UNC Basketball 2018-19 Player Preview: Cam Johnson

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Cameron Johnson
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Cameron Johnson /

The Pitt transfer gelled right away last year with the rest of the roster and fans and now in short time, Cam Johnson will be one of the vocal points of the Carolina Tar Heels.

Coby White | Nassir Little | Rechon Black | Garrison Brooks | Sterling Manley | Andrew Platek | Brandon Huffman | Seventh Woods | Luke Maye

The fifth year, graduate transfer seems to be flying under the radar in the Atlantic Coast Conference, just as he would like it.

The soft-spoken forward heads into this year taking on a larger leadership role as well as an expanded role on the court.

With flashy names surrounding him, Cam Johnson has carried himself just as you would expect, but could be in for a breakout year that some may not expect.

For people that don’t know much about the 6-foot-9 forward, he’s a name you need to know heading into the season.

2017-18 Season in Review

One of the biggest storylines heading into last year was Cam Johnson’s ability or originally, lack thereof, to transfer to North Carolina due to Pittsburgh’s block on all ACC schools.

Finally, after a long and public battle against Pitt, they finally allowed him to transfer within the conference and shortly after, Johnson became eligible for the Tar Heels.

After losing Justin Jackson to the NBA, Johnson stepped right into his role on the wing.

Missing the first 10 games of the season due to a knee injury, once Johnson was inserted into the lineup, he became a consistent option for the Heels, scoring in double digits in 19 out of 26 games, finishing the year with an average of 12.4 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Not only was he a scoring threat, but he also turned into one of the best playmakers on the Heels.

Second on the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2), Johnson finished with a career-best 2.3 assists per game.

Someone who hadn’t really been involved in many games in the national eye during his career at Pitt, Johnson had 18 points and 13 rebounds in his first ever UNC-Duke rivalry game and finished that series with an average of 14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and shot 37.4 percent from three in their three-game battle.

What to expect in 2018-19?

Operating at less than 100 percent all last season due to a very under-the-radar hip injury, Johnson had surgery this offseason to deal with the lingering hip pain he’s had almost his entire college career.

With that, after seeing how productive he was last year, expectations are high for this season, being that he is now fully healthy.

Though star freshman Nassir Little and preseason First-Team All American Luke Maye come into the year with a lot of the publicity for the Carolina frontcourt, Johnson has a lot of responsibility for the Tar Heels.

With Johnson’s playmaking ability and the inexperience at the point guard position, I expect him to be the guy that the Tar Heels will run their offense through. With his size and ability to create for himself and others, he is someone who will not only be able to get shots for himself but will make it easier for the rest of the lineup.

With the lack of playmakers, due to the departures of both Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, Cam will be given full reigns on the offense end. Because of this, I look for him to have a very similar season that Justin Jackson’s junior year when the Heels won the National Championship.

Jackson attempted 10.1 shots per game as a sophomore while Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels and had a 21 percent usage rate, which rose to 25.7 percent with 14.9 attempts per game as a junior. Similarly, Cam Johnson attempted 10.2 shots per game and had a 19.6 percent usage rate last year with both Joel Berry and Theo Pinson playing large roles.

Look for Johnson to average between 15 and 17 points a game with about 5 to 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

Strengths and something he needs to improve on…

The Pennsylvania native has many strengths, none more noticeable than his shooting ability.

A career 38 percent three-point shooter, as a junior Johnson made 78 threes (41.5 percent) and was on pace, because Johnson’s Pitt team played seven fewer games than the Tar Heels that season, to finish only eight shy of Justin Jackson’s UNC record-breaking performance as a junior by making 104 threes in a season.

Not only does he shoot at a high percentage, but he also has range. We saw it at times with Justin Jackson during his junior season, and Cam Johnson has very similar NBA type three-point range.

As mentioned earlier, his playmaking ability, which is extremely underrated,  makes him one of the best wing passers in the ACC, if not the country.

Another underrated skillset of Cam’s is his defensive ability.

With his length, he is a strong defender when needed. Last year, he ended the season with a 106.7 defensive rating (DRtg) whereas Kenny Williams ended with just one point better at 105.7. Defensive rating is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions. For reference, Theo Pinson finished his Carolina career with a 100.9 average rating.

Related Story. UNC Target Boogie Ellis Sets His Decision Date. light

One part of Johnson’s game that he needs to improve on is his strength and ability to rebound the ball on the defensive end.

Even though the Tar Heels are the best rebounding team in the country year in and year out, for some reason, they have always struggled on the defensive boards.

At 6-foot-9, and with his length, Johnson should be able to easily average close to six rebounds a game and will need to when Carolina uses their small lineup this year.

Last year, he had 10 games with three or fewer rebounds, something that cannot happen if the Tar Heels are going to succeed this season.

With only an 8.5 percent total rebound rate (TRB), Johnson had a lower defensive rebound percentage than Justin Jackson did his junior year, and if there was one thing you could criticize in Jackson’s game, it was his defensive rebounding.

Bold prediction

With so much talent on the Tar Heels, it may be unlikely that any Tar Heel explodes in the points category but that doesn’t mean they won’t have great numbers.

For Cam, my bold statement is that he has that Justin Jackson type of season and leads the Tar Heels in scoring near 19 points a game, leads the Tar Heels to an ACC Title on his way to winning ACC Player of the Year, and breaks Justin Jackson’s single-season made three-pointers record.

It is definitely achievable for Johnson, but is all of it realistic? Probably not.

We have never seen a fully healthy Cam Johnson though, so his ceiling may be higher than we all think.

A guy who seems like he’s been in Carolina Blue for his whole college career, leading this Tar Heels team back to a Final Four is the only thing that is probably on his mind.