Not too terribly long ago, a UNC team led by Brice Johnson flew down to Tallahassee to square off against Florida State. UNC cruised, 106-90. It was already a bleak-looking matchup for the undersized Seminoles going in, even with Kennedy Meeks out with an injured knee. But no one, and I mean no one, expected the night that Brice Johnson put together: 39 points, 23 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. Some would call it Jordanesque, but Jordan never put up those numbers at UNC. This was something different.
According to this article, which I highly recommend you read if you want a healthy dose of nostalgia, the last time a UNC player had a 39/23 game was Billy Cunningham... in 1964. It was that night that every UNC fan alive realized just who we had in Brice Johnson; you don’t get 39/23 in any league, much less the ACC, by being average. No, we all understood that Brice Johnson could do big, big things in basketball.
These days, Brice Johnson plays in the Summer League for the Los Angeles Clippers. Riddled by injuries last year, the 2017-18 season will essentially be his rookie year (he played in three games in 2017). Up until last week, he was mainly flying under the radar. Then, in his first summer game, he did this:
Brice Johnson vs. Lonzo Ball in the low post = mismatch pic.twitter.com/xaAMnTJA9k— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 8, 2017
Welcome to the NBA, Lonzo.
With that spin move, rim destruction, holler and fist pump, people suddenly remembered Brice Johnson’s name. His stats are impressive: 14 points per game, 57.1% shooting, five rebounds per game, 1.7 blocks per game in 24.7 minutes per game. Those are the types of numbers he could eventually be expected to put up every night as a starting power forward in the NBA, be it if when Blake Griffin gets hurt again or if Johnson ends up playing for another team. At this point, seeing how much better he is than the Summer League competition, there’s no reason to think otherwise. Johnson just has the look of an NBA player now; this highlight reel speaks for itself.
Aside from the verticality, quickness, and length, Johnson’s game is now refined and well-tuned. He’s fluid, he’s confident, and everyone knows it. Yeah, don’t hold your breath for another 39/23 any time soon (that would be cool, too) but don’t you dare think Johnson going 25th overall is anywhere near his ceiling. He’s balling. Lonzo poster aside, he spun a Laker clean out of his shorts at one point and effortlessly hit turnaround jumper after turnaround jumper. No one could stop him—it was a thing of beauty.
Of course, he’ll have a lot to prove when he’s guarded by Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis, but Johnson absolutely looks to be the most NBA-ready Tar Heel in the Summer League, even over Justin Jackson. His breakthrough year may not be this year, or even next year, but it will come. It will definitely come. Either way, he will get playing time in the upcoming season.
He has some things he needs to work on—a player like him could always use more range, and he’s still sometimes inclined to make the silly play—but these are things he improved upon in Chapel Hill and will continue to improve upon throughout his career. Right now, the key for him is staying healthy. As long as he can do that and continues on this upwards trajectory, the ceiling is the roof for Brice Johnson.