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Heel Tough Blog: Recapping Carolina's Rookies' First Season in the NBA

Last summer was a big one for Carolina Basketball, as they had three first round selections in the NBA Draft for the first time since 2012, when they had 4 players go in the first round. Coby White was the first to go, as the Bulls picked him at 7, making White the second Tar Heel the Bulls franchise selected to help turn the franchise around. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the other. Cam Johnson might’ve been the biggest surprise of the night, as Phoenix made the sharpshooter from Moon Township,PA a lottery selection. Lastly Nassir Little, the player we thought would be the first Tar Heel taken in the draft at the beginning of the college basketball season, found him home in Portland after being selected 25th overall. All 3 of the former Tar Heels had achieved their lifelong dream of making it to the NBA, and all were going to be in unique situations one way or another. As the regular season for the NBA has come to an end in the bubble in Orlando, here’s how they fared in their first season in the Association.

Coby White: The Bulls are clearly in a rebuild mode, which meant Coby was going to have a chance to make an impact early on in Chicago, and to no one’s surprise he did just that. Appearing in 65 games, White averaged 13.2 points per contest, While shooting 39% from the field, and 35% from behind the three point line. White had a stretch of 3 consecutive 30 point games following the All-Star Break,, which really turned everyone’s heads as he was starting to shine despite the issues with coach Jim Boylen, who was fired just yesterday. Not to mention he did that while coming off the bench, making it the first time a rookie reserve had ever done such a feat. HIs career high came against the Thunder, where he dropped 35 points in a losing effort. In the 10 games after the aforementioned All-Star break, White averaged 24.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, all while shooting 40.7% from behind the three point line. After having the struggles any rookie would have in a rebuilding situation, White proved to be a key part of the Bulls organization moving forward.

Bridge of the Sun

Cam Johnson: When the Suns selected the sniper with the 11th pick in the draft, no one exactly knew why. He was 23 years old already, which is very old for a lottery prospect. This was also a team that despite having Devin Booker and De’Andre Ayton was still clearly building for the future. Despite all the questions and doubt surrounding Cam, he just went out and did what he does best, put the ball in the basket. Appearing in 57 games, Johnson averaged 8.8 points, while shooting 44% from the field, and an efficient 39% from behind the three point line. Johnson fit the way the Suns want to play, especially on the offensive end, and made the transition to the NBA smoother than expected, despite missing some time for various reasons. His best game came against the defending champions, the Toronto Raptors where he scored 21 points, on 5 made three pointers in a losing cause. In the bubble, where the Suns went 8-0 and fell just short of the play in series for the 8th seed, Johnson averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2 assists. Phoenix will now enter next year with expectations to be a playoff team, and continue to trend toward the top of the Western Conference. It appears that Cam Johnson will be along for the ride.

Blazer's Edge

Nassir Little: When Little signed his letter of intent to UNC, everyone knew he’d be a one and done player. Even after having a uneven one season in Chapel Hill, he was still going to the NBA, and was going to be a first round selection. His fall all the way to Portland at 25 was a surprise because his upside was supposed to be his best trait to move him up draft boards. Although going to the Blazers, who were coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals wasn’t a bad option either. Little appeared in 48 games in the regular season, and averaged 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in limited action. Little struggled to find consistent minutes at the end of the rotation, and battled some injuries as well, which didn’t help him see the floor. He had a stretch of games, where he scored in double figures in 3 consecutive contests, where he also recorded his only double-double of his career in a loss to the Pelicans. Despite not having the rookie season he wanted to have, or expected to have, it’s not time to give up on Nassir being a quality player in the NBA. After not appearing in any of the 8 games in the bubble, it’s hard to imagine him getting significant minutes if they advance into the playoffs as the 8th seed. We usually see a player grow from his first to second season in the NBA, let's hope that’s the case for Nassir.

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