NC State has a tradition of putting great basketball teams on the floor, and a few players have gone on to have successful careers in the NBA. Taking into account the past and present, NC State has churned out a draft class worth of NBA-level talents. So what would that draft class look like? And where would some of NC State’s best basketball players end up if they were drafted in 2020? After studying each individual’s career, we can look at where they might fit into today’s NBA.
1. Golden State Warriors pick Wolfpack G/F David Thompson (1973-75)
Even though the Warriors already have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, when a player of David Thompson’s caliber falls into your lap, you take him. For Curry and the two Thompsons to play together, David would probably have to slide over to the small forward spot. Despite his 6-foot-4 frame, David Thompson has always played bigger than his size—they called him “Skywalker” for a reason after all.
22 points per game for his career and 27 points per game at his peak are more than enough to deserve the number one overall selection. The flashy dunks and a 73-point game is just belaboring the point. “Skywalker” at No. 1.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers pick Wolfpack F Tom Gugliotta (1988-92)
The drop off from David Thompson is pretty evident, but there is still some quality NBA talent left on the board. The Cavaliers’ defense is atrocious and almost beyond repair, so the way to become a playoff team again may come from adding more pop to their offense, and Tom Gugliotta can certainly do that.
Gugliotta is the perfect pick-and-pop big man to play alongside driving point guards like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. His 3-point numbers aren’t impressive, just 28% over his career, but they’re a product of the time he played in and the NBA’s reliance on mid-range jump shots before the mid 2010s. “Googs” was always a great mid-range shooter, and if he played today, he most likely would’ve been taught to extend his range just a tad.
Gugliotta averaged over 20 points per game for a couple of years in Minnesota and paired it with 7.3 rebounds per game over his career. Sure the Cavs already have a player like “Googs” in Kevin Love, but when you can’t have a good team, the next best thing is having a fun team and that’s what you can get when you add Gugliotta.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves pick Wolfpack G Nate McMillan (1984-86)
Describing the Nate McMillan pick as “off-the-grid” would be putting it lightly; this pick might as well have been out of this solar system. But the Timberwolves core of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell is gifted enough in the offensive department. It’s defense that this team needs, and pairing McMillan with promising young defender Josh Okogie would be a nice start.
McMillan sees the game like your point guard should. He has a team-first mentality and always makes the right play, and his current head coach position lends credence to that. He led the league in steals in the 1993-94 season, with three per game, and averaged almost two steals a contest over his career. McMillan wasn’t totally incapable offensively either, as he averaged 6.1 assists per game for his career.
McMillan’s game doesn’t scream “all-star” at you, but he does make his teams run efficiently. It’s no wonder the Seattle Supersonics had their best seasons with him at the helm and retired his number. Whether the Timberwolves are getting ‘90s defensive mastermind Nate McMillan or 2010s turn-lemons-into-lemonade coach Nate McMillan, he’s a great addition to their team.
4. Atlanta Hawks pick Wolfpack G Vinny Del Negro (1984-88)
Unlike the Cavs, the Hawks have already embraced going full throttle on offense and not caring about defense. They already have an engine in Trae Young, a do-it-all offensive threat that can shoot, pass, handle the ball and drive to the hoop.
If the Hawks want to be the remix version of the Warriors, they need to find a backcourt mate to pair with Young. While Kevin Huerter has potential, adding Del Negro into the mix makes the Hawks a microcosm of what the NBA is today, a team that just chucks threes, but one that does it efficiently and can score in bunches.
5. Detroit Pistons pick Wolfpack F Thurl Bailey (1979-83)
Words can’t describe how bad the Pistons are at the moment, but numbers can, and a 20-46 record describes Detroit perfectly. Christian Wood is a nice piece long term, but aside from that, Detroit’s roster looks bleak.
Adding a productive player who knows how to win would do wonders for Detroit, and Thurl Bailey, one of NC State’s heroes from 1983, is that kind of productive winner.
Between 1984 and 1992, Bailey never averaged less than 10 points per game. In the 1987-88 season, Bailey reached 19.6 points per game, a career-high and solid numbers for a player with his skill set. He ended up being an understudy for some dude named Karl Malone in a role that suited him perfectly. If Wood is the guy Detroit thinks he is, Bailey would make it a nice high post-low post combo in the frontcourt.
6. New York Knicks pick Wolfpack G Spud Webb (1983-85)
Everyone knows how demanding the New York atmosphere is for players and how detrimental it can be to the growth of incoming players. The Knicks need to pick a guy who can handle having all eyes on him, so picking a 5-foot-6, high-flying point guard who has had eyes on him all his life may actually yield good results for once.
Everyone knows about the bite-sized package, and everyone knows about the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Title, but what often confusingly gets overlooked is how many winning teams Spud Webb was a part of.
During Webb’s tenure with the Atlanta Hawks, his teams regularly finished with 50 wins and made serious runs in the playoffs. If not for the Boston Celtics, it would’ve been the Hawks who battled the Los Angeles Lakers for NBA finals supremacy in the 1980s. Dominique Wilkins gets credit for being the face of the Hawks during that time, and rightfully so, but Wilkins never had a great season without Webb.
7. Chicago Bulls pick Wolfpack F T.J. Warren (2012-14)
The Bulls have a nice pair of scoring guards in Coby White and Zach LaVine, as well as a few nice big men in Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. While the Bulls need a facilitator, there’s a hole at the small forward spot. From an aesthetic standpoint, it makes sense to add T.J. Warren to complete that starting five.
The fact that Warren is seventh in the draft when he still has several productive years ahead of him speaks less about the depth of NBA talent coming out of Raleigh and more about just how good Warren is.
Warren is so good that he managed to score 19.6 points per game in the 2017-18 season, and that was without being able to score reliably from 3-point land. Once Warren worked on his 3-point shot, not only did he shoot 43% on four attempts a game, but it took away the one flaw that Warren had as a scorer.
8. Charlotte Hornets pick Wolfpack C Tommy Burleson (1971-74)
Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington make up the young core in Charlotte, and whether the fans like them or not, they’re going to get all the playing time due to the youth movement in Charlotte. That leaves the center position to be filled, and that hole can be filled with Tom Burleson.
While the 1983 NC State team was immortalized, the 1974 team was undoubtedly more dominant and one of the important pieces that the Pack team had was David Thompson’s teammate Burleson. Before his career was derailed by injuries, Burleson was on his way to averaging a double-double over his career.
Burleson also held up on the defensive end, snagging close to two blocks a game in his first two years. If the 7-foot-2’ center could stay upright, Charlotte may have gotten the steal of the draft in this alternate universe.
9. Washington Wizards pick Wolfpack F Kenny Carr (1974-77)
Rui Hachimura is a good piece for the Washington Wizards, and he has more potential and tools to work with than people give him credit for. But until Hachimura fully develops, the Wizards still need another player in their frontcourt who can take the ball to the basket as well as play on the perimeter. Enter Kenny Carr.
Carr at his best is the rebounding forward the Wizards need, with two double-digit rebounding seasons and 7.4 rebounds per game over his career. He averaged 15 points per game twice and 11.6 points over his career. If Carr can take that mid-range shot he had when he played and extend it to the 3-point line, he can take over some scoring responsibilities as well.
10. Phoenix Suns pick Wolfpack G Dennis Smith Jr. (2016-17)
Funnily enough, Phoenix could’ve had Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2017 NBA Draft but went in a different direction instead. The one question mark on Phoenix’s roster has been at the point guard position. Swinging for the fences and taking a chance on Smith makes sense.
Like Warren, Smith likely has a lot of NBA basketball ahead of him, but he hasn’t had quite the primrose path to success like his fellow Wolfpack alum. However, it wasn’t long ago when Smith posted 14.5 points per game and 5.3 assists per game in his rookie year, and unlocking that for Phoenix is the key to bringing them out of mediocrity.