After forming the “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, to complete last year's season, the NBA's 2020-21 season has kicked off mostly without incident. As a degree of normalcy returns to professional basketball, many former Tar Heels continue to impress leading up to this season's All-Star break.
Between his injury-riddled one-and-done season at North Carolina and his status as a No. 15 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, there was some doubt about how well Cole Anthony would perform in his first NBA season with the Orlando Magic.
Although Anthony’s first season with the Magic has been compromised by a recent rib fracture, the former Tar Heel has had a strong rookie campaign. Before his injury, Anthony was averaging 11 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in an average of 26.7 minutes per game, placing him among the top-ranked rookies competing this season.
Anthony's court awareness and unwavering versatility make him a force to be reckoned with — and a notable component of the Magic’s lineup.
Perhaps Anthony’s most remarkable moment of regular-season play came in January, when he called game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. As a result of Anthony’s clutch play, the Magic claimed a 97-96 win.
Anthony’s rib fracture is expected to keep him out of the game until at least the end of the All-Star break, but his early results are promising as he continues on his rookie campaign.
The Chicago Bulls experienced a rocky start to their season, but Coby White’s consistent performances have contributed immensely to the team's growing success in recent months.
After a solid rookie season, White has remained a consistent scorer for the Bulls in his sophomore campaign. The guard has an innate finishing ability, shooting 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from deep and nearly 90 percent from the foul line.
In addition to his impressive scoring performance, White stuffs the stat sheet, averaging 5.1 rebounds and five assists in addition to his 16.2 points per game — the third-highest number of average assists among second-year NBA players.
White’s most notable performance this season came in the Bulls’ matchup against Anthony's Magic in February. Despite the Bulls’ loss, White scored 36 points, shooting 15-for-23 from the field and 4-for-9 from 3-point range. During this game, White reached the 1,000-point mark of his NBA career, becoming the 10th Bulls player to reach this milestone in 74 or fewer games.
The Bulls are just under .500 on the season and will be hungry for more wins once the All-Star break finishes up.
Aleksej Pokusevski’s assignment to the NBA G League opened up major opportunities for former Tar Heel Justin Jackson during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even with those chances, though, he hasn't shown much improvement from previous seasons, averaging 6.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Jackson entered the starting lineup in mid-February and had two breakout performances, scoring 20 points and 22 points in consecutive games against the Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks, respectively. Between these two games, Jackson went 7-for-9 from behind the arc. But that hot start didn't last forever, as Jackson has failed to score more than six points in each of his last nine games.
The Thunder are still near the bottom of Western Conference standings, and solid performances from Jackson could help the team build momentum as it continues to face a dangerous Western Conference slate. While Jackson has the potential to grow into a key part of the Thunder’s future, they need solid play from him now.
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