And finally the end of season look at UNC's big men.
For the most part, Johnson can claim the mantle of UNC's second best offensive player. He posted the next best offensive rating behind Marcus Paige and was top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. The problem with Johnson is the second number on the chart. He only played 19 minutes per contest which was a direct result of his deficiencies on the defensive end. There were also issues with Johnson not seizing the opportunity afforded when he was placed in the starting lineup after Joel James got injured.
Still, Johnson took a huge step forward and clearly possesses the offensive skills to be an impact player. If his defense, especially how he functions within the team defensive scheme, improves then his playing time will rise. Given UNC's depth in the post and providing Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks can make similar improvements in their games, it won't be a huge jump in minutes but Johnson playing 25 mpg would be enough for him to be extremely productive. Speaking of defense, Johnson has the physical tools to be a shot blocker. He isn't John Henson but he can be enough of a rim protector to bail out the perimeter defenders on drives and perhaps keep them closer to the three point shooters.
Kennedy Meeks clearly hit a ceiling this season and that ceiling was the limitations of his body in terms of conditioning, jumping ability and quickness. Those were known issues going into the season and little could be done about it during the course of past six months. That means the next six months will prove very important in getting Meeks to where he needs to be physically.
Meeks showed signs of what he is capable of as a player. Against the smaller Iowa State lineup, Meeks displayed some dominance. That was also the case against Florida State and also Michigan State. Meeks has a nice shooting touch, great basketball instincts and from a skill standpoint is well along the road to being an effective player in the ACC. His biggest issue is the lack of quickness or explosiveness. His play was below the rim far too often and players of equal or even smaller stature could block his shot. Those are the issues that must be resolved and if they are, Meeks can be everything UNC needs at the five and then some. His passing acumen will be a huge asset in UNC's fast break, especially if he builds on the fact he was 10th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 38th in defensive rebounding rate.
Like Johnson, Meeks will need to improve on defense as a means to staying on the court longer. If that happens and his overall conditioning improves, Meeks is the type of player who could grab every rebound around him much the same way Sean May did.
Joel James started several games early in the season before missing four games after spraining his MCL against Texas. After that James started three games then left the starting lineup for good after the loss to Virginia. From that point James' minutes and impact on the game was very limited. Over the course of UNC's final 16 games James logged double-digit minutes just twice and one of those came in the blowout of Wake Forest in Chapel Hill.
The question regarding James is what's next. Going into next season(assuming McAdoo returns) UNC will have five post players who should see significant minutes. At the five Meeks and Johnson should consume much of the time there and should Roy Williams want to use a third center, Desmond Hubert is probably a better option based on his defense alone.
Williams' defense of James thus far has been to point to his limited experience actually playing basketball. James didn't start playing organized basketball until tenth grade so he hasn't had nearly the immersion in the sport that allows for the development of solid basketball instincts. That being said, James will be a junior and really needs to show some level of improvement. The biggest jumps often occur from the first to second year. James really didn't experience that which leads to the possibility that if it doesn't happen in his third season, it may never happen.
Desmond Hubert, for all his flaws, has really fallen into a niche as a big man who can play defense. There really isn't much beyond that for the junior. Except for the occasional putback dunk, Hubert doesn't provide much in the way of offense. Can that change? It doesn't seem likely and if it does it would be a huge surprise.
As for next season, Hubert's playing time will be dependent on whether the more talented post players take care of business on both ends of the floor. There could be instances where Hubert sees the floor for defensive purposes but for UNC to live up to expectations, Meeks and Johnson need to play at a level that removes the needs for Hubert and James to play a lot of minutes.