Key Question: Is Isaiah Hicks better than Brice Johnson?


UNC’s 2014-2015 season had many highlights. In the midst of NCAA allegations and a potential sanction, it is refreshing to consider the breakout season from Isaiah Hicks and Brice Johnson becoming a leader. These two things were critical in Carolina’s success as a team and basketball program. Both players have similarities and differences that raise the question, “Which player is better?”

Before you troll me, lets set the record straight. I am a huge fan of both players. When I saw Johnson player as a freshman at Late Night With Roy in 2013, I knew how good he was and how much better he would be as a veteran player. During Johnson’s freshman year at Carolina, I wrote how he should start in front of James Michael McAdoo; twice. I am also a huge fan of Hicks. His style of play, athleticism and overall toughness make him a favorite.

Now, let’s get to the veggies. My answer to the question of which player is better is “I don’t know.” My answer may come across as the easy way out of this discussion, but this is a loaded question. Whereas Johnson has a finesse style of play, Hicks is a physical player in the low post. Johnson has an array of shots, whereas Hicks relies more on his strength and footwork to score against defenders. Both players are good defenders, although Hicks is stronger in the post. There are pros and cons to both players, yet answering which player is better remains a conundrum.

Some people will look at this question and wonder why it’s being asked. Well, both players are highly skilled players. Both players are Tar Heels. If you love UNC and you are tired of them losing, then this question is one of many questions you will ponder to ease the pain of not winning a championship this past season. The major difference between both players is that Johnson plays more. Due to more minutes on the court, Johnson’s statistics are better than HicksKeep in mind that better stats do not equate to a player being better than another.

The numbers do not lie. The stats show that Hicks averages slightly more than half of Johnson’s minutes. Johnson averaged 23.7 minutes, whereas Hicks played 14.8 minutes per game. Johnson’s 12.9 points was second on the team and his 7.9 rebound average led the Tar Heels last season. Hicks averaged close to half as many points and rebounds as Johnson (6.6 points and 3.0 rebounds).

Judging from the numbers, many people will presume that Johnson is the better player. However, this is not a fair assessment of both players because statistics can be misleading. Numbers do not illustrate how a player’s presence changed the shots of opponents or how UNC’s team become more confident with a particular player on the floor. Although stats may show the amount of minutes each player has, stats do not illustrate how often players were on the floor in critical times of the game. During the Wisconsin game in the Sweet 16, Hicks played 18 minutes. During the stretch, he manned the center position in a small lineup that did not include Johnson during some parts. Does this prove that either player is better than the other? No, though it does prove how important each player is to the team.

Carolina’s best low post tandem is Johnson and Hicks. It might behoove UNC head coach Roy Williams to start both players because of their slightly diverse skills sets. Hicks’ 6-11 wing span and playing ability are key qualities in him being able to play the power forward and center positions. Hicks excels in finishing plays off the break and put-back shots (especially dunks where he posterizes someone).

On the other hand, Johnson is a scoring machine who has gotten better with time like fine wine. His offensive arsenal is one of his strengths. Johnson can back players down, play with his back to the basket or face the basket. He has a nice hook shot, in particular the over-the-shoulder version, that is difficult to guard.

If you cut out the statistics and focus on both players’ abilities, you may presume that neither player usurps the other. When you include the statistics, Johnson looks like the better player because his numbers are more attractive. Remember, numbers don’t lie but they do not tell the complete story. The numbers do not illustrate how often Johnson commits fouls after he gets frustrated with a turnover or a bad call.

Over time, Hicks may become a better player than Johnson because of his low post moves and body frame. Hicks is not a finesse player, whereas Johnson is. On the other hand, Johnson has more offensive moves than Hicks, though Hicks is the tougher player. These qualities may decide how good each player can be as their skills and careers progress.