Yesterday, Akil kicked off Tar Heel Blog’s end-of-season leaderboard with the freshman class. Today we review the second.
In a weird way, the second-years have been a big part of the team’s stability, despite still being underclass. They included the starting backcourt and the sixth man of the year. Without Davis and Love in particular, this year’s team would have been dead on arrival. Instead, they brought freshman head coach Hubert Davis’ new Carolina Way to life. Let’s see how they all ranked.
Injuries were the name of the game for Anthony Harris in his first two seasons at Chapel Hill. His heartbreaking freshman season only lasted five games long before he tore his right ACL against Yale (Harris had torn his left ACL a year earlier when he was a high school student). After missing the first 12 games of his redshirt freshman season, he clearly had a hill to climb with new freshman guards ahead of him in the rotation, three of whom took turns in the starting lineup.
Harris improved his minutes per game from 2020-21. Barely. He was at 11.8 mpg from 10.9 the previous season, and while his shooting percentages improved across the board, his volume was down, resulting in a 2-point lower scoring average. 6ppg.
Regardless, scoring wasn’t what would get Anthony Harris into the game, it was his defense. Harris had a career-high 108.9 defensive rating. Unfortunately, that rating was only out of 14 games. Harris was “unavailable” from January 21, 2022 until the end of the season. He entered the transfer portal on April 13.
Note: Did not complete
No one experienced such a steep drop in production from its first to second season as Kerwin Walton. The sophomore sniper, who was elevated to the starting lineup by Roy Williams last season when it was apparent he was the only Tar Heel who could consistently hit a three-point shot, suddenly saw his opportunities limited when Hubert Davis found himself filled with deep threats.
Walton’s numbers across the board fell like Netflix’s (NASDAQ: NFLX) stock. His season’s total minutes dropped by 32.5%. His per-game average dropped to 7.7 mpg. His shooting percentages have dropped, especially his previously stellar 42% 3P% to 35.4%. He was averaging just 3.4 points per game.
So we clearly saw the ground.
There were two factors at play that conspired to keep Kerwin on the bench. First of all, his teammates have improved a lot at three-point shooting, which saves him from having to space the ground. Second, his own defense was exposed. Kerwin was on skates, he was in the washing machine, he was ghost hunting. When he entered the game, opposing teams sought him out to take action against him. It was sometimes hard to watch.
Kerwin Walton is the unfortunate victim of the transition from a Roy Williams system to the new Hubert Davis system. In his first season, Carolina had two big ones that would protect his defenders to allow him to shoot from set plays. This season, the focus is more on spacing and Walton doesn’t seem to be able to create his own plan.
I give him credit for not being transferred. I was half-certain he would join Anthony Harris and Dawson Garcia in the transfer portal, and probably end up in Minnesota with Garcia, his former roommate. The good news is that his talent has not disappeared and he now knows exactly what Hubert Davis expects of him. A lot of three-point players date Brady Manek, and they’ll have to come from somewhere. Why not Doc?
Protect Puff at all costs!!!
Puff Johnson spent the start of the injury warming up, still recovering from a toe injury. Slender, like the spiders in my garage, Puff took on a lot of volume in its first year. He won’t be mistaken for the Rock in “Baywatch”, but he shows that he will be able to punch the post in the years to come.
Last season, he would contribute minutes on the spot, as the Iron Five took on the bulk of playing time. 17, then 29 minutes against the Wolfpack, giving them 8 and 16 points respectively. He came to life in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 11 points in the first round defeating Marquette and 11 points in the title game loss to Kansas.
Puff’s legend began to grow in the Final Four. He had an absolutely massive moment boxing Paolo Banchero in the dying moments of Coach K’s final defeat after Armando Bacot was fouled. He was punched in the stomach by David McCormick and vomited on the pitch. His moments blew expectations for his junior season into “unreasonable” territory, but that shouldn’t hide he has a big role to play in next season’s squad.
After more than doubling his minutes from 4.1 to 10.4 mpg, with 10 more games played, expect his minutes to double again. Pending further roster changes, Puff has some starting potential, and if he stays healthy, he should be able to approach and then exceed 20 mpg.
What a difference a season makes. RJ Davis started last season as one half of a two-time backcourt starting point guard. When Davis and Caleb Love couldn’t provide the outside shot required to relieve Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot on the blocks, Davis gave up his starting spot to Kerwin Walton.
This season? RJ Davis was back in the starting lineup and played an almost irresponsible 34 mpg. The increased workload was a reward for the increased production. Davis has improved in every statistical category since his freshman year. All. Alone. A.
His score improved in both volume and efficiency. His percentages have increased, including his 42.5% FG% (+7.5% from last season), his 36.7% 3P% (+4.4%) and his 83.3% FT% ( +1.2%). His rebounds and assists have increased. His thefts and blockages have increased. His proficiency on offense, especially late in the season when he became Carolina’s leading ball handler, was a big reason the Tar Heels had such a hot run to close out the regular season. and show up in the NCAA Tournament.
The only thing that’s really stopping RJ Davis from reaching even greater heights is Caleb Love. The two guards are like trains that need a lot of coal, but they’ve struck a balance to knock down the tracks at the same time, while deferring to whoever has the hot hand on any given night. Seeing them both on the pitch as juniors would truly be a sight to behold.
Similar to teammate RJ Davis, Caleb Love took a significant leap into statistical excellence in his sophomore season. The St. Louis native had a particularly shocking improvement from three-pointers, going from 26.6% to 36% as a sophomore. It’s fantastic!
Love could improve his shooting inside the three-point line, especially at the rim. There were times last season at late game situations where he didn’t have as much of a blast as we’re used to (Caleb has a distinct ‘re-arming’ move when he wants to hammer someone ‘one on the edge), probably due to the heavy minutes he was playing.
Caleb could benefit from fewer overall minutes for more efficient play. His 15.9 points per game average was excellent, but he had five single-digit games in the regular season and a 5-point performance against Baylor in the tournament. Too much for a star of the caliber of Love.
If Hubert Davis can tune the rotation for Caleb to rest, he could play more explosively throughout the game. His size and strength at point guard make him a problem for most college teams, especially when the Tar Heels are looking to exploit the switches in the pick and roll. More of the same, plus a summer to improve at a similar pace to last year would likely put Caleb Love in contention for 1st All ACC team.
Let us know what you think of these ratings in the comments below. Tomorrow we will cover the junior class!