Here is a look back at the 2014-15 season for the returning Tar Heels. Today we look at junior Brice Johnson
After James Michael McAdoo left for the NBA Draft following the 2013-14 season, the assumption was Brice Johnson would make a huge leap with his overall production given the fact he would be a starter. The theory goes that Johnson's offensive game was better than McAdoo's so moving him into the starting lineup would lead to more production from the power forward slot. The result was more of a mixed bag, especially when the defensive end is thrown into the mix.
Offensively Johnson ended up being only slightly better than he was in 2013-14. His individual offensive efficiency ticked up from 114.3 to 114.5. Johnson's OR% was down slightly while his DR% was up. His 2P% shooting matched the previous season at 56.6% although Johnson took 101 more shots as a junior. Generally speaking Johnson was good on the offensive end but probably not quite as good as some expected.
One of the reasons why was consistency. When Johnson was locked in, he was very good. In some games, Johnson did not play well and it showed in how he carried himself. The consistency of his focus and intensity were real issues at times. Johnson posted just two points versus Iowa in a 60-55 loss to the Hawkeyes in Chapel Hill. He shot 1-7 in that game, had just four rebounds in a game where neither team shot well and committed four fouls. In the next game Johnson went for 19 points and 17 rebounds against ECU. After that, Johnson trended in the right direction with 15 points against Kentucky, 18 points on 8-10 shooting and nine rebounds versus Ohio State. In ACC play, Johnson scored in double figures 14 times in 18 contests. In the two games against Duke, Johnson averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg.
On the defensive end, Johnson struggled at times to defend being caught out of position far too often and getting into foul trouble which hurt his minutes.
What to expect next season
Johnson hasn't reached his ceiling as an offensive player though he is very close. The most important area for Johnson next season on the offensive end will be consistency. He will need to be more adept at passing out of double teams, be smarter setting screens away from the basket and be more consistent finishing around the basket. For all of Johnson's abilities, he missed far too many shots at the rim for his or Roy Williams' tasted.
The real work for Johnson is on the defensive end where he need to do serious work improving everything from his on the ball defense to being in the right place at the right time. Johnson got burned quite a bit when forced to guard a stretch four type of player like Pat Connaughton from Notre Dame. Drawing him away from the basket where he has to defend the drive and be aware of the three proved to be a tough match-up for Johnson. Some improvement in handling those situations will be necessary as is learning to defend without fouling. Johnson committed 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes in ACC play which was 75th just behind Kennedy Meeks among league players. It was also in the bottom third of those rankings though just ahead of Duke's Justise Winslow.
Ideally UNC improving the perimeter defense to cut off drives would be ideal. Even if some drives get into the lane(and they will) Johnson needs to focus on being a straight up defender to force a tough shot or if the shot block is available protect the rim. Whatever the case, Johnson's defense will be a key to keeping him on the court so he can produce on the offensive end.