Last week, we kicked off our summer basketball previews with incoming freshman Jalen Washington. After battling multiple serious injuries throughout high school, Washington is currently fighting just to get back on the court. However, based on what we’ve seen from a healthy Washington, the potential is certainly there to make an impact right away. A link to Washington’s preview can be found below and I’ll continue to include a link to all past previews.
This time around, we’ll be taking a closer look at another rookie, Tyler Nickel, and how he fits in with the 2022-2023 Tar Heels. Coming in at #76 on 247sports composite rankings, Nickel is the least touted recruit of the Tar Heels’ 15th ranked 2022 recruiting class. However, as we’ve seen countless times before, rankings don’t necessarily dictate who sees the floor.
With the Heels returning four of five starters from a team that really only played six guys during the final stretch of the season, carving out minutes will be difficult for any newcomer. Most likely one of Puff Johnson or Dontrez Styles will slide into that open starting slot while the other will provide significant minutes off the bench, with guys like Justin McKoy and D’Marco Dunn sure to get some burn as well. The rotation will almost certainly be tightened come February and March, but guys like Nickel will have their chances to prove they belong early in the season.
At 6-8, 210 pounds, Nickel can best be described as a bucket-getter. Hailing from Elkton, Virginia, he averaged 33.7 and 34.7 points, respectively, while shooting above 50% from the field in his final two years at East Rockingham. He also averaged 9.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks across those two seasons.
Although Nickel’s competition wasn’t exactly elite, there’s no question about his ability to score at all three levels. He has a tremendous shooting touch and finds ways to get his shot off despite not being a crazy athlete. Notching 41% from deep as a senior, he figures to be a legitimate threat from outside. That being said, replicating those types of numbers at the college level is easier said than done.
Nickel’s solid ball handling, especially for his size, makes him a tremendous long-term fit in the Carolina system. He’s a heady player who sees the floor well and can make the open pass when it’s there. His length and versatility allow him to comfortably play both the three and four positions. Though he can make plays on that end, the main area he needs to work on is defense.
When it comes to scoring the ball, these Tar Heels shouldn’t have much to worry about. When the lineup really took form down the stretch of last season, Hubert Davis realized that primarily what he needed from his bench was good defense and not turning the ball over. We saw that play out with Kerwin Walton, who led the team in three point percentage as a freshman, only to see his minutes practically vanish due to defensive woes.
That being said, Tyler Nickel must really improve his defense to have a shot at cracking the rotation this coming season. With guys like Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, Leaky Black, and Armando Bacot presumably getting even better over the offseason, there will be little margin of error for the Heels’ bench. Nickel is a tough and physical kid, though, so it will be interesting to see if he can set himself apart in the eyes of the coaching staff.