With the North Carolina Tar Heels getting closer and closer to tipping off their 2020-2021 college basketball season (just eight days away), we’re here to bring you another position preview. If you haven’t already, go check out Akil’s breakdown of the guards, where he evaluates the electrifying freshman duo of Caleb Love and R.J. Davis as well as heady veterans Andrew Platek and K.J. Smith. This time, we’re going to be taking a deeper look at the wings, arguably the position group with the most question marks on this team.
Carolina basketball is oftentimes defined by its rebounding and ability to pound the ball inside. Thus, the big men are typically imperative to the team’s success. That will certainly be true this season as the Tar Heel frontcourt is headlined by preseason ACC player of the year Garrison Brooks and sophomore Armando Bacot, with a couple of five star seven-foot freshmen in Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler coming off the bench. After the bigs, the next defining piece of Roy Williams’ teams is the point guard, with all-time greats like Joel Berry, Marcus Paige, and Ty Lawson coming to mind. However, every elite Carolina team has at least one or two versatile wings that can affect the game in a variety of ways.
The wing position was pretty lackluster last season but it’s hard to pin that team’s woes on one position group. The Tar Heels really struggled shooting the ball, with Brandon Robinson being really the only semi-consistent deep threat. Robinson graduated, but the Heels do have a pair of freshmen known for their three-point shooting in Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton. Leaky Black didn’t make the leap forward that many had hoped he would last season, but he’s got a chance to make that jump this year. Anthony Harris was a spark plug in the limited action he saw but it remains to be seen when he’ll be able to see the court as he’s still recovering from a torn ACL.
As mentioned earlier, Black didn’t quite develop as expected as a sophomore, but he still found ways to make his presence felt. At 6-8, 195 pounds, Black has an extremely long frame that, paired with his ball-handling skills and court vision, allow him to play any position one through four. He served as the backup point guard in relief of Cole Anthony and particularly got burn at the position when Anthony was injured during the middle of the season.
Black averaged 6.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game last year. He was effective from the three-point line early in the season but never truly established himself as a consistent threat. He flashed some nice shot-creating abilities at times but struggled to finish. Defensively, Black used his length to disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers for the Heels, but he still has to work to do in terms of footwork, especially when having to guard smaller, quicker guards.
That being said, I presume Black will continue developing and become a key cog for the Heels this season. Although he’s comfortable playing point guard, the presence of Love and Davis should allow Black to spend more time on the wing where he can more effectively exploit his size. He needs to improve his shooting at least enough to keep defenses honest but I think his biggest areas of focus offensively need to be mid-range/floaters and finishing around the rim. How big of a leap Black makes this season could be a big determinant of whether or not these Heels can be a legitimate contender.
Harris is an energy player whose speed and propensity for running up and down the floor mesh well with Roy Williams’ transition offense. Though he’s not necessarily known for his outside shooting, he did manage to knock down some timely threes for the Heels last year when the team desperately needed shooters. At 6-3, 190 pounds, Harris is extremely athletic and has the potential to be an elite lockdown defender in his career at UNC. It’s unlikely that he’ll be asked to do a whole a lot scoring-wise, but his intangibles make him a valuable asset for this team, especially given the question marks at both the guard and wing positions.
Harris’s aforementioned ACL injury occurred on December 30th. While he’s been optimistic about the rehab process, the odds of him suiting up for the Heels’ opening game against College of Charleston on November 25th are unlikely. It’s still unclear when exactly they can expect to have him back, but with some tough non-conference games early, hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later. Whenever he does make his way into the lineup, I expect Harris will find a significant role within the team.
I’m sure all of Tar Heel Nation was excited upon hearing the news that Cam Johnson’s younger brother, Donovan “Puff” Johnson, had committed to UNC. At 6-7, 185 pounds, Johnson has great length and a smooth stroke, similar to his brother. He’s not terribly explosive nor is he necessarily a crafty ball-handler, but he’s smart with the ball and possesses a nice floater/mid-range game. Defensively, Johnson is still a work-in-progress but his size lets him mask some of those holes.
It’s difficult to know what kind of role Johnson will have this season as he’ll be battling with some other talented freshmen for playing time. Johnson can help his case for more minutes by coming in and knocking down shots early, as it still remains to be seen who this team’s primary shotmakers will be. Regardless of how extensively he’s used as a freshman, Johnson projects to be a solid three or four-year player for the Heels.
Walton is similar to Johnson in some ways. Three-point shooting is a primary strength of his as he’s reliable off the catch when he can get his feet set. At 6-5, 200 pounds, Walton doesn’t have the same length as Johnson, but he’s stronger and a little more physically ready for the college game. He’s not known for shot-creation but can be effective as a straight-line driver and possesses a solid mid-range game.
Walton was a four-star and the 124th-ranked player in the country according to 247sports composite rankings. He was the final player to commit for the Tar Heels’ 2020 class. Though he may not be the most impactful player in this class, his addition gives the Heels some much-needed depth at wing. As I mentioned with Johnson, we still don’t have a great idea of how this rotation will shake out. It’s unlikely Walton will be anything more than a role player this season, but he’ll have his opportunities to carve out playing time.