UNC Basketball: Ranking the Best Former Tar Heels in the NBA Right Now
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North Carolina has a long tradition of producing NBA talent. Through the '80s and '90s, UNC reigned supreme with the likes of Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.
All of those former Tar Heels were recruited by the great Dean Smith, and now, they are all either retired or reaching the end of their careers.
Roy Williams has recruited a lot of collegiate talent in his time at Chapel Hill, but nobody has made that impact on the NBA like the aforementioned Tar Heels.
It looks like that is beginning to change.
No college was represented more in the 2013 NBA playoffs than UNC. At least one Tar Heel was present in seven of the eight series, and most of them were starters.
One was even being considered for Finals MVP, until his team was ultimately knocked off.
That isn't to say Carolina has another G.O.A.T. lined up, but it won't be long before we start seeing the Tar Heels represented in All-Star games and holding NBA titles once again.
The following list contains the five best former Tar Heels in the NBA right now, ranked by overall talent and production at the next level.
5. John Henson
There are quite a few Tar Heels not on this list that averaged more points than John Henson's six per game. None of them showed the potential of Henson, though.
Unfortunately, he was stuck in a massive rotation of bigs in Milwaukee. Three power forwards averaged more minutes than Henson during the regular season, even though he was the more productive post.
In addition to his points, Henson averaged 4.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in just 13.1 minutes per game. He also has the fourth-highest efficiency rating on the team at 18.3.
Many thought Henson wouldn't be effective in the NBA, due to his wiry frame. That doesn't appear to be the case, as his versatility, smarts and impressive athleticism for a 6'11" big shone through when he was given real playing time.
In the last five games of the regular season, Henson averaged 15 points, 15 rebounds and 2.8 blocks over 34 minutes per contest. That included a monster performance against Orlando, in which he racked up 17 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks and three assists.
4. Danny Green
I imagine more than a few people will have issue with Danny Green's placement on this list. Especially after his performance in the NBA Finals.
As fans, we have a tendency to be prisoners of the moment.
In the third quarter of Game 5 against Miami, Danny Green broke Ray Allen's record for the most treys in a Finals series with his 23rd. Unfortunately, Green and the Spurs faded in the final two games of the series.
After drilling 25 threes in the first five games, the Heat finally realized they needed to guard Green. He finished out the series shooting 2-of-11 from deep as a result.
Offensively, he is just too one-dimensional to top the other three Tar Heels ahead of him. He did shoot 42.9 percent from three during the season and 48.2 percent during the playoffs, though.
He's pretty darn good at what he does.
On the defensive end, Green is much more impressive and versatile. He can guard anyone one-on-one at the 1, 2 or 3 positions with his length and quickness.
Only one shooting guard in the NBA last season averaged more blocks (0.68) than Green. That player was Dwyane Wade with 0.81. That's pretty good company.
Then Green went on to top all shooting guards in the playoffs with an average of 1.1 blocks per game.
What really made Green stand out on defense was his transition game. No one on the Spurs was more effective than him in stopping fasts breaks. He always seemed to be the first down the floor to take a charge, strip the ball or pin it against the backboard.
He was doing this against the best transition team in the NBA during the Finals, to boot.
Danny Green will have to improve his mid-range game and dribble-drive to move up—or even maintain—this spot in the rankings.
Either way, he's a hell of a weapon for the San Antonio Spurs.
3. Raymond Felton
There has never been much chatter about Raymond Felton since he left Chapel Hill with a title in 2005. The immediate assumption is that he isn't as good as we thought.
Consider his path, though.
Felton was drafted by Charlotte in 2005, spending his first five years with arguably the worst team in the NBA. He still put up decent numbers, averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 assists.
That's more points than he ever averaged at UNC, and just shy of his assist average of 6.9.
In 2010, he finally got out of Charlotte. The Knicks picked him up and Felton really started to produce. Over 54 games, the former Tar Heel averaged 17.1 points and nine assists.
His reward was another move—this time to Denver, where he had to share duties with another former Tar Heel point guard, Ty Lawson.
That only lasted the remainder of the season. In 2011, he was pushed to Portland. After a sub-par season there, he got another shot in New York in 2012.
The new Knicks were loaded with talents like Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith and the aging—but legendary—Jason Kidd. He didn't have it like that during his first run in New York.
This had to be the Year of the Felton.
Once again, Felton's talents were undermined by his situation. Instead of running the offense through the point guard, head coach Mike Woodson was just fine having it go through Anthony and Smith.
Yes, even when Felton and Kidd were on the floor, the ball was still in the hands of Anthony and Smith.
Perhaps Woodson has learned from his mistakes and will allow the floor general to make the decisions. He still has Felton as a starter for next season.
Or Felton's long run of bad NBA luck will continue, and we'll never get to see what he is truly capable of.
2. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes caught a lot of heat from fans during his two years in Chapel Hill. I'm not sure when 17.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game became a bad thing.
But it wasn't enough in many people's eyes. Leaving school early didn't help his popularity, either.
It isn't too late for Barnes, though. Performing at the next level is a great way to win back fans, and Barnes did not disappoint as a rookie last season.
The baby-fresh Warrior became a human highlight reel of power dunks throughout his first NBA season. His regular season numbers were somewhat pedestrian, though.
Over 25.4 minutes per game, Barnes averaged just 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds for Golden State. He only registered two 20-point performances in his first 81 games as a pro.
Then the playoffs rolled around.
Head coach Mark Jackson decided to give Barnes a boost in minutes, and the production followed. The rookie averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs. He also reached the 20-point mark four times in 12 games, including a career-high 26 against San Antonio.
Not too shabby for his first experience in the NBA playoffs.
Defensively, Barnes has never been a turnover machine. He only averaged 0.6 steals in both the regular season and the playoffs. He's much better than folks give him credit for, though.
Barnes has great feet and a strong body, which help keep him planted in front of his opponents. He does a great job keeping them out of the lane, and his positioning forces highly contested, low-percentage shots.
His defense may not be as flashy as his offense, but he's proven to be every bit as effective on that end of the floor.
He wants to get better, though.
Barnes has always displayed the work ethic necessary to become a star. Having millions in the bank apparently hasn't changed him.
1. Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson was a freak of nature at UNC. His defense, three-point shooting and transition game led the Tar Heels to arguably the most dominant title run in NCAA history back in 2009.
Some still wondered if the 5'11" floor general would be able to play with the big boys at the next level.
That question has been answered.
Lawson's speed wasn't just elite in comparison to other college athletes. He flies by NBA stars like they're standing still, dominating the transition game just as he did at Chapel Hill.
Though short, Lawson also sports a very strong upper body. He's more than happy to draw contact at the rim and convert the and-1 at the charity stripe.
Lawson's talent has helped the Nuggets to the playoffs in each of his four NBA seasons, producing better numbers with each run. In 2013, the former Tar Heel averaged 21.3 points, eight assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
His only downfall in these last playoffs was his 4-of-21 performance from downtown. Lawson isn't nearly as effective if he can't keep defenders off-balance with the three-ball.
During the regular season, Lawson shot 36.6 percent behind the arc. He also averaged 16.7 points and 6.9 assists—both career highs.
Four seasons into his NBA career, Ty Lawson is just scratching the surface of his potential. But he is easily the most dynamic and deadly Tar Heel in the NBA today.
North Carolina may not have a Michael Jordan or James Worthy in the NBA right now. However, these young, developing players are proof the Tar Heel tradition is still alive in the NBA.
Just give them some time.