UNC Basketball: Early Projection of 2017-18 starting lineup

As the Tar Heels still celebrate their 2017 National Championship, their starting lineup for next season is beginning to take shape.

Following NBA draft decisions and the announcements of some recruiting targets, the Tar Heels have a solid idea of who will be in the lineup for their repeat attempt.

After quick deliberations, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson both decided to return to school, despite announcing their intentions to test the professional waters.

The Heels lost Justin Jackson, who declared for the draft with an agent.

Lastly, the Heels await the decision of freshman big man Tony Bradley, who received an invite to the NBA combine this month. He will have ten days after that to come up with a decision.

If you have not heard, the Heels missed on 2017 forward Kevin Knox, who announced his surprising college decision on Saturday night.
Knox spurned the entire Tar Heel state, opting to attend Kentucky for what seems like one year.
With those decisions, Carolina knows who it will have for the most part next season. Once again, the Heels will mix a nucleus of veterans with a young group of freshman who could contribute sooner rather than later. Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson will a year older, and will also be ready to contribute on this Tar Heel team.
For now, we will check out the projected lineup for next season. Keep in mind nothing is set in stone, but these guys are who will likely be starting, or be competing for a starting spot in the fall.
We will also see which role players are primed for a breakout season and those who may surprise some, despite how big their role will be!

Point Guard: Joel Berry II

Despite accomplishing pretty much everything he set out to do, Berry announced his intentions to return to school rather quickly. Berry put his name in the running prior to the deadline and pulled his name back out just a couple of days later.
That could be taken a couple of ways though. Berry’s draft stock was not high, as he was listed as a fringe second-round pick.
But as earlier stated, Berry has accomplished pretty much everything. He already has solidified his legacy with the Final Four most outstanding player award, which will get his jersey honored in the rafters.
So why not go and start making money?
It is possible Berry wanted a shot at National Player of the Year, something Frank Mason returned to win, and he did. Berry will certainly be among the favorites next season.
But perhaps Berry wants to come back and show scouts how he can play as the focal point of the offense. Berry has never been the main player in the Heels offense. Last season, that was Justin Jackson, and the previous year, it was Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. Berry wants to show how effective he can be while dominating the ball.
Expect this season to be one of Berry’s best.

Should he remain fully healthy, there is no reason Berry can not average 17+ points per game. Berry could have a season like Justin Jackson, and perhaps find himself back in the first round discussion!

Shooting Guard: Jalek Felton

This position could go one of two ways.

On one hand, there is the 6’4 guard Kenny Williams who would normally be the favorite to start here.

But on the other, there is a super talented freshman guard coming into UNC, with the opportunity to contribute immediately.

Jalek Felton committed early on in the process, and never really strayed too far from the flock. His uncle is former Tar Heel Raymond Felton, and the younger Felton has just as much talent.

Felton has a little bit of De’Aaron Fox in him. The rising freshman has lightning speed, great athleticism, and he is a great finisher.

With the perceived recruiting issues at Carolina, Felton has an opportunity to be one of the rare one-and-done players at UNC.

Should Roy Williams hand Felton the keys, he and Berry could potentially have a Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright season in the backcourt.

Felton will have to go through a battle with soon-to-be junior Kenny Williams. Felton’s offense is better than Williams’. But Williams can bring more on the defensive end.

Watching the battle throughout the fall should be fun, but I believe Felton will win out, and crack the starting lineup.

Small Forward: Theo Pinson

Barring any injury, Theo Pinson is basically a lock to finally begin the season as a starter.

Pinson briefly had his name in the running for the NBA Draft, but after not receiving an invite to the NBA Combine, Pinson decided to return for his senior year.

Pinson was inserted into the starting lineup following the injury to Kenny Williams this season and did excellent in that time. His worth to this team is unmeasurable, seeing how Pinson does all the little things for the Heels.

Allowing Pinson to start at the three spot gives the Heels maximum flexibility. It gives them defensive versatility, allowing Pinson to switch on all screens.

But on offense, having Pinson out there with Felton and Berry gives Carolina three ball handlers on the court.

By no means am I comparing this Heels team to the Golden State Warriors, but with these three, it could be a “Death Lineup” situation for big opponents. Especially should Pinson develop a three-point shot.

Just imagining a full season of Theo Pinson in the starting lineup is awesome. He makes the team better in so many ways.

Plus, Pinson deserves the opportunity to show scouts how great he can be at full health for a full season.

A backcourt of Berry and Felton, with Pinson at the three, could make this upcoming season all sorts of fun.

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