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What does UNC miss most if Cameron Johnson can’t play?

After back injury cost him the final six minutes of the ACC Tournament championship game, Cameron Johnson is yet to return to action for North Carolina. According to multiple media reports, Johnson was held out of today’s 30-minute shootaround and weight session. Roy Williams also stated that if UNC had to play today, on Tuesday, Cameron Johnson would sit out.


Tourney Time

After four games in four nights up in Brooklyn — North Carolina opens its NCAA Tournament schedule in Charlotte on Friday afternoon against Lipscomb — a No. 15 seed, ranked 165th nationally in KenPom.

If Johnson is to miss just one game, that wouldn’t be so bad; in fact, it could provide some beneficial postseason minutes on the wing for Brandon Robinson and Andrew Platek, a freshman. There’s no need to panic, though: Williams added that he believed Johnson would be able to play after resting this week.

However, if Cameron Johnson can’t play in future games, or is limited, it would be a severely tough blow for UNC. Johnson is one of the top spot-up players in the ACC: 1.03 points per possession (52.1 eFG%), according to Synergy Sports, which ranks 31st in the league.

A 34 percent three-point shooter, Johnson is also one of the conference’s most efficient transition players. In a role similar to 2017 Justin Jackson, the Pitt transfer ranks fourth in the ACC — scoring 1.31 points per possession (64 eFG%) — in terms of transition offense.

That’s big for a North Carolina team that, per Synergy, has lagged in transition this season: one point per possession — good for 13th in the ACC

In a much smaller sample, Platek and Robinson have actually shot the ball well from beyond the arc; those two are a combined 18-of-47 (38.3 3P%) on three-point attempts this season.

A low turnover player, Johnson ranks second on North Carolina’s roster in offensive rating, according to KenPom: 124.5 points per 100 possessions.


Versatility Added

North Carolina’s well-documented transition to small-ball this season has worked with Theo Pinson and Cameron Johnson working as the two lynchpins. Pinson and Johnson have held down the forward spots all season — with Pinson primarily functioning as the nominal power forward on defense. Over the last five games: UNC has deployed its starting lineup — those two along with Joel Berry, Kenny Williams and Luke Maye — for nearly 44 percent of the team’s total minutes, per KenPom.

Johnson isn’t an amazing rebounder — 10.5 percent defensive rebound rate — but at 6-foot-8, he gives them some size and length on the floor. That helps clog up lanes to the hoop, tips passes and generally can make things tougher for an opposing offense. It’s the little stuff, but all of that matters.

Of course, this could also mean that North Carolina go back to playing more with two traditional bigs — Maye and either Garrison Brooks or Sterling Manley. I can think of one guy that likely wouldn’t be *too* upset about that…

(I kid. Stay tuned; we will keep you posted with more Cameron Johnson injury updates.)


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