As we sit in the midst of one of the most depressing Tar Heel seasons in program history, I have some advice for everybody: Go watch some of the former Tar Heels play in the NBA this year. There is much less heartbreak and much less agony in watching.
And while the Tar Heels are getting closer to the ACC Tournament, which might be the end of their season, the Tar Heels in the NBA are getting ready to embark on their unofficial second half of the season.
The recent influx of Tar Heels in the NBA (five guys in the last three years) has given Carolina fans many options on who to watch in the Association. From the guys we just saw on the team last year, to guys on the 2005 national title team, to a guy who played for North Carolina before I was born, there’s no shortage of options.
First, let’s take a look at how the rookies are doing.
- Cameron Johnson’s Suns got off to a hot start, making many people think they could make a playoff run. As the team has cooled off, Johnson continues to play well in a reserve role, scoring 7.7 points per game on 39% shooting from three. He also had a vicious dunk all over JaVale McGee right before the break. Look for Johnson’s minutes to increase as the Suns continue to fade from the Western Conference playoff picture.
- Oh what we would all give to have Coby White on this year’s team **sigh**. Coby continues to come off the bench for the Bulls, who are seemingly stuck in neutral, or even sometimes reverse. White’s rookie season has had plenty of highs, like his 28 point game back in November. But his last ten games before the all-star break were tough on him. He averaged 10.5 points on 31% shooting from the field. He is only averaging 24 minutes per game this year, but the Bulls could increase his minutes in hopes of finding out what they have in him before the offseason and draft.
- Nassir Little’s Trail Blazers have been one of the bigger disappointments in the NBA this year, struggling to get any traction due to injuries throughout the year. Now Little is battling injuries of his own. He missed the last five games before the break after an ankle injury, but hopes are that he will be good to go when the team returns. Little was starting to show some form before his injury. In his last five games before the break, he was averaging 7.2 points on 65% shooting from the field and 50% from three. His Blazers were 4-1 in that stretch. Portland seems content bringing him along slowly, so don’t expect him to play 25 minutes per game the rest of the year.
The Role Players & Veterans
- Theo Pinson hasn’t been featured in a big role on the Brooklyn Nets, but he does get some playing time when he is called up with the team. He’s played in 28 games, averaging four points, two rebounds and two assists in 12 minutes per game. He has also spent some time in the G-League, averaging 15 points in nine games with Long Island.
- As for Justin Jackson, he continues to be a key bench player for the Dallas Mavericks. He's averaging 16 minutes per game, while scoring six points per game on 39% shooting. He’s been a beneficiary of Luka Doncic’s passing ability when Luka is healthy.
- Ed Davis has struggled to stay on the court for the Utah Jazz. Between injuries and just DNP-Coaches decision, Davis has only played in 25 games for the Jazz. His teammate, Tony Bradley, has had much better luck finding the court. He’s played in 41 games, averaging four points for the Jazz.
- John Henson was the only Tar Heel to be traded at the trade deadline this year. Henson was traded from Cleveland, which normally would be exciting, until you find out you are going to Detroit. Henson was a piece of the Andre Drummond deal, but will have a say in where he goes as a free agent this offseason. He is averaging five points in 32 games for Cleveland and Detroit this year.
- You almost have to feel bad for the Tar Heel duo of Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock who are both on the New York Knicks right now. Bullock missed the first 33 games of the season, but has since come back and played well for the Knicks, averaging 10 points on 40% shooting. Ellington has been on the opposite schedule as Bullock, having played in a majority of the games early, but hasn’t been on the court as much recently. He has only played 10 games since Christmas, but is still every bit the sharpshooter, knocking down 42% of his three-pointers.
- Harrison Barnes is making waves in Sacramento, but not on the court. Barnes has played well this season, putting up 14.5 points on 45% shooting. But the real Harrison Barnes news is that he recently came out and said he will not cut his hair or shave until the Kings have a .500 winning percentage or the season ends. For reference, the Kings are 12 games below .500 with 28 games to go, which means they would have to finish 20-8. Sounds like Barnes will have a gnarly beard come April 15th!
- I know I wasn’t the only one disappointed to see Vince Carter wasn’t in the dunk contest this weekend. He could still win the whole thing. Carter has been relegated to pretty much a mentor role in Atlanta, but has still played in 49 games for the Hawks. Not to make anybody feel old, but Carter recently became the first NBA player to play in four different decades (90’s, 00’s, 10’s, 20’s). But this is his last year, which means he won’t get that fifth decade to add.
- Danny Green is one of two Tar Heels who have a realistic chance at winning an NBA title this year. Green has been in a starting role for the Lakers since the first game, and he’s only missed one game. His performance on the court hasn’t been quite what it was last year after seeing his three-point percentage drop nearly eight points. He’s still averaging 8.6 points on 37% from three, but most importantly, he brings great defense to the Lakers, who have one of the best defenses in the league.
- Marvin Williams underwent a crazy twist of fate right after the trade deadline. He was only the Hornets up until the day after the deadline, when he was bought out by Charlotte and was given the choice to choose where to play. He chose Milwaukee, where he will have a great chance to win a ring. His Bucks are on a 70-win pace right now, which is clearly in the pantheon of all-time great teams. He only played one game for Milwaukee before the break, but scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds.
There is plenty to watch in the NBA if you are a Tar Heel fan who is depressed and needs to get their mind off this season’s disappointments. Who knows, there might even be a Tar Heel who hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June this year.