Has Brice Johnson Finally Turned the Corner with His Consistency?


Keeping It Heel takes a look at Brice Johnson’s consistency over the years by analyzing graphs of his game to game offensive ratings.

Much has been written about Brice Johnson’s consistency. Here are two paragraphs from a column by Nicole Auerbach of USA Today Sports written after Saturday’s win over UCLA titled “The coach rides Brice Johnson. Can North Carolina, too?”

"Paige gave an example of the way Williams rides Johnson hard, perhaps harder than he would a different player. If Johnson makes a great play on the offensive end but turns around and gives up a basket, Williams will not pat him on the back for the offensive play. That kind of pushing — knowing someone is capable of more, so squeezing them until you see it — is what has made Johnson into one of the Tar Heels’ most consistent players this season.That’s not what he was last year; he’d put up monster numbers one night and be a relative non-factor the next. Now, he’s scored in double-digits in every game so far this season, and he’s posted six double-doubles. He set his career-high a game ago against Tulane, then set a new career-high against UCLA."

After another excellent game from Brice Johnson, it is fair to ask… can the questions of Brice Johnson’s consistency finally be put to rest? Has senior Brice Johnson finally conquered his consistency demons?

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

In order to examine this question further, let’s examine it analytically, by looking at Johnson’s game to game play as a Tar Heel. One way to measure performance in single games is a stat called offensive rating, recorded on kenpom.com.

Here is a definition of offensive rating from kenpom.com — “A measure of personal offensive efficiency developed by Dean Oliver. The formula is very complicated, but accurate. For a detailed explanation, buy Basketball on Paper.”

If you aren’t familiar with offensive rating, that’s okay. Just know that the higher your score is, the better. Brice Johnson’s score from the UCLA game was 169, his score from the Tulane game was 128.

By looking at Brice Johnson’s offensive rating in each game over the course of different seasons and his career, we can get a visual representation of Johnson’s game to game consistency.

For example, here is a graph of Johnson’s offensive rating in every single game from the beginning of his sophomore season until the UCLA game Saturday. (Click on each image to enlarge it)
This graph illustrates Johnson’s inconsistency. Let’s take a look at each of his three seasons individually.

Here is Johnson’s offensive rating from his sophomore season. As you can see, even as a sophomore, Johnson showed flashes in a few games of greatness. His 177 offensive rating against Pittsburgh on 3/14/14 came when he scored 16 points on 8-9 shooting. But he also had poor performances, like his 4 point, 1-6 from the field performance against Virginia Tech on 3/1/14 which earned him an offensive rating of 75.

Here is the same chart from Johnson’s junior season.

As you can see, it was more of the same for Johnson. There were less stretches of long inconsistent play, but still a lot of clunkers like on 3/3/15, when Johnson scored 2 points on 1-9 shooting against Georgia Tech. That game, which netted Johnson an offensive rating of 38, came just three games after Johnson dropped 16 points on those same Yellow Jackets on 2/21/15. That kind of swing in game to game performance against the same opponent is why Johnson earned his reputation for being so inconsistent.

This season, though, Johnson hasn’t had any of those consistency struggles, as illustrated by a graph of his offensive ratings in each game this season.

Johnson has been consistently great, especially in his last three games — an offensive rating of 184 against Texas, 128 against Tulane and 169 against UCLA. Also, you can see that this chart differs from the last two in that there are no games with an offensive rating of under 100. Dating back to last season, Johnson has played 13 straight games without recording an offensive rating of below 100. That’s the longest streak of his career. The second longest? The first eight games of his sophomore season.

Another way to measure consistency is by looking at this same data in a histogram. Here are histograms of the same data from Brice Johnson’s last three seasons. (Note the different x, y-axes on the graphs)

Johnson was consistently in the 100-120 range in his sophomore season, but his second most common frequency was 60-80.
In Johnson’s junior season, he had more games with an offensive rating of more than 120, but also had more games with an offensive rating of under 60.
Finally, in his senior season, Johnson is both posting high offensive ratings and consistently high offensive ratings.
These charts show where Johnson has come from with his consistency, and how he has improved in the 2015-16 season.

Only time will tell if Johnson will keep up his consistent play for the rest of the season.