NBA fans, welcome to the bubble era.
In what is sure to be one of the strangest finishes to a season in the league's history, 22 teams have journeyed to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for a chance to compete for the NBA Championship, with the only spectators being their fellow NBA coaches and players and the watchful eyes of Mickey Mouse.
Among the players entering the bubble are a significant number of Tar Heels. Some of them are established veterans, while others are young upstarts with something to prove. Let’s take a look at three of those names and the roles they might play in the NBA's restart.
Following an unusual beginning, Danny Green has had an enviable professional career. After being picked near the middle of the second round in the 2009 NBA Draft, spending time in the G League and serving a stint in the Slovenian basketball league, he found his niche in the league as a three-point shooter and stalwart perimeter defender. His solid play has earned him roles on two championship teams: the 2014 San Antonio Spurs and the 2019 Toronto Raptors.
He now looks set to contend for another one, starting at shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers alongside generational superstars Anthony Davis and LeBron James. This is yet another of Green’s teams that has been full of spectacular talent, with his 2014 title coming alongside NBA legends Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and his 2019 win in Toronto coming thanks to the efforts of Kawhi Leonard.
None of this is to say that Green is simply riding his teammates’ coattails, though. He may not be an All-Star, as he's averaging 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds during his time as a Laker, but he is still an important piece of the team. With the team's starting point guard, defensive specialist Avery Bradley, opting not to return for the NBA restart, Green’s defensive skills — which earned him a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017 — may be more necessary than ever.
The 2019-20 season has not been a good one for Dallas Mavericks small forward Justin Jackson. After spending the 2018-19 season between the Sacramento Kings and Dallas and putting up career numbers in nearly every statistic, his production dropped off this season. Prior to the return, Jackson had averaged 5.7 points on 16 minutes per game.
Most of this can be blamed on the drop in his shooting efficiency. For the first time in his career, Jackson’s 2019-20 field goal percentage dipped below 40 percent, averaging 39.9 percent on 5.4 attempts per game. This drought also extends to his three-point shot, which has dipped below 30 percent for the first time in his career. The forward's production in other avenues has also left something to be desired, as his rebound and assist averages sit at just 2.4 and 0.8, respectively.
Despite this season's drop in production, Jackson is still young and filled with potential. The former 15th overall pick is only four years removed from putting together a stellar campaign during the Tar Heels' 2017 national championship run, during which he earned ACC Player of the Year honors and was named a first-team All-American. Part of the change that helped him grow into the force he was in 2017 was a rise in confidence, as he averaged more field goal attempts per game than any season previously. Though he likely won’t get a starting nod in Orlando over Tim Hardaway Jr., this unusual stretch can certainly be an opportune time to catch fire.
Former Tar Heel and current Kings forward Harrison Barnes announced on Tuesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, with the result coming just days before he was slated to join the bubble in Orlando. As Barnes quarantines in Sacramento, the team will be without him for at least the beginning of the league's restart. For a Kings side that entered at the No. 11 spot of the 13 Western Conference teams invited to the bubble, the absence of a starter and one of Sacramento's few veteran presences will certainly be felt.
Barnes has been a crucial piece for the Kings this season, starting all 64 games at power forward. His 34.9 minutes played per game and 14.7 points per game are good for first and third on the team, respectively, while also averaging 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Barnes was not the only Kings starter to test positive for COVID-19, as the team's second leading scorer Buddy Hield tested positive prior to leaving for Orlando, but has since recovered and joined the team at training camp practices, along with forward Jabari Parker who also tested positive for the virus in late June. Center Alex Len is also out of commission after testing positive for COVID-19. With Barnes’ and Len’s combined scoring averages of 21.3 points per game accounting for nearly a fifth of the Kings’ average offensive output, and a stacked Western Conference to take on, the Kings are going to need Barnes if they hope to make a splash in the bubble.