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NBA Tar Heels Roundup: First week action

Several UNC alumni made an impact in their first few games this season

NBA: Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is underway, and after a full week of action, some trends are starting to take shape around the league. This, of course, includes those involving our professional Heels, several of whom either hit personal milestones or made national headlines. Starting with a couple of the league’s most high-profile Tar Heels this year,

Sacramento Kings:

The Kings feature UNC’s oldest NBA player and one of its youngest in Vince Carter and Justin Jackson. respectively. Carter has been doing exactly what he was brought on to do, providing veteran leadership and a steadying presence in the backcourt. Through 5 games, playing just 10 minutes a game, he has a 4:1 assist to turnover ratio to go with a 45.5% 3-point percentage (granted, the sample size is 11 shots). He has not been making mistakes on the floor. While the Kings, still figuring out all their youth, have won just 1 game out of 5, look for Carter to help get that talent sorted out sooner rather than later.

Jackson turned some heads by entering the starting lineup right away for the Kings. He has averaged 18 minutes per game as the Kings have rotated heavily along the wing, but starting immediately is a big deal. Jackson struggled to make much of an impact in his first few games as a professional, scoring just 12 points on 5-14 shooting in his first three appearances and giving up 3 turnovers to no assists. In the Kings’ last two games, though, he has picked up the pace, with 17 points on 10 shots (2/4 from three-point range), an even AST:TO, and 2 rebounds. He is starting to look more comfortable as an NBA player, and should establish a consistent rhythm, as he so often does, relatively soon. Concerns about his outside jumper being a one-year wonder have been allayed, as he has shot a respectable 4/11 (36.4%) so far this season.

Carter’s first game highlights are in the video below, including an assist to Jackson for three.

Miami Heat:

Wayne Ellington has had an extremely volatile four games. In the Heat’s first game, he struggled, making just 1 of his 5 field goal attempts and playing just 10 minutes in a loss to Orlando. After that, though, he settled down. He scored 8 points in 15 minutes on 3/8 shooting (2/6 from three) in the Heat’s win against the Pacers, and then against Atlanta, well...

Yup. Six. Threes. In a quarter. He finished that game with 20 points in 25 minutes, adding 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal. After this performance propelled Miami to the win against Atlanta, he inexplicably only played 6 minutes as Miami lost to the San Antonio Spurs. So far, when Ellington plays more minutes, Miami wins. Hopefully Erik Spoelstra figures this out.

San Antonio Spurs:

UNC’s most firmly entrenched product in the NBA has had an excellent start to the season. Danny Green is playing 30 minutes a game with Kawhi Leonard starting the season sidelined due to injury, and making the most of his opportunity by putting up a very Green-like 12.2/4.6/1.6/1.6/1 average (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals) statline on 46% shooting (41% from deep). His best game came against Toronto, where he went 6/15 (3/8 from beyond the arc) for 17 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and blocked 5 shots. He has stepped up for the best defensive player in the NBA and filled in admirably. When Leonard returns, Green’s role will probably decrease slightly, but there is no questioning his value to the Spurs. The game against Toronto is below.

Charlotte Hornets:

Marvin Williams has retained his starting spot, and after a slow and off-target start to the season, seems to be picking up his play with the threat of Frank Kaminsky’s red-hot start threatening to decrease Williams’ minutes. After going 2/8 from deep in his first 2 games, he has made 4 of his last 9. He has not been good from inside the arc, but as long as he can stretch the floor and play defense, he is playing his part.

Marcus Paige saw his first NBA action in garbage time for the Hornets against the Denver Nuggets. He failed to make a shot, but did grab two rebounds, and most importantly, looked at home among NBA players. He may not match up in size, but as a floor general, he fit right in.

Milwaukee Bucks:

John Henson, to nobody’s surprise, has 7 blocks in 5 games, putting both himself and Danny Green in the NBA’s top 20 for that statistic. Henson is making an impact every time he’s on the court, grabbing 5 rebounds a game with a 15-minute average. He is not scoring much, but that’s not his job. He has been very efficient, though, with a 63.6% field goal percentage and a (gasp!) 62.5% mark from the charity stripe. If he continues playing like this, there’s a good chance he emerges as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s most effective frontcourt partner.

Portland Trail Blazers:

Ed Davis has had a solid start to the season, marred by his last outing, where he came up empty on 7 shots in his team’s loss to the LA Clippers. He did grab 10 rebounds, though. He earned a double-double in the previous game, though, with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes, and he seems to have a role as a primary rotation player in Portland.

Dallas Mavericks:

While Danny Green is the NBA’s most firmly entrenched Tar Heel right now, Harrison Barnes is probably the Heels’ biggest star after a breakout year in Dallas last season. So far this year, he’s shown that it was no fluke, leading the Mavericks so far this season with 17 points per game. While the Mavericks’ offense has the ability to fix itself now with its injection of talent over the offseason, it hasn’t really happened so far, as Barnes’ efficiency has not been very good and his usage has still been extremely high. As the young point guards start to learn the system, though, look for Barnes to really take off. We remember what he could do when he had Kendall Marshall setting him up.

Others:

  • Brandan Wright, after playing well against New Orleans in Memphis’ season opener with 10 points and 4 rebounds in 27 minutes, hasn’t played more than 12 minutes in a game since then and has struggled to make an impact. NBA coaches are hard to figure out sometimes.
  • Brice Johnson has seen sparing minutes as Blake Griffin has quietly put up an MVP-caliber start to the season. The Los Angeles Clippers can’t maintain this level of usage for Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, though, and Brice’s time will come soon.
  • Tony Bradley has not played yet for the Utah Jazz, who knew he was going to be a bit of a project when they drafted him.
  • Reggie Bullock will return to action after being suspended for the first five games of the season. The Detroit Pistons’ wing situation will be interesting, with Bullock, Luke Kennard, and Langston Galloway all jockeying for minutes behind Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson. Bullock is the longest player, best defender and most proven NBA shooter among the three right now, but he does not offer as much off the dribble as the other two. Depending on what Stan Van Gundy decides he wants out of his primary backup wing, Bullock may or may not see big minutes in coming games.

Hopefully, as the season continues, all of these players will find their rhythm within the teams they’re playing for. We wish them all the best.