Last week we took a look at the Tar Heels front-court, and the role they are going to have in the 2020-21 season, which is a week away. Now we turn our attention to the back-court, which Carolina needs much improved play from a season ago. Cole Anthony’s numbers last year weren’t bad, but his inefficient play was a reason Carolina struggled, going 14-19 in 2019-20. The freshman sensation, and Brandon Robinson. Both double digit scorers in a frustrating season are both gone. Add in the departure of grad transfer Christian Keeling, along with the transfer of Jeremiah Francis, and that means Carolina is going to be very young in the back-court, with the exceptions of role players like Andrew Platek and K.J. “Baby Jet” Smith”.
Roy Williams knew that Carolina was going to reload their back-court after the 2019-20 season, which is why him, and the staff hit the recruiting trail hard. Thankfully their hard work was rewarded, landing four players in the top 100 of the latest recruiting cycle. Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, Donovan “Puff” Johnson, and Kerwin Walton are the four highly sought after players that Williams landed, and all will be counted on in some way to produce this season.
It has been a good bit since the Tar Heels were very young in the back-court, and the results have been mixed. This season will feel a lot like the 2007-08 year, where Carolina started freshmen in Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington. That team made the Elite Eight. In 2010-11, Kendall Marshall started at point guard, and that team also made the Elite Eight. In the year Marcus Paige started as a rookie, Carolina lost in the Round of 32. So Carolina being young doesn’t mean that Carolina can’t compete, both in the ACC and nationally. But we need to keep in mind that with COVID-19, they haven’t had the normal off-season to prepare, and that there will be inconsistent play at times. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the guys that’ll makeup the Tar Heel back-court this season.
Andrew Platek (3.9 PTS, 37% FG, 23% 3FG in 2019):
Whether Tar Heel fans like it or not, Platek is going to have a role on this team, a much bigger role than he probably expected going into 2020-21. There are rumors coming out of Chapel Hill that Platek will have to start, at least until Anthony Harris has fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered last year. The good news is that Platek gained a lot of experience last year, as injuries forced him to be on the court more than his first two seasons on campus. The bad news is that he wasn’t all that effective when on the floor. Platek plays hard, but that only goes so far. There were times last year when he was simply a liability when on the court. That can’t happen again this season. He needs to become a much more consistent spot up shooter, and take advantage of the opportunities given to him. If not, he can be replaced by one of the incoming freshmen.
Anthony Harris (6.8 PTS, 55%, 53% 3FG in 2019:)
Harris was a bright spot for the Tar Heels during the month of December, before suffering an ACL injury in the final game of 2019 against Yale. Harris brought instant energy, and offense to a team that desperately needed it at the time, and looked to be a promising piece moving forward. Harris excels at getting to the basket off the dribble, can finish at the rim, and can shoot the long ball very effectively. COVID has put a damper on his recovery from the ACL injury, which is why he won’t be ready to play once the season tips off, despite the start being delayed by 2 weeks. Once he is cleared to play, Harris will be a big part of the Tar Heels one way or another.
K.J. Smith (0.9 PTS, 25%, 88% FT in 2019):
A lot like Platek, Smith will have a role on this team, particularly early on. While is a limited player, he does the things he’s asked to do. He can run the offense, and get the defense set on the other end. With him being a member of the “Blue Squad” his presence brings instant energy into the lineup, and to the fans in the stands. It also doesn’t hurt that he is the son of former Tar Heel All-American Kenny “The Jet” Smith. While his role may vary as the young players gain more experience, don’t be shocked to see Smith on the court early and often.
Love was the prize recruit of the loaded class Roy Williams brought in for this season, and rightfully so. Love, a former 5 star prospect from Missouri, has been considered an ideal fit for Carolina, and an immediate upgrade over Cole Anthony. He excels at pushing the ball in transition (a Carolina staple), getting to the rim, and has the ability to distribute like a natural floor leader. Keep in mind that there will be growing pains, as sensational as Coby White he had them, but Love is poised to lead the Carolina attack in a big way this season.
The combo guard from New York, is going to be a piece that Roy Williams will build around both now, and in the future. Davis has the ability to both handle the ball, and play off the ball. With limited depth at the point guard position, Davis’ will likely be called upon to run the show for small amounts of time, luckily he is more than capable of doing so. He’s going to feel more comfortable running around screens, and coming off screens to get into his offensive arsenal. Davis is the player most ready to challenge Platek for a spot in the starting rotation, but upon the return of Harris from injury he will be mostly used as a bench piece this season.
Donovan “Puff” Johnson:
The brother of former Tar Heel and current Phoenix Sun, Cameron Johnson, may not be a big contributor this season, but will be given a chance to play if he earns the right to be on the court. A lot like his older brother, Puff is a lengthy guy that can shoot the three as good as anyone in the last recruiting cycle. When it comes to how much time Puff plays, it starts on the defensive end. Roy Williams isn’t going to allow him to be on the court much if he’s a liability defensively for Carolina. Puff will need to put on weight to handle some of the bigger perimeter players he’ll see in the ACC, but his length allows him to be a force on that end of the floor. Regardless, he’ll be a big time player for the Tar Heels in the coming years.
If his play is anything like his recruitment, Walton will be an exciting, and frustrating player during his time in Chapel Hill. Early returns are that he is not ready to be on the court for long periods of time, as like most young players, he’s behind on the defensive end of the floor. Walton displays the ability to put the ball in the basket in a variety of different ways, and once Williams’ is comfortable with having him on the floor for extended periods of time, he’ll do just that. When I stress having patience with young players, Walton is one of the young guys that a shortened off-season affected in a negative way. Whatever he gives the Tar Heels this year will be a bonus, as we’re looking for him to be around for a couple of seasons.
Lebo is the fourth legacy player on the roster, joining Walker Miller, Ryan McAdoo and Puff Johnson. Lebo arrived in Chapel Hill as a preferred walk-on, fulfilling his dream of putting on the North Carolina uniform. Don’t expect the same success from Lebo, that we got from Luke Maye who was once a preferred walk-on player as well.