Brice Johnson has improved his NBA draft stock more than anyone not named Chavano this season.
With preseason National Player of the Year candidate Marcus Paige struggling with his jump shot for much of the year, Johnson stepped up as North Carolina’s de-facto leader, averaging 17.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest. Leading the Heels to the national championship, he has put up double-doubles against NBA prospects Ben Bentil, Thomas Bryant and Zach Auguste.
The 21-year-old power forward is long, super-athletic and full of energy. At the very least, he looks like a role player who can run the court and crash the glass at the next level. Should he continue to add range to his jump shot, he could also be a versatile offensive weapon.
So what does that mean for his draft stock?
Johnson, who entered the season ranked as the 13th best pro prospect in the ACC, is now being projected from the early 20’s to the late 20’s to the early second round.
Those in NBA circles seem to be split on Johnson’s value.
One Eastern Conference executive gushed about his blend of physical tools and endless motor, via SheridanHoops:
Brice is young and a human pogo stick. He plays with great energy and enthusiasm. That’s rare and coveted in a big guy. Usually (you) have to beg them to play with energy. He’s different. He’s a force and still young and growing. He does a lot of things well.
Another executive is still concerned about where he’ll play in the pros:
The main thing is he doesn’t have a position. He’s not a stretch-four. I don’t think his game is going to translate in that regard. I think he’ll be a backup player and plug him into the game. He’s not a starter in the NBA.
Either way, after being one of the bigger enigmas in college basketball during his first three years on campus, Johnson has put it all together at the right time. As the Tar Heels get set to take on Villanova in the national championship on Monday night, his NBA arrow is pointing straight up.