Ask The Expert: Rob Harrington

Inside Carolina recently hosted an "Ask the Expert" chat session with basketball recruiting analyst Rob Harrington. Subscribers had the opportunity to post their questions to Harrington on the premium board. Here are some of the highlights ...

JRcanReid: How did the gurus miss so badly on John Henson ... or did they?

Harrington: Somehow, I knew this question would be first! OK, in my opinion it's a three-part answer:

1) Henson is playing the three, when we all (I think) viewed him as a post prospect. There were people who thought he may be able to become a combo forward or maybe even a full-time three in the longer term, but not in college. I think he's clearly out of position. 2) He hasn't developed physically the way one would expect. In July, 2007, he was 6-10, 172 pounds. In July, 2008, he was 6-10, 183 pounds. So, it seemed reasonable that over the next 15 months — and at least a portion of that time in a college S&C program — that he would approach 200 pounds. Instead, they say he's still less than 190. 3) We simply may have missed it. I'm not going to concede that until he gains some weight and moves to the post, but at the minimum and even out of position, I thought he'd be able to make some plays around the rim with his quickness and length. His instincts just aren't there yet.

Harrill7: With you being in the basketball and recruiting community, what is the consensus as to why winning has become so difficult this season for North Carolina?

Harrington: I think it's a combination of relatively average ACC talent, combined with parts that don't necessarily complement each other well, in a playing style that maximizes number of possessions and that facilitates separation between the teams based on superior speed and firepower. Where the past few years Carolina's lineup has been physically superior, I think they are running themselves into deficits in 2009-10 against more gifted clubs. But Hall of Fame coaches are Hall of Fame coaches for a reason, and it's certainly not my place to question Roy Williams' philosophies. I think everyone around the program was caught by surprise at what happened.

unc1012: In your opinion who is the best 2012 player out of J.P. Tokoto, Shabazz Muhammad, or Justin Anderson, and which one, if any, will UNC wind up with?

Harrington: It's too early to have a strong opinion on those sophomores. I think Anderson may be the most impressive natural athlete, Muhammad may have the best athleticism/skill balance, and Tokoto may be the most purely skilled. But any or all of that could change. They're all very good players. I know Muhammad's family is close with Kansas and Tokoto has been enamored of UNC (and KU as well), but again, that also obviously is subject to change.

cecilXum: Do you see Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes being the missing pieces from this year's team?

Harrington: Yes and no. Point guard play hasn't been a strong point on the current team, so getting that issue addressed with Drew, Strickland or freshman Marshall is a key question. And if Davis leaves (don't have any info about that, just that it's discussed), there may be a lack of a primary rebounder and interior scorer. Zeller's health and the development of Henson and the Wears will be critical. Even if Davis returns, all those guys need to get stronger.

CharHeel: Are Carolina's frontline problems going to be adequately addressed with a year of growth and conditioning or is there a larger issue of simply not having guys who thrive on physical play?

Harrington: I'm always a fan of beasts, and Davis has the mentality as a rebounder but not the muscle. Generally, I think toughness is born and not easily developed. Hansbrough always was Hansbrough. I wouldn't go so far as to accuse Carolina's big men of being soft, though, and some of the limitations you see may be attributable to a lack of springy, explosive athleticism. The Wears do show promise as solid position rebounders, which would take a lot of pressure off Davis, Henson and Zeller, who have thinner frames.

manamazing: Bottom line, is Kendall Marshall a program changing point guard?

Harrington: "Program changing" is an awfully big expectation. His style is not to be a dominant player, but to be a facilitator. That's why he's not having a great senior season, after a truly great summer. Offensively, he'll be very good, I think, as long as he's surrounded with scorers. You probably couldn't play he and Drew or he and a Jackie Manuel at the same time, but he'll keep everyone involved and understands the nature of a hot hand and how to deliver the ball to that teammate. What most people cite as the biggest concern about him is defense because he doesn't have great footspeed, but he's also big (a tall 6-3, at minimum), increasingly strong and very smart and adaptive. It's entirely possible that Strickland could become the primary PG defender while Marshall slides over to the wing defensively.

AchillestheHeel: Two key components of Coach Williams' National Championship-winning formula have been super fast PGs with the ability to break pressure, hit perimeter shots, and finish in the paint, as well as a bruising big man who can score and rebound against anyone. Are there any Felton/Lawson PGs and/or May/Hansbrough type recruits on the Heels' radar?

Harrington: I think part of the uncertainty and parity in college basketball this year is due to lagging point guard play across the board. The blue-chip seniors are in the NBA with the exception of Sherron Collins and Greivis Vasquez, but the juniors aren't great and there's almost a total absence of sophomores. To your question, I think the elite PGs that have been identified in the junior class are Marquis Teague and Myck Kabongo, and also if you classified Austin Rivers and Brad Beal as PGs (they are combos, in my opinion). Kabongo has committed to Texas and Teague is an unlikely UNC recruit, so at that elite level someone would have to emerge on the travel circuit (like Kyrie Irving did last year), I think. The junior class is severely lacking on bruising big men. Although he's not a bruiser, I think McAdoo will bring the quick-twitch bounce I referenced above. He's also a good natural rebounder, and there's a lot to be said for that. It's too early to say on sophomores.

CapitalOne: James McAdoo seems to be developing as an inside-outside threat, but which do you think will ultimately be his strength? That is, will he do most of his work as a powerful 4 (which would seem to be a gap in future Carolina rosters at the moment), or will he rely more on his face-up game?

Harrington: The comparison I like for him is Shawn Marion because of his length and quick feet laterally (he'll be a major nuisance for people defensively), but he needs to improve his shot and dribbling. I think he has a wiry toughness, but ultimately he'll be a combo forward. He's definitely more of a wing than Henson. He could struggle if he becomes a 'tweener, but even if he's outmuscled as a BF (and his father was a power player, so he may get a lot stronger), he's very quick off his feet and has natural instincts tracking down the ball. He'll help with rebounding and defensive concerns, but it would surprise me if he becomes a primary interior scoring threat.

mrtiger1: My two-part question is why do you do rankings and what do you consider and look at when ranking players?

Harrington: The shortest and truest answer is we do them because people demand that we do them. College coaches like them more than they let on, and obviously fans and reporters love to reference them. I like them for myself as a way to gauge what I got right and what I got wrong in a given class, because this is useful in tweaking my evaluations. I'm not sure I can answer that second question satisfactorily. For me, I guess, I focus on expected college impact and ignore long-term/NBA, because sometimes that creates dissonance. My basic approach is to isolate players by position, then ask myself which guy I'd rather have as a building block for my team. But this thought process is limited by team needs, so even if I'd take No. 5 over No. 15 as a building block, I may prefer No. 15 within the context of an actual college program. That's one reason we all say not to go overboard on rankings, while also understanding that we are willingly feeding the beast. (In fairness, the hype machine extends far beyond high school scouts to people who sometimes lack perspective and do not employ discretion.)

dlh1045: How can/do analysts make a distinction in their ratings between players who are "most ready today" versus those who have the most upside?

Harrington: That's a matter of personal preference and one that's difficult to pin down. Some people evaluate players with an eye toward their ultimate career success, while others (like myself) focus on college. More specifically, I try to think of it as a hypothetical four-year scenario. So Player A may be more prepared to compete as a freshman, but I think Player B will be nearly his equal as a sophomore and then superior as a junior and senior. And that would compel me to prefer Player B, but keep in mind that both players may leave after their sophomore season and Player A ultimately has the better college career. This is another reason to think beyond rankings and also illustrates how we sometimes will take chances on tomorrow vs. today. Bottom line: You never can know.

SANDIE: How do you see our point guard situation for the future? What class is there a need to get one and amongst who we're looking at, your evaluation of those point guards?

Harrington: I touched on this above, but it would appear that Drew, Strickland and Marshall all we be given a shot next season. There doesn't appear to be a category upgrade realistically available to UNC at this point in the junior class, but I do like Quinn Cook (not a great athlete but a better shooter than the other three) and Marquis Rankin (speed on a par with Strickland's, though shorter). Others could emerge, though, and you have to figure that sophomore point guards will be a top priority.

tcp23unc: The Heels' outside shooting has been horrible at times this year. Which of Carolina's players had the best outside shot in high school, and where has it gone?

Harrington: Honestly, no one. Drew was a good shooter as a junior but slumped during the summer prior to his senior year (which is one reason his stock dropped), Strickland couldn't really shoot and neither could Ginyard. Graves was streaky just as he is now, and McDonald was a good mid-range shooter — and I think he will be in the future as well — but didn't have easy three-point range. Carolina's shooting problems should ease dramatically with Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. Graves arguably was as good a pure shooter as Barnes, but I'm not sure I'd argue that. The shooting issue may not be completely resolved next season because you're talking about freshmen, but it should be improve and then be fine in the longer term.

bronxheel: From what you've seen, do you think Barnes, Bullock, and Marshall are good enough to start on this year's team?

Harrington: Tough to say. Well, Barnes would start and probably play close to 30 minutes. Bullock may need a year to acclimate to the college game, although he has started to transform his body and is having a good senior season. If he shot well (you never know with freshmen, even if they have a good stroke), he surely would play. Marshall's starting or PT would depend on ball-handling, an obvious bugaboo for this team. I'm not sure many freshman PGs play without making mistakes, so again, this is asking a lot. I do suspect he'd be strongly in the mix.

Joseph Heel: Please explain what "ranking on potential" means. I've seen you and some of the other scouts mention this, but technically aren't you ranking everyone on potential? On what other basis could someone be evaluated?

Harrington: This goes back to the scenario I mentioned above about the hot freshman, Player A, versus the guy who emerges over the course of his career. We're in the business of projecting, and there's a production vs. potential component to scouting that causes a lot of tension. People will think you're crazy for ranking X over Y when Y clearly outperforms him in high school, but we're not gauging the best high school players — it's about prospects. Typically, when someone explains they evaluated a player on potential, it's an acknowledgment that the player's performances don't back up his status and thus it's a bolder call. Barnes was an easy call for No. 1 because he was very talented but also very productive. You will, however, hear people argue that C.J. Leslie or Fab Melo or someone else has the most raw talent. Back in the Class of 2003, I remember some people arguing that Ndudi Ebi had "more raw talent" than LeBron. So it goes.

April6th: A series of questions about the Wear twins: (1) Has their overall play, and amount of playing time, surprised you? Were they underranked? (2) Does the decision to play Travis at the post and David at the wing tell us much about their skill sets, or do you think Roy just figured he couldn't use them both in the post? (3) If Roy had started Henson out in the post, would he be behind Travis in the rotation?

Harrington: 1. I've been slightly surprised by their pre-injury playing time, although I think some of that is due to Henson struggling. But they have shot better and played with more toughness than I'd expected out of the box. I think most people had them ranked in the high 20s, which may prove to be a little low or about right. Too early to say. 2. To show you what I know, I thought Travis was the more versatile player and David the more pure insider. Got them mixed up and wrong. Travis will be extremely important as a position defensive rebounder, and he has impressed me with that so far given his lack of leap. Perhaps David will move back there at some point, too. It seems likely on the surface. 3. I'm out of answers on Henson. My take is that he could help them now even without strength, but Wear has a wider base and almost definitely would still be the superior defensive rebounder, though perhaps not as good on the offensive glass and definitely not as a shotblocker. At a certain point, you just have to accept the head coach's determination of his own players' skill sets.

LeoBloom: Any thoughts on Marquis Rankin and if he is a fit at UNC?

Harrington: Rankin definitely has UNC-level speed, but he's been very inconsistent. Everyone in the state wants him to blossom and have a huge spring and summer, but he's going to have to prove it. Guards don't get as much slack on production vs. potential.

TheSituation1: Do you think Harrison Barnes can be as good as Carmelo was for the 'Cuse in '03?

Harrington: That's an incredibly high standard. I do think he has similar overall ability, but wow, I wouldn't predict that for anyone! He's really, really good, though. He's not as slinky as Carmelo but is a better defender at that age and also draws an uncanny number of free throws. He could lead the ACC in FT attempts as a freshman. It wouldn't surprise me.

cpkung: To me Larry Drew II is a very similar player to Kendall Marshall, with Marshall maybe taller and slightly stronger at the same stage of their career. And I think LDII is also not surrounded by enough scorers, especially in the backcourt, for him to be (more) successful. Do you think LDII can eventually develop into a All-ACC PG once he has enough weapons to work with, either this season or next?

Harrington: Drew is a very good playmaker and definitely would look much better surrounded by superior scorers. Guys like that have to be surrounded by weapons. I think the disappointment with Drew has been the number of silly turnovers and also his poor (there's no other word for it) defense. For a sophomore, his defensive technique is lacking. Of course, this dovetails into the primary concern about Marshall as well — though, as you say, he's bigger, stronger and in my opinion also is an even better passer — so point guard will be very interesting to watch at UNC next season.

uncecufan: Do you think it would help this year's team play better if they played at a slower pace?

Harrington: Perhaps? But can they? There's also a long-term investment in the program's identity that all HoF head coaches seem determined to make. Even when the personnel doesn't fit, you don't see a quick reaction from Roy Williams, or Coach K, or Jim Boeheim. They coach from a program perspective, not just for a specific team.

MorgantonHeel: Have you seen 2012 PG Tyler Lewis and does he project as an ACC player?

Harrington: I like Lewis a lot and he's having a big sophomore year. He'll have to overcome the inherent bias among college coaches against small guards with average quickness, but he's a crafty playmaker and a good shooter. He's getting increasing interest from mids and highs, and he has two and a half more seasons of high school basketball to play.

jmutarheel05: If you were in Roy Williams' shoes and had one more scholarship to give in the 2011 class, who would you go after?

Harrington: That's a tough one. You never turn down a recruitable elite PG, but I don't see one on the horizon for them yet. Neither Marshall Plumlee nor Cody Zeller really addresses the beast issue, and there's already an overload of wings. Angelo Chol might be the way to go, keeping eyes open for players emerging in the spring and summer.

JamesisWorthy: Do you see UNC in the final four next year or the year after? If not, what is missing in your estimation?

Harrington: Depends on the NBA, point guard play, etc. I don't know. They definitely will be among the most naturally talented teams in the nation next season, there's little question about that. But there are still concerns: Point guard, rebounding (especially if Davis leaves), interior defense. I do think shooting and ball-handling will be greatly improved. Maybe the similarity would be sort of like the 2007 team, a fringe contender. But again, I think you look at PG and if that position will flourish along with the arrival of wing scoring.

LawsonLover: Do you have any tidbits re: Harrison Barnes' recruitment that we might be interested in? This could include stories about his work ethic, family stories, relationships with the coaches recruiting him, etc.

Harrington: My own interactions with them were more limited, but I'll vouch for his top-shelf work ethic. He has competitive traits that intertwine anxiety, paranoia and a touch of insecurity with ferocity, focus and a streak of cruelty. He's a lot meaner on the court than people realize. I'd probably have written a lot of the same things about Kobe Bryant at that age, though Harrison definitely possesses a much heftier dose of humility and has a real personality in addition to his more carefully constructed persona. I also inferred from the beginning that Ms. Barnes was mistrustful of Duke, though she never said that outright. I actually thought he would sign with Kansas at this point last season, even after the unofficial to Durham. I thought Carolina had an outside shot, at best, until the official visit to Chapel Hill. Again, shows what I know.

beantownheel: Any thoughts on Adonis Thomas and UNC?

Harrington: Only that Memphis has come on strong, but that was to be expected. It's just difficult to see how Thomas fits given the team needs, lack of scholarships and the fact that McAdoo and Thomas may play the same position in college.

TheSituation1: Could you compare Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock, Harrison Barnes, P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo to somebody in college or the NBA?

Harrington: I really don't like comparisons generally, but here goes against my better judgment: Marshall -- Lenny Wilkens (I'm just stealing Roy Williams' comparison here). Bullock -- Reyshawn Terry with less quickness, better ball skills, better shot, better strength (at the same age) and better decisions. Barnes -- Paul Pierce is the comparison everyone likes. That isn't a fair expectation, but in terms of style of play it makes sense. Hairston -- Jack McClinton, not quite as good a shooter but a better rebounder and athlete (same quick, wrist-release stroke, however). McAdoo -- He isn't there yet, but Shawn Marion.

James725: Given that Kendall Marshall is coming in as a distributor, how different is he going to be than Larry Drew? Won't Drew appear much better next year with Barnes and Bullock aboard?

Harrington: The PG will get an upgrade next year one way or the other -- there will be too much competition for the case to be otherwise. There definitely are some who will say you shouldn't need two or more positions to get strong play out of one position, but there's still a place in the game for true distributors. It does put pressure on the wings to be consistent scorers, but UNC has recruited well enough to answer the bell.


Rob Harrington Bio: Rob is our pick for the nation's most underrated recruiting analyst. The Chapel Hill native brings a passion and expertise to his job with zero ego attached - that's what makes him one of the best. He's not a self promoter, but his work speaks for itself. He's the editor of PrepStars.com and the Recruiter's Handbook, and is a contributor to USA Today. He also covers UNC basketball and has been at the Smith Center for each game this season. You can check out his work at www.prepstars.com.


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