North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the Players Who Should Take the Last Shot

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2012

North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the Players Who Should Take the Last Shot

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    Things could get complicated for North Carolina if the game comes down to a final shot.

    There is no Harrison Barnes or Tyler Zeller to be the savior of the squad in clutch situations. UNC, as a whole, has very little experience with taking the last shot.

    Consider the fact Reggie Bullock just started getting real playing time last season and Roy Williams had Barnes and Zeller to take a majority of the last-minute shots for the Tar Heels.

    Leslie McDonald hasn't been seen on the court for a year. The last time he played, he was averaging 15.7 minutes per game.

    P.J. Hairston could hardly be trusted last season, Dexter Strickland isn't a jump shooter and Marcus Paige is still in collegiate diapers.

    So how in the world am I going to rank who should take the final shot?

    By pulling out of my butt, of course. Well, that coupled with a few statistics and a little history.

    I used StatSheet.com's "play-by-play" feature to tally shots taken in the final minute by the returners. Then I did some more research on Paige to see if he was carrying any clutch genes. The result of my findings may shock you.

    On to the rankings.

5. Dexter Strickland

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    Most of you shouldn't be surprised that Dexter Strickland is in the back of the pack for the last shot. He's never been a solid jump shooter, though his form seems to be more mechanically sound this season.

    However, it was actually a hard decision for me here.

    You see, Dexter Strickland can create his own shot off the dribble. There isn't always an open jump shot to take (a la Michael Jordan in the 1982 championship), sometimes players have to make something out of nothing.

    With Strickland's speed and handles, he can do just that—even better if he can get to the foul line.

    In the last minute of regulation, Dex was 21-of-25 from the charity stripe in 2010-11. It's tough to argue against 84 percent in clutch situations at the collegiate level. And most of the misses were earlier in the season.

    He only got better as the season went on.

    On the flip side, he's 0-for-1 shooting two-pointers and 0-for-1 shooting three-pointers. I probably wouldn't take my chances in that situation.

    Though nobody has shot well in that situation, the others are at least pure jump shooters. That's why I had to slide Dex to the back, though it was tempting to put him higher up. He does have some clutch in him.

    There were no final minute stats to compile from his partial 2011-12 season.

4. Reggie Bullock

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    Reggie Bullock is another player I struggled with.

    I'm big on Bullock this season, labeling him my go-to guy. I really wanted to put him higher up because he has more ability to create than a couple of the others.

    But there is really nothing he has shown me yet that screams, "Give this guy the last shot!"

    In 2011-12, Bullock was 1-of-4 from downtown with the clock winding down. That actually isn't that bad for clutch situations. Even Jordan missed a lot in those waning minutes, but he always hit the biggest ones.

    Can Bullock do that?

    Perhaps. But I've never felt the confidence pour from Reggie Bullock. He's a great player, and I'd give him the rock as much as possible throughout the game.

    He just doesn't have that air about him to take the final shot.

    Sorry, Reggie.

3. Leslie McDonald

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    Leslie McDonald just might be the best pure shooter on this Carolina squad. He would tell you the same, with the exception of the word "might."

    I like that.

    The confidence is certainly there. According to Bob Sutton of TheTimesNews.com, when asked who should take the "crucial" shot of the game Leslie McDonald simply replied, "I'll gladly take it."

    I like that, too.

    The supporting stats just aren't there, as he only attempted one last-minute three-pointer in 2010-11. That one was a miss. He was rarely in the game at that point in his sophomore campaign.

    That could be very different this year, though.

    Coming into this season, McDonald is a 38.1 percent three-point shooter. He hasn't seen the floor in over a year, due to his recovery from a repaired ACL. But that gave him time to possibly become even better.

    In the October issue of Inside Carolina Magazine, Leslie McDonald had this to say of his time off:

    Actually, sitting out helped me a little bit more because it made me focus on my (shooting) mechanics. I'm not able to run and I'm not able to cut. So all I can do is work on my mechanics and make sure everything is lined up. I think it definitely helped me.

    I'm sure it did, as it seemed to help Dex, too.

    If the game is on the line and there is an open McDonald, I'm letting him take it.

2. P.J. Hairston

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    I know what you're thinking. "This guy shot 30.8 percent from the floor last season! You're nuts!"

    Maybe I am a little nuts, but I saw something in him last season that leads me to believe he has the swagger to hit the final shot.

    In the 2012 ACC championship against Florida State, Hairston owned the second half. Carolina was down by 11 before the freshman nailed three treys over a three-minute span. Then he was perfect on four free-throw attempts down the stretch.

    The Tar Heels had pulled within three points with four seconds left in regulation. Without hesitation, Hairston launched a three just as the clock hit zero.

    Unfortunately, it dinged off the rim and the Heels couldn't force the overtime.

    Though the outcome was hardly enough to sell most folks on Hairston, I saw the confidence he had to take the final shot. On top of that, he is a much better shooter than he displayed last season.

    In the same October issue of Inside Carolina Magazine, P.J. Hairston refused to hand the shooting crown to Leslie McDonald:

    I'll just let [McDonald] prove it. But I don't think he can shoot better than me, honestly. I think I'm the best shooter on the team. I'm pretty confident, myself.

    Yes, you are, P.J.

    Hairston may have lacked confidence through a lot of his freshman season, but he was on a mission to adjust his mentality during his time off. He has done just that, and in turn I have a lot of confidence in the sophomore.

1. Marcus Paige

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    What?

    Stay with me now. There aren't any collegiate stats on Marcus Paige to lead me to believe he should be the one taking the final shot. But there weren't many positive stats indicating such with the returners, either.

    What we do have is record of an incredible game, and an even more incredible finish by Paige last season at Linn-Mar.

    Don't mind the fact he scored 49 of his team's 83 points in the state playoffs. What we really need to focus on was the score of the game with only 26 seconds left.

    It was 61-52 in favor of Kennedy, and even Linn-Mar's coach thought all was lost. Paige didn't.

    He would go on to score all nine of those points, tying the game at 61 with a 22-foot three-pointer with 8.5 seconds left in regulation.

    Linn-Mar would eventually pull out the win after two overtimes.

    While that may not be enough to convince some of you, the fact remains the ball should be in Paige's hands at the end of the game.

    Despite the amount of points he scored throughout his senior season, anyone will tell you he is a pass-first point guard. With a lack of experience and skill on his team, Paige had to carry them much of the time.

    I trust him to make the right decision in the clutch, whether that means he takes the shot or dishes it off to someone else for an open jumper. And if nobody else has proven themselves to be clutch, Paige has no problem putting a team on his back.

    When the game is down to the wire, I'm giving Marcus Paige the rock.

     

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