A few weeks ago, fellow writer Will Potts discussed the worst case scenario for UNC’s 2017-18 season. Sometime between this Thursday and Sunday, highly-touted 5-star recruit Kevin Knox plans to (finally) announce where he will be attending school this fall. Also, late last week Tony Bradley received an invite to the NBA draft combine, which potentially raises more and more questions as to whether or not he will eventually sign an agent and stay in the draft. With that in mind, what does next season look like if everyone returns and Kevin Knox decides to make his way to Chapel Hill?
Point Guard / Shooting Guard
Joel Berry II will be the starter for UNC at the point guard position. Returning to UNC to finish out his senior year, Berry is coming off of a 14.7 PPG / 3.6 APG season, and is destined to have an amazing senior season.
Multiple ankle injuries hindered Berry near the end of the year, and so staying healthy alone should foster increased production from the Florida native. There is also no doubt that Berry will have his draft stock in mind, so expect to see him work on creating open looks for his teammates more often all while continuing his offensive dominance.
As for who will back up Berry and who will play at the two, the back court for UNC will be loaded both in depth as well as in talent. Seventh Woods really didn’t get his footing until the latter half of this past season, but if he puts in the work this off-season we may start seeing a lot more of what he has to offer backing up Berry.
Jalek Felton will also make a strong case to be first off the bench to replace Berry, as he is well-known as big time playmaker and scorer. Roy Williams may also decide to slide him over to the shooting guard position from time to time if Felton can prove his strength at playing off of the ball.
Kenny Williams would be one of the favorites to start at the shooting guard position, as he became more efficient offensively and a strong defensive presence before suffering a season-ending injury before the tournaments began. However, the man that took over his spot may have something to say about it.
Theo Pinson proved to be a very important factor in everything UNC did once he came back from his injuries. He did a little bit of everything on the court, and if he manages to improve his shooting he will only be more and more dangerous.
Andrew Platek will also be in the mix for some playing time, depending on whether or not he can be as deadly of a shooter as he was in high school. Brandon Robinson did a lot of good things this past season, despite his stats not reflecting as such. He plays with a lot of energy, and if he figures out a way to become more reliable at the two spot it will only add onto the list of weapons for UNC’s back court. In short: there will be no shortage of guards for the 2017-18 season.
Small Forward / Power Forward
Should Kevin Knox announce that he is coming to UNC, there is an extremely high chance that he will be the starter. With Justin Jackson declaring for the NBA draft and signing an agent, everything that Roy Williams has told Knox to this point can come to fruition in terms of how he would be used should he choose to attend UNC.
At best, Knox will be a monster on offense and on the boards; at worst, Knox will be a solid offensive threat and will be hot and cold behind the arc. He hasn’t really established himself as a defender, but there is no doubt that Roy will see to it that he establishes some form of defense. If not, we may see Pinson slide into the three spot off the bench as a defensive spark plug if UNC gets behind in games.
Unless one of the incoming freshman manages to stun Roy Williams before pre-season play begins, expect Luke Maye to play at the power forward position. While I could explain why, I actually find it more enjoyable to show you why:
This has the potential to be one of the most dangerous 3-point shooting teams Carolina has seen in years. Imagining a scenario where Berry, Williams/Felton, Knox, and Maye are dropping three pointers is something hard to process, but satisfying to think about.
Should Tony Bradley decide to withdraw his name from the draft, UNC will maintain its dominance on the boards. Averaging 14.6 minutes per game, Bradley averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds for the season. Bradley is a huge problem for defenders on the offensive boards, and if Bradley can find a way to be as efficient on the defensive glass he is going to have a huge year.
Also, expect Bradley to work on developing a mid-range game should he decide to come back to school. There’s little doubt that some of the feedback Bradley may get would be developing some form of consistent jumper, as currently his offensive prowess is primarily near/above the rim. In the current NBA, scoring versatility for big men is becoming more and more prevalent and Bradley may need to find a way to follow suit to boost his draft stock.
Backing up Bradley and Maye would be Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, and Garrison Brooks. UNC would have some size to play around with, hopefully without there being a huge drop off in production with the absence of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. It will be important for the three reserves to establish themselves on the glass, or it may see Roy Williams keeping Maye or Bradley on the court at all times in order to uphold a decent rebounding percentage.
The 2017-18 UNC team at best has the potential to win the ACC regular season for the third year in a row, should everyone return and Knox joins the squad. Things in all likelihood would not start off at the beginning of the year as well as they did last year, but going into ACC play the cohesiveness would just about be established (hopefully).
At each player’s best, UNC has a lot of firepower, maintains a good amount of size, and defenders will once again be forced to pick their poison with UNC’s ability to spread the floor. A deep NCAA tournament run would also be very likely, and depending on their draw in opponents it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see a Final Four three-peat. If you don’t believe me, remember: South Carolina got there on the back of Sir Sindarius Thornwell. It’s very possible. Either way, this squad would be a lot of fun to watch. Let’s hope that the future is very kind to us all.