Brice Johnson was a consensus first-team All-American in his senior year, becoming a co-captain and all-around leader for a UNC team that made it to the NCAA title game. But after being drafted No. 25 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2016, Johnson hasn’t made the same impact he did in college.
In his rookie season, the Orangeburg, S.C., native suffered a herniated disk that led to a year spent mostly on the Clippers’ G-League affiliate team. Johnson ended up playing only three games for the Clippers last season and has played in five of the Clippers’ 13 games this season.
This lack of playing time may be the cause of Johnson’s progress in his professional play. In his only preseason game with more than 12 minutes, the power forward put up a double-double — 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block — in a 111-104 loss to the Lakers.
And in this year’s summer league (where he got plenty of playing time), a healthy Johnson acted as a leader for the Clippers’ summer league team. He averaged 24 minutes per game, 14.4 points per game and shot 57.7 percent.
If Johnson can find the playing time he did at UNC, and remain healthy, he may be able to make some major front court contributions behind big men, such as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Another UNC-CH star that hasn’t made a smooth transition to professional basketball is Johnson’s former teammate, Kennedy Meeks. The former Tar Heel went undrafted in this season’s NBA draft and ended up getting signed by the Toronto Raptors for their Summer League team and for training camp. Meeks was waived by the Raptors and is now with their G-League affiliate, Raptors 905.
Like Johnson, there’s still good news for Meeks this season; for the 905 Raptors, the center is averaging 28.9 minutes, 11.2 points and 9.4 rebounds through five games. Also, Meeks was just named to 2017 USA Basketball AmeriCup Team, headed by coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Unlike his two former teammates, Justin Jackson has been getting good time for his new team, the Sacramento Kings. After being drafted No. 15 overall this season, Jackson has started five and played in all 13 games this season, and he's averaging 20.5 minutes and 7.1 points per game.
Recently, the former national champion has entered a hot streak, putting up double-digit points in two of his last four games.
So far, his stand-out performance has been in the Kings 109-108 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Jackson dropped 19 points, going 7 for 12 from the field (2-4 behind the arc) in 30 minutes of play.