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UNC Basketball Summer Preview: Puff Johnson

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What kind of role can we expect from the versatile wing in year two?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we talked about Kerwin Walton and the surprising impact he was able to make in his opening season. His three-point shooting effectiveness was unprecedented for a Carolina freshman and a necessity for a team that struggled in that arena. Our next player possesses a similar skill set to Walton and could be poised for a much bigger role this coming season. Thus, to conclude our previews of returning Tar Heels, let’s take a look at Puff Johnson.

Past preview links:

May 30th: Leaky Black

June 6th: Anthony Harris

June 13th: Armando Bacot

June 20th: Caleb Love

June 27th: RJ Davis

July 4th: Kerwin Walton

As a freshman, Johnson averaged 1.1 points and 0.5 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from the field. He played only 4.1 minutes per game and appeared in just 14 contests. He suffered a toe injury in late January that ultimately kept him out for the rest of the season. Although Johnson did manage to knock in his lone three-point attempt in the opener versus College of Charleston, he missed each of his eight attempts thereafter.

Simply put, Johnson did not serve much of an in-game role last season, which was largely to be expected. The injuries and the emergence of Walton only lessened his cause. However, he was a four-star recruit out of high school and ranked 69th overall in his class according to 247sports. At 6’8, 190 pounds, Johnson’s combination of length and shooting ability have coaches excited about his potential.

In a media conference call on January 25th, Roy Williams spoke on Johnson’s health situation while expressing optimism for his future as a Tar Heel:

“Puff has done well and he’s gotten better and better and he’s going to be a really, really good player for us long term,” Williams said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be this year, but he’s going to be a really, really good player. His older brother, Cam, was what you’d call a late developer, late bloomer, and who knows if Puff is going to do that at that level. And he may develop even quicker than Cam did, but he hurt his foot, jammed his toe or something.”

Obviously, Williams is referencing Puff’s brother, Cam Johnson, who spent his final two seasons with Carolina and is currently two games away from helping the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Finals. Similar to Puff, Cam battled injuries during his first year in Chapel Hill. Though he was still effective, it wasn’t until his second year that he really found his groove, putting up 16.9 points a game and notching a ridiculous 45.7% mark from beyond the arc.

Comparing the brothers’ respective seasons in Chapel Hill is a little unfair considering Cam spent his first three years with Pittsburgh. Still, that doesn’t mean Puff can’t make a similar, if not better, leap in his second stint. In other words, I expect Puff to average far more than 1.1 points this coming season.

With that being said, how will Puff fit in with the Tar Heels’ current roster? With the addition of Marquette’s Dawson Garcia, they now have multiple big dudes who’ve proven they can step out and hit the three. Moreover, the backcourt seems relatively set with Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, RJ Davis, and Anthony Harris all returning. Throw in freshman wings Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn and things could get a little crowded.

Johnson will presumably be higher than the freshmen in the pecking order, at least to start. One player to watch as it pertains to Johnson will be Leaky Black. Both Black and Johnson are guard-type players that possess the length to play the four spot. Although Black has done some nice things as a playmaker from that position, he hasn’t been able to stretch the floor, which is typically crucial when giving up the size of a conventional big. Given Hubert Davis’ emphasis on shooting and spacing, it’ll be interesting to see if Johnson can carve out that role for himself by proving he can knock down open shots.