For this upcoming season, the Tar Heels’ biggest strength will likely be at the wing position. With plenty of depth and a wealth of talent, including projected lottery pick Nassir Little, not many teams will be able to match up with them out on the perimeter. What makes this group extra special, though, is their experience, and nobody exemplifies that better than fifth year senior Cameron Johnson.
Johnson was at Pittsburgh for three years before heading to Chapel Hill. He redshirted his first year there and then managed to graduate in just three years, which allowed him to transfer and play immediately and also still have two seasons of eligibility. In his final season at Pitt, Johnson averaged 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and he shot 42% from outside.
Last season for the Tar Heels, his numbers were very similar (12.4/4.7/2.3), but his shooting percentage dropped a fairly significant amount to 34%. On one hand, this decline could be seen as alarming for someone in his third year of college basketball. On the other hand, though, it was only Johnson’s first year in Roy Williams’ system and he struggled with injuries all season long. Also, last year’s team lacked dominant post players, which forced them to rely more on the three-point shot.
Now, Johnson will enter his second season at UNC with plenty of cohesion with his coaches and teammates and a better feel for the program. Even though hip surgery held him out of the Tar Heels’ exhibition games in the Bahamas, Johnson is expected to be 100% ready to go when the season tips off in November. The development of the young bigs as well as the arrival of a versatile freshman class means there won’t be the need for as many forced threes and Johnson can let the game come to him.
Johnson is known primarily for his shooting, but it’s definitely not the only thing he can do. Last year, we saw him be a little more aggressive than he was at Pitt, utilizing his length and 6’8” frame to score over smaller defenders. In terms of actual playing style, the Justin Jackson comparisons aren’t exactly valid, but the two are very similar in their physical makeup and their knack for scoring. Johnson doesn’t possess crazy athleticism or lightning quickness, but he can be a solid finisher when he’s playing under control.
Defensively, Johnson is reliable but still has areas he can improve. He’s never going to be the kind of shut-down defender that you throw on the opposing team’s star player, but he can still contribute on that end of the floor. His aforementioned length gives him some versatility, allowing him to guard multiple positions. This was a big reason why Roy Williams was able to go small last season.
Johnson could stand to tweak his defensive stance a little, though. Oftentimes he is too upright when guarding the ball and, as a result, gets blown by fairly regularly. He also has a tendency to over-help off strong--side shooters. Of course, some of his defensive woes can be attributed to injuries, so assuming he can stay healthy, those areas could very well improve naturally.
Overall, I expect Johnson to have a big year as one of the leaders on this team. Although he didn’t get a chance to play in the Bahamas, all signs point to him reacquiring his starting position. With so many playmakers around him, I’d be surprised if his perimeter shooting doesn’t return to where it was two years ago. Johnson will be a crucial piece for a Tar Heel team trying to reach its third national championship in four years.