This is a debate that I think will spark a lot of interest heading into the season. When you look at this year’s North Carolina roster, you see a lot of height, which is something that’s been relevant for Roy Williams during his tenure at UNC, but never has he had this much depth on the low block before. When minutes get divided up and rotations begin to take shape this November, two of Roy’s star power forwards will likely be going head to head for some of the spotlight.
Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks are similar players. They both are tall, at around 6-8, with tons of spring and athleticism. Both run the floor well and can finish at the rim in traffic with a high level of success. If you had to pick their games apart and compare them, you’d probably come to the conclusion that Johnson has a more polished offensive game while Hicks comes in with the reputation of being a block artist and defensive nightmare for opponents. Then again, it’s unfair to judge these two just yet because Hicks has yet to play a minute of a collegiate game.
Both of these players are certain to play and should both be able to contribute, but how will Roy be able to utilize both in order to gain maximum production without both of them stepping on each other’s toes or cutting into other guy’s growth by taking away too many minutes. With neither player being a true “center” like Joel James or freshman Kennedy Meeks are considered to be, it leaves them in a tough spot with a guy like James Michael McAdoo firmly ahead of them at the power forward spot.
I talked about Brice’s offensive game earlier and how polished it was. Johnson never really lit up scoreboards during his freshman year, but he certainly was a threat to put the ball in the basket every time he touched it. This summer, Brice has shown a lot of versatility in his offensive game that we never really saw a year ago. He’s showing that he can consistently hit mid-range shots and occasionally even one from outside. Joel James also praised his teammate’s ability to handle the ball and bring it up the floor. Neither of those things were part of his game last season. Perhaps with Johnson showing some versatility offensively and with a stacked front court and equally as thin back court, we may see Brice slide out to the small forward position in order to help compensate which is something I’m not sure Hicks can come in and do right away.
However, Isaiah Hicks can score too. And don’t you forget it. This is the same guy that dropped 34 points in his high school state championship game. While I don’t believe Hicks has the range that Brice has or a solid comfort level to shoot the ball away from the basket on a regular basis, he does do something extremely well to make up for it. Hustle. Roy loves players that constantly move and never quit on the play. Hicks is going to provide a lot of that effort that is so often rewarded with minutes on the floor. I suspect most of Isaiah’s point production will come from the “hustle points” whether it be in transition or off put backs and not as much in the half court.
Defensively, both players have the ability to block shots, but even out of high school, Hicks is on another level completely from Brice Johnson, who at times was really caught flat footed on the defensive end last year. I think Brice’s minutes will increase dramatically if he can prove himself on D, but if he struggles guarding his man or plays lackadaisically, he’ll lose time to a guy like Hicks.
I think it’ll be very interesting to see how Roy handles the depth and rotations this season, but specifically with these two highly gifted forwards. I’m excited to see how much Brice has improved and what Isaiah can bring to the team right away. Both players will make positive impacts, but will certainly have to compete with each other to do so.