The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday February 25th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Three former UNC basketball players shine in NBA bubble

UNC guard Cameron Johnson celebrates after a play during the game against Gonzaga in the Dean Dome on Saturday night. UNC won 103 - 90.
Buy Photos UNC guard Cameron Johnson celebrates after a play during the game against Gonzaga in the Dean Dome on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

In some ways, the NBA restart came with disappointment for fans of North Carolina basketball. 

Fan favorite and eventual member of the 2020 NBA All-Rookie Second Team, Coby White, did not participate in the NBA bubble as his Chicago Bulls had already been eliminated from playoff contention when the season came to a halt in March. 

Another beloved Tar Heel, Vince Carter, retired at the time of the season’s stoppage as his Atlanta Hawks were in a similar situation as the Bulls. 

These absences notwithstanding, there were still a handful of UNC alumni competing in the NBA bubble, where regular season and playoff games took place from late July until October for the first time in league history.  

Cam Johnson

Despite their undefeated record in the NBA bubble, the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs. However, Cam Johnson’s play during this stretch was far from disappointing. 

Entering his last game in the bubble, Johnson had averaged 13.0 points in 32.7 minutes per game for Phoenix after the NBA restart, starting eight games during the Sun’s unbeaten run. The sharpshooter earned his first NBA double-double on Aug. 2, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a two-point victory over the Dallas Mavericks. 

The forward should feel gratified by his performance in the bubble, especially since many pundits questioned the Suns decision to draft him with the 11th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Johnson’s efforts may not have been enough to earn a spot on either of the NBA All-Rookie Teams, but he did earn three second team votes. This amounts to three more votes than former Duke forward Cam Reddish received, who was drafted one selection before Johnson.

Harrison Barnes

While the Sacramento Kings went 3-5 and missed the playoffs, Barnes put up the best scoring numbers of the Tar Heels who participated in the NBA restart. Barnes averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds as the Kings’ starting small forward.

Barnes was the only Tar Heel to crack 20 points in the NBA bubble, doing so on three occasions. His most impressive performance came on Aug. 11 when he scored his personal bubble-high: 25 points in a six-point victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Off the court, Barnes was granted the NBA Community Assist Award for his efforts in combating the issue of food insecurity by donating $40,000 worth of meals to families affected by COVID-19. For winning the award, the NBA will make a $10,000 donation to the African American Policy Forum, the organization of Barnes’ choosing.

Danny Green

The most notable Tar Heel in the NBA bubble has been Danny Green, a member of the Los Angeles Lakers squad that is currently one game away from winning the 17th NBA championship in team history. Green himself is vying for his third ring with as many teams, fourth if you count the National Championship ring he won in 2009 with UNC. 

Green has started all of the games he has participated in this season, including the NBA restart, as well as all of the NBA Finals games through game four. The shooting guard is a vital member of the squad who supplements LeBron James’ playmaking ability with his marksmanship from beyond the arc. 

Green has averaged 6.5 points and 1.5 steals per game in the NBA Finals, with the Lakers up three games to one on the Miami Heat. Keep an eye on Green to be critical in closing out the series, as he might find himself with open shots with James and Anthony Davis frequently double-teamed.

While the NBA restart overjoyed fans, the requirements of the bubble made for some unusual changes for the players within it, forcing them away from their families for the majority of the time spent there. 

The success of Green, Barnes and Johnson was impressive under stringent conditions, and an NBA Championship for Green would be well-deserved icing on the cake. 

@WackettDeven 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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