Is this anyone else’s favorite time of the year? The only competitor might be late March, when the Heels still have hopes of playing into April, but nevertheless between the NFL, NCAA football, the World Series, the start of the NHL season, and now the return of the NBA, there is never a dull moment for us sports fanatics in this late October window. While former Tar Heels are found currently participating in nearly all of these sports and events, the highest concentration may be in the NBA, whose season kicked off on Tuesday. With these pro teams getting the year underway, we can watch a handful of Carolina alums making their mark in different ways. Let’s take a look at the former Heels in the NBA, and talk about what might be in store for their respective upcoming seasons.
Cole Anthony (Orlando Magic):
Entering year four in the NBA, Cole has been a quality role player who is still finding his place amongst a young Magic roster. Mainly coming off the bench in his career, Cole has been highly efficient when his name has been called. Shooting 45.4% from the field and averaging 13 PPG last season, he has the opportunity to make a case for that starting PG spot and ensure a more prominent role on a team with growing expectations.
Cole still shows off that athletic freakiness from time to time, and has truly matured and settled down his game since his time at Carolina, hinting at his success early in his NBA career. The sky is the limit for Cole in his fourth season, and I expect him to continue to show flashes of being an upcoming star in this league.
Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings):
Few have been more consistent and reliable over the last fifteen years than Harrison Barnes. The 2015 NBA Champion is in Sacramento for his twelfth NBA season, once again playing a significant role for a contending squad in the Western Conference. In the Kings opener Wednesday night, Barnes scored 33 points on 11/16 shooting and reminded everyone that he can still compete at the highest of levels.
I expect Harrison to play a pivotal part in a high-powered offense and continue his streak of nine consecutive seasons averaging double digits. Just when you think too many younger and lengthier players are taking over the league, Harrison Barnes continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for NBA squads.
Reggie Bullock (Houston Rockets):
Another NBA veteran and long-time glue guy who has continued to succeed on contending teams makes his way to Houston in his eleventh season. The second-oldest Tar Heel in the pros seems to bring a different asset to each team he joins, so it will be interesting to see how he makes an impact alongside rising stars Jalen Green and Jabari Smith.
Reggie saw just 11 minutes in his Rockets debut on Wednesday. While it’s early, I find it hard to expect he will heavily exceed his career averages as an older presence on a young and struggling team, but we will see. He seems always to find a way to make an impact.
Danny Green (Philadelphia 76ers):
After just inking a deal in early September, Danny Green returns for another go with Philadelphia as they compete for a title once again. As many are well aware, it does not get more experienced than Danny Green. 3 NBA Championships and 7 different teams just screams NBA veteran and is a testament to his complete career.
It will be interesting to learn how the all-time sharpshooter is used in Philadelphia when they tip off their season shorty. The 36-year-old has dealt with injuries and role concerns over the last couple of years, so we will have to wait and see if he can bounce back in his fifteenth season.
Cameron Johnson (Brooklyn Nets):
In the past two seasons, Cam Johnson has emerged as one of the most underrated stars in the NBA. The lengthy knockdown shooter comes off a year in which he was traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn, but did not seem to miss a step. Collectively, between the two teams, he shot over 40% from 3 and became a valuable asset on both ends of the court.
Like some other younger Tar Heels we mentioned, the potential and environment are primed for a breakout year. If Cam can continue to shoot anything like he did during his time in Chapel Hill, he becomes a guy that is almost impossible to guard or plan for. I am super excited to see how Cam continues to grow in his first full year with the Nets.
Nassir Little (Phoenix Suns):
After spending four years in Portland, Nassir heads to the Suns to try and find a significant role in another title-contending squad. Nas could never really see his role with the Trail Blazers and had up-and-down stat lines and production.
As we saw in Chapel Hill, Nassir Little is an elite athlete and presents raw skills that can be valuable. Hopefully, this fresh start will allow him to reset and work towards being more consistent and complete while still having those fantastic flashes of big dunks and electric blocks.
Day’Ron Sharpe (Brooklyn Nets):
Teaming up with Cam Johnson, Day’Ron will be in his third year in the NBA and looks to continue to build on his recent emergence. As someone who started his career significantly under the radar, he has quietly become an important big man off the bench for Brooklyn, who at times, ate up some crucial minutes last year.
It is unsure how the Nets plan to use Day’Ron, but just like some of these other guys, the size and ability are there, and you hope he gets his shot and can work his way into the everyday rotation.
Coby White (Chicago Bulls):
Welcome to year five of all of us asking to free Coby White. Coby is now in his fifth year in Chicago, and has never truly been given the keys to an offense with a lot of widespread talent. He has been a crucial player for the Bulls in his career, being a spark off the bench and someone they trust to start. It just feels like their lid on him is still suppressing him from reaching his potential.
When Coby has gotten the minutes, he seems to deliver consistently. He has been an energy bringer for the Bulls, but has also shot the ball reasonably well when opportunities presented themselves. Competing with Ayo Dosunmu, it is a crowded backcourt in Chicago. Still, whether it be there or elsewhere, Coby has shown he has the ability to be a serious impact player. Free him!
Leaky Black (Charlotte Hornets):
The rookie out of Concord, NC, gets his first shot at the league in his home state. How awesome is it to see that? I am pumped for Leaky and hoping he can find a spot in another young Hornets roster.
Reasonably, I do not see Leaky with any impact minutes, especially this early in his career. But with his defensive upside, you never know the type of role player he may develop into.
Good luck to all Tar Heels across the league who are suiting up in the NBA. We are rooting for you!