthy, he'll be a game-changer that could propel his team up in the ACC standings and potentially into an NCAA tournament birth.
Tyler Zeller's best attributes have always been his athleticism, height and offensive skill-set. He can score in transition, in the post, or at the line. He's very slippery, and consequently, draws a lot of contact. But I don't want to go into great detail about that. Instead, I want to talk about what his greatest flaws were considered to be prior to this season. Critics would say that Zeller was too thin and a poor defender. He was also a mediocre rebounder (especially defensively), and not much of a passer. Zeller had lottery-type talent, but several holes in his game. As a senior, it seems he's been working on addressing those weaknesses. He's not getting pushed around as much in the post, and it's leading to better man-to-man defense and rebounding. After a 17-rebound performance against North Carolina State, and an 18-rebound performance against Wake Forest, his average on the season is up to 9.6 (7.2 rpg in 2010-2011). He's also putting up career-highs in steals (1.0), blocks (1.3) and assists (1.0) per game, all in fewer minutes (26.4 mpg) than he played last season (28.1). It appears Zeller is willing to work hard to make himself a better player, which is something that the NBA will take note of.
Typically, I don't like listing a player as "cold" when his team is riding a seven-game winning streak, but I feel like talking about Ian Miller. The athletic guard (who has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook), was considered a potential break-out player prior to the season. While he's shown improvement in some areas, his shooting percentages have dropped across the board (35% FG, 27% 3P and 86% FT compared to 38% FG, 36% 3P and 93% FT a year ago). His performances over his last three games haven't helped these numbers, only scoring a total of eight points on 13% shooting during that time span. Miller has also struggled distributing the ball, and currently averages less than an assist per game. Ultimately, this slump really doesn't mean much, as FSU has been winning games regardless, thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a stifling team defense. It would just be nice for the Seminoles, Miller and (especially) Miller's draft stock if he got hot again.
Top 5 NBA Rookies from the ACC
1. Kyrie Irving - Irving is the only ACC draftee who's excelling so far in the NBA. The reigning top overall pick is scoring efficiently at a high rate, playing solid defense, and -- perhaps most importantly for a point guard -- making his teammates better. As of now, he's the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award,=.
2. Iman Shumpert - I've been critical of Shumpert in the past. He's highly inefficient and a questionable decision-maker overall. Still, he's playing well in a big role on a big stage. Shumpert’s currently averaging 9.9 points with 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals in just over 31 minutes per game.
3. Chris Singleton - Washington is not a good team. It’s been a dark season. On the bright side, Singleton is averaging almost four points per game. There isn't much on the bright side of Washington this year, so just go with it.
4. Jordan Williams - With Okur and Lopez out with injuries, Jordan Williams has broken into the Nets rotation. He's averaged 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds coming off the bench in his last four games.
5. Nolan Smith - Last season's ACC Player of the Year has yet to really justify his selection in the first round. Granted, the Blazers are deep in the backcourt, so Smith hasn't had much of a chance to do so.
North Carolina State forward Scott Wood hasn't missed a free-throw since February 2nd, 2011 (64/64) ... Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly were removed from Duke's starting lineup and replaced by Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston ... Dorian Finney-Smith broke a string of six straight games without a field goal (0/25) with a 12-point (5/8) performance in a victory against Clemson ... Florida State has continued their ACC dominance with victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia this past week ... Duke plays at North Carolina on Wednesday. Wouldn't miss it if I were you ...