From Backup to NBA Prospect: Dereon Seabron is the ACC’s Most Improved Player

More year-end awards and honors for the 2021-22 ACC Men’s Basketball season. In this post, we settle up on the ACC Sixth Man of the Year race and the league’s Most Improved Player, which starts with NC State’s Dereon Seabron.



Most Improved Player: Dereon Seabron, NC State, G/F

It was perfectly logical to assume that Dereon Seabron would have a productive and amplified 2021-22 season. Towards the end of his redshirt freshman campaign (2020-21), the 6-foot-7 Seabron started to become A Real Thing for NC State.

As the Wolfpack reoriented their offense following the awful, season-ending knee injury to star guard Devon Daniels, Seabron took on an elevated role. Quickly, Seabron started to click as dangerous open-floor playmaker for Kevin Keatts.

Over the final eight games, which included seven starts, Seabron averaged 26.8 minutes, 8.4 points (60.5 2P%), 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

During this final five games of the season, Seabron’s usage rate jumped north of 20.0 percent, too.

This juxtaposed with the first 17 games of the season when Seabron appeared in 16 contests (1 start) and averaged 12.1 minutes, 3.6 points (47.5 2P%) and 2.4 rebounds per game.



Offensive Creation

Now, players don’t necessarily develop and improve in a linear fashion; there can be all kinds of peaks and valleys. However, with his size and length, Seabron showed that he could get to the rim, which is a wildly important skill for a ball handler. Let’s just say: there were reasons to believe in Seabron as a player to watch.

The growth for Seabron — from Year 1 to Year 2 — far exceeded his projections, though. Seabron evolved and played some of the best offensive basketball in the country. As his game grow exponentially, Seabron’s stock as an NBA prospect quickly soared, too.

Seabron’s usage rate boomed. After posting sub 19-percent usage his freshman year, Seabron finished the regular season with a 26.3 percent usage rate, according to KenPom, a top-250 number nationally. With that, his points per game average more than tripled: from 5.2 points per game to 17.3 points per game. That’s a massive increase.

As a freshman, Seabron attempted only 1.4 free throws per game That statistic also increased by a substantial amount: 6.2 free throws per game (70.7 FT%, up from 57.6 FT%).

These increases aren’t just the byproduct of more playing time and added usage. Seabron is a more efficient player; his turnover rate dropped (15.6 percent) despite taking on added playmaking responsibilities. Seabron also drew 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes in the regular season, up from 3.2 fouls per 40 last season, according to KenPom.

With all of his trips to the free throw line, Seabron’s true shooting rate rose to 55.6 percent.

It’s impossible to imagine what this team would’ve looked like this season without Seabron — one of only seven high-major players with 18 percent assist rate, 18 percent defensive rebound rate and 55 percent true shooting.

Most of the other players on that list are post-up/creator types, like Trevion Williams (Purdue), Pete Nance (Northwestern) and Justyn Mutts (Virginia Tech), not primary ball handlers.



Rolling Downhill

Much of the contact Seabron drew came as the result of his downhill drive game. Seabron doesn’t possess the raw power and burst of Alondes Williams — the ACC’s other elite source of primary rim pressure — but he’s quick, decisive with the basketball and he uses his length to his advantage.

Seabron is a wonderfully creative player and an adaptive driver. He uses his loopy crossover moves to put defenders on skates, then slips by the with the ability to drive in either direction.

During the middle of his drives, Seabron’s rather adept at changing direction or tempo and sliding through a gap in the middle of the floor.

There are only a select few players in the country that can claim to be as wicked with the Euro-step as Seabron.

Once Seabron is in the lane, he uses his stride length to separate from would-be help defenders and shot blockers in the final third of the court. Seabron is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing players to watch in college basketball this season.

When Seabron’s able to fully uncork his strides, he can clear little pockets of space or even get to the other side of the lane/rim, which creates finishing opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, Seabron’s rim numbers from this season are crazy. According to Bart Torvik’s shot data, Seabron shot 173-of-308 (56.2 FG%) around the basket this year. By this measure, over 77 percent of his field goal attempts came close to the rim, which is a huge share. Of those 173 field goals, 74 percent came unassisted, which speaks to Seabron’s shot creation and rim pressure capabilities.

That, too, is an increase from last year — when 49 percent of his close 2-pointers were unassisted.



Baby T: T stands for Target

Seabron showed that he’s at least willing to shoot from deep this season; however, the 3-ball (11-of-41 3PA, 26.8 3P%) is still a work in progress. His release, which is slow and off balance, needs work. Despite those limitations, Seabron is still a ridiculous talent and a good organizer of offense.

As the season progress, Keatts shifted more and more on-ball opportunities to Seabron. He continued to get into the paint — even when teams loaded up on him or Iced side ball screens, hoping to pin the 6-foot-7 creator on one side of the floor.

This is especially impressive when you consider the deck of cards Seabron had to work with on that side of the floor. NC State is a high-volume pick-and-roll offense. According to Synergy Sports, Wolfpack pick-and-roll ball handlers used/finished 26.3 percent of NC State’s possessions this season — No. 1 in the county by a wide margin. (Cal is No. 2 at 23.4 percent).

Seabron isn’t the only screen-roll creator in the offense. Terquavion Smith is an explosive talent. Cam Hayes struggled for most of this season, but he’s still an intriguing pick-and-roll scorer. Both Smith and Hayes used over 160 pick-and-roll possessions in the regular season, per Synergy.

Unfortunately, without Manny Bates, all three ball handlers — primarily Seabron — had to run a pick-and-roll attack that offered very little scoring from its centers/screener.

Ebenezer Dowuona emptied the bucket as a rim protector for the defense, but he’s limited on offense: 9.1 percent usage rate. Opponents would let Dowuona roll into space, unafraid of his scoring abilities, while shading more help in the direction of Seabron.

The only time NC State could really use a screener to threaten as a scorer was when Jericole Hellems would screen on the ball. Hellems is a good shooter, but he doesn’t have the rim/roll gravity of Bates. When Hellems screens, he wants to pop or slip into space along the perimeter and look for his jump shot. Teams can switch those actions and force NC State to probe without any north-south movement.

The upshot: Seabron managed to consistently get north-south in the half-court offense despite having little to play off of at the center position.

With that said, NC State still put enough defenses in rotation to remain relatively efficient on offense. From there, Seabron and Smith formed one of the most electric slash-and-kick combinations in the country.

Smith really is an incredible source of secondary offense. He scores from all levels of the floor and can get his own, with a plethora of shifty moves, or look to play off advantage.

It was awesome to see Seabron and Smith develop a real chemistry with one another this season.

Here NC State runs its Horns Chicago action, which flows into a middle ball screen for Seabron. Purdue’s help defense rotates off the weak side; Seabron quickly picks out Smith for an NBA-range 3-pointer in Brooklyn.

As a freshman, Smith threw fire from deep. According to Synergy, Smith scored 1.2 points per spot-up possession this season (61.3 eFG%), which is a top-50 number nationally among players with 100+ possessions.



Play Without The Ball

Seabron doesn’t let his lack of a reliable 3-point jumper stand in the way of being an impactful offensive player without the ball. There are plenty of offensive creators who, once they give the ball up to a teammate, will remain stationary — until the ball circles back in their direction.

That’s not Seabron, though.

Sebron gets involved as a screener, a cutter and (primarily) an offensive rebounder. According to Synergy, Seabron shot 65.9 percent and scored 1.3 points per possession on put-backs this season.

Along with Notre Dame’s Paul Atkinson, Seabron was one of two ACC players with 50+ put-back possessions to score above 1.3 points per possession.

His work as a cutter is underrated, too: 63.3 FG% on cuts, according to Synergy.

When NC State goes small — with Hellems as the de facto center — Seabron can slide down to the baseline and look for points in the dunker spot.

This is the kind of off-ball activity that helps offset a lack of spot-up shooting. It also makes you wonder if Seabron could eventually have some potential as a short-roll playmaker in the NBA, a la Bruce Brown.

Those movement patterns also work for Seabron as a means for attacking closeouts. Due to his shaky jumper, opponents are less likely to closeout hard on Seabron when the ball gets swung to him. Instead, they prefer to closeout shallow and play Seabron for the drive.

Seabron, however, finds ways to angle those drives or gather some steam and catch the ball on the run to attack a scrambled defense. 

Either way, he’s getting in the paint.



Defensive Upside

Early on in his career, Seabron seemed to have real defensive upside. He finished his freshman year with 2.3 percent steal rate and 1.9 percent block rate.

As a sophomore, though, he blocked only two shots all season — good for a 0.2 percent block rate. His steal rate remained flat, although that declined some as the season progress, while Seabron added more and more responsibilities on offense. There were lapses in 1-on-1 defense, too.

I think a lot of this can be attributed to his workload on offense. Seabron was on the floor for nearly 88 percent of NC State’s minutes this season — working as the team’s primary engine of offense. That takes a toll on a player.

I’m still bullish on Seabron’s defense, even if this season wasn’t his best.



Other Candidates

Wendell Moore, Duke, G

Usage Rate and scoring:

Moore’s usage rate remains mostly flat when compared to last season; however, his scoring jumped from 9.7 to 13.4 points per game. Running the show for the league’s top team, Moore turned into one of the best guards in the ACC, if not the country.


During his first two seasons, Moore shot above 80 percent from the free throw line, which spoke to his level of skill and possible upside as a shooter. This season, though, Moore’s improved from basically every level of the floor.

Moore posted an effective shooting rate of 50 percent on pick-and-roll attempts this season. He also scored 1.18 points per spot-up possession.

Across 31 regular season games, Moore shot 56 percent on twos (up from 48.1 2P% last season) and 41 percent from beyond the arc (up from 30.1 3P% last season). As a result, his true shooting rate climbed from 51.1 percent last year up to 60.8 percent this season, a top-150 number nationally.

Transition Playmaking:

Moore half-court playmaking was better this season, too.

However, his best passing flashes came in the open floor. For the second year in a row, Moore’s assist rate climbed: 23.1 percent, No. 1 on Duke’s roster.


PJ Hall, Clemson, F/C

Post Scoring:

With Aamir Simms in the professional ranks, Hall emerged as the new offensive fulcrum for Brad Brownell and Clemson. His scoring blasted up from 3.5 points per game last season to 15.4 points per game this season, while his usage (29.3 percent) and efficiency rose, too.

Armed with one of the best hook shots in college hoops, Hall shot 52.5 percent on post-up attempts this season. Per Synergy, Hall scored an outstanding 1.06 points per post-up possession, too.

Post/Elbow Hub:

At this stage of his career, Hall doesn’t have the same half-court vision as Simms — an excellent hub of high-post creation in college. However, Clemson’s offense features a lot of facilitation from the elbows, including split action. Hall showed he can be very good in these situations.

After averaging 0.1 assists per game last season, Hall kicked out 1.5 dimes per game this year. His assist rate rose from 2.2 percent as a freshman to 13.2 percent his sophomore season.


John Hugley, Pittsburgh, C

Few low-post players in the country were tasked with doing more this season than Hugley. The sophomore center was on the floor for 73.5 percent of Pittsburgh’s minutes this season — up from 11.7 percent last year. Hugley’s usage rate ballooned to a top-50 number in the country, too: 30.4 percent.

Hugley finished the regular season as one of only six high-major players with:

    • 30 percent usage
    • 20 percent defensive rebound rate
    • 10 percent offensive rebound rate
    • 10 percent assist rate.

Most of his damage was done in the post. Hugley shot 50.4 percent on post-up attempts this season. He led the ACC in total post-up points (202), per Synergy, and is one of only 16 Division I players with 200+ post-up points.

It should be noted that Hugley draws a ton of contact, too. During league play, he led the ACC: 7.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, according to KenPom.

However, Hugley can step away and find offense away from the paint, too.

Hugley can get to his jumper off pick-and-pops or look for midrange buckets when he short rolls into space.



Strong Consideration

Reece Beekman, Virginia, G

I’ve written a lot about Beekman this season — his development on both sides of the floor. If you’d like to read more, check out a couple of different pieces:

    • Beekman’s offense now has more 3-point efficiency and downhill drives, despite playing in a more cramped half-court setting
    • Beekman’s defense: how he checks every box on that side of the floor for Tony Bennett and Virginia


Kadin Shedrick, Virginia, C

I’ve also written a fair amount about Shedick this season. The upshot: he’s getting better as a screener/dive-man, inlcuding on lob finishes. Defensively, there’s some serious upside. He’s already one of the best rim protectors in the country (11.9 percent block rate), but his work in pick-and-roll defense is starting to show some real teeth, too.

Shedrick can already hedge-and-recover at a pretty high level. Another offseason of improved physio and more reps in the Pack Line system will only add an underrated ground-coverage big man.



Mark Williams, Duke, C

Similar to Beekman and Shedrick, I have plenty on Williams as a defender. He’s a ridiculous rim protector and improving as a pick-and-roll cover guy, including some intriguing flashes of versatility in this regard.

For more on his defense, I put together a deep dive on Williams here — one of the best defenders, regardless of position, in the ACC.



Sixth Man of the Year

Things are tricky for the Sixth Man of the Year Award this year. In recent years, there have been some outstanding, more clear-cut candidates, like Scottie Barnes (2021) and Patrick Williams (2020) of Florida State, although Malik Williams also had a strong claim for the award in 2020.

To my knowledge, there are no official parameters in place for how many games a player can still start and still count as a “Sixth Man.” With that in mind, I set my own limitations and kept it incredibly basic: if a player started over 50 percent of a team’s games, then I wouldn’t take them into consideration.

Unfortunately, this cuts out some of the best “stretch” candidates for the honor, including Duke’s AJ Griffin (17 starts in 31 games), UNC’s Brady Manek (19 starts in 31 games), Kadin Shedrick (16 starts in 30 games) and Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan (17 starts in 31 games).

Now, if one of those guys were to win the award — for whatever reason — that’s fine. It’s not some grave injustice, although it’s an interesting way to interpret the essence of the award.

With that in mind, I boiled it down to a couple notable, worthwhile candidates:



Khadim Sy, Wake Forest, F/C

  • 63.2 2P%, 36.2 3P%
  • 8.2 percent offensive rebound rate, 18.3 percent defensive rebound rate
  • 3.3 percent block rate
  • Wake Forest: +177 in 599 minutes with Sy on the floor this season, per Pivot Analysis
    • Net Rating: +17.0 points per 100 possessions
      • Offense: 113.6 points per 100
      • Defense: 96.6 points per 100
    • The Demon Deacons also leaned heavily on the double-big lineup of Sy and Dallas Walton, which was +45 in 227 minutes
      • Net rating: +12.1 points per 100 possessions
  • Versatile pick-and-roll screen defender



Matthew Cleveland, Florida State, G/F

  • 2.2 percent block rate, 1.7 percent steal rate
  • 26 dunks, 48.6 2P%, 70 FG% on put-backs
  • Averages: 11.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists per game
  • Per 40 minutes: 17.5 points, 5.9 FTA, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals
  • Cleveland carries the torch passed down from Barnes and Williams — FSU with a talented rookie wing coming off the bench



Chase Hunter, Clemson, G

  • 50.9 2P%, 54.5 TS%
  • Top 20 during conference play in effective shooting (57 eFG%) and true shooting (60.3 TS%)
    • 8.5 points per game, 39.5 3P% in ACC action



Darius Maddox, Virginia Tech, G

  • One of the best jump-shooters in the country:
    • 53.1 3P%, 82.1 FT%, 54.4 2P%
  • 1.38 points per spot-up possession
  • 1.13 points per off-screen possession
  • Virginia Tech: +208 in 491 minutes with Maddox on the floor this season
    • Net rating: +27.8 points per 100 possessions
      • Offense: 122.8 points per 100 possessions



Trey Wertz, Notre Dame, G/F

  • With the emergence of Blake Wesley, Wertz saw less time on the ball this season; however, the veteran wing shot it well from deep (38.6 3P%) and helped a great offense with secondary creation (20 percent assist rate)


The Pick: Khadim Sy, Wake Forest

  • This isn’t the most inspired pick, which says more about the pool of players to pick from and less about Sy, who was a super valuable bench piece for an awesome Wake Forest team.
  • Often, these awards go to a player that comes in off the bench and puts up a lot of counting stats; that’s not the case with Sy, though.
  • His candidacy has more to do with two-way impact, which centers on his floor-spacing, multi-level finishing and versatility on defense.