It's a matter of efficiency, folks.
James Michael McAdoo was anointed by the media this offseason as the "go-to" guy at North Carolina, which undoubtedly played a part in earning preseason All-American honors. While the sophomore is no scrub, he has a consistency issue that can't be denied.
McAdoo's premature crowning could be putting head coach Roy Williams in a bind, as he watches Brice Johnson play virtually flawless minutes every time he steps on the floor. The Tar Heel freshman has been so impressive, his teammates have already nicknamed him "Easy B" (Easy Buckets).
No matter how Johnson plays from here on out, I doubt we will ever see him start over McAdoo. The media would absolutely crucify Coach Williams for that.
I may get the same for even thinking it.
At the same time, the fans may crucify him if they don't see Johnson get more minutes—and soon. The rising star is quickly becoming a favorite among the Tar Heel faithful, and they have a tendency to get antsy when they feel another player—such as McAdoo—isn't living up to expectations.
Just ask John Henson or Harrison Barnes.
Johnson is currently leading the team in field goal percentage at 64.5 percent (excluding Luke Davis, who is 2-for-2). He's also averaging 9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks over just 14.1 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, McAdoo is shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and is struggling to impact the team on the offensive end. He has a tendency to take ill-advised shots and has an issue with turning the ball over.
While McAdoo has been more selective over the last two games, he hasn't filled the stat columns with numbers that support his starting role. A lot of his higher averages, such as his 15 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, came from stat-padding games against Gardner-Webb and Florida Atlantic.
McAdoo also leads the team with 30 turnovers on the season. Those have come from dropped feeds, errant passes and losing control when someone puts a body on him.
I'm not the only one to take notice of his flaws, either. According to ESPN's Chad Ford, one NBA GM attending the Maui Invitational had this to say of McAdoo:
He looks good in a basketball uniform. But after that, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to like. He’s a pretty good athlete, but he isn’t very skilled and he doesn’t go hard all the time. There’s not one thing he does that really stands out about his game. He certainly hasn’t played like a top-five pick.
While that comment is pretty harsh and hard to swallow, it isn't stretching the truth very much. I had a similar review of McAdoo during the offseason.
On the flip side, Johnson has great hands and has been calculated with his shot selection. I honestly can't think of a bad shot he has taken.
Not only has he been one of the most consistent shooters on the squad, but he ignites the crowd with his dunks and blocks.
While dunking can be overrated, it can also be underrated. It's the easiest shot in basketball for someone with hops, and the crowd just eats up a good ol' emphatic jam. When the crowd gets going, so does the rest of the team.
Underrating dunks is underrating the impact of a crowd
Dunking is something I see plenty of from Johnson, but not enough of from the bigger, stronger McAdoo. Johnson had three alley-oops against ETSU, including two that came on back-to-back possessions.
Shortly after Johnson's alley-oops, McAdoo was given the same opportunity with a lob, but he never anticipated it, and the ball just flew out of bounds. On other alley-oops this season, he was early on his jump and couldn't bring it home.
I don't know if chemistry is the issue, but it's plain to see Johnson is also better in that aspect of the game.
Johnson isn't without flaws, however; McAdoo just happens to have the same ones.
Johnson has a thin frame at 186 pounds, so it's hard for him to get leverage on some of the bigger post players—especially when he plays center. McAdoo has the frame at 230 pounds, but he isn't a physical player and seems unwilling to throw his body in the line of fire.
This category is a wash.
Neither player is a great dribbler at this point, and neither has a wide array of post moves they can go to. Both McAdoo and Johnson rely on a turnaround jumper the most, but Johnson is much more balanced and accurate when shooting it.
On the defensive end, McAdoo gives the Tar Heels steals that usually lead to dunks on the other end. Johnson gives blocks and the occasional steal that leads to the same result.
Johnson is better at positioning himself for the rebound, but both players have a tendency go through inactive spurts throughout the game.
So really what it all comes down to is efficiency on the offensive end, and that's where Johnson separates himself from McAdoo—especially over the last five games.
Here is a statistical comparison of the two over that period:
Player MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK FG% FT%
Johnson 15.2 11.0 4.2 0.4 0.8 1.0 78.8 60.0
McAdoo 26.8 12.4 7.6 1.0 1.6 0.2 50.9 50.0
As you can see, McAdoo's numbers are only slightly better despite having almost double the minutes. If you work Johnson's minutes out to match McAdoo's, this is the result over the last five games:
Player MIN PTS REB AST STL BLK
Johnson 26.8 19.4 7.4 0.7 1.4 1.8
McAdoo 26.8 12.4 7.6 1.0 1.6 0.2
Is that good enough to start Johnson over McAdoo?
Probably not. But what I see from Johnson is a more efficient player that makes every possession count. Not mention a player that boosts the confidence of the team and gets the fans off their seats.
The team just seems to flow better with Johnson in the game. I truly believe that is the result of maximizing each of his possessions, team chemistry and the momentum he initiates with big plays.
Most importantly, his efficiency at the 4 makes having Joel James at the 5 less of an offensive liability. I truly believe James will have to get comfortable with the college game before ACC play rolls around. He's the only center with the body to bang with the ACC bigs.
James has also proven to be a very good rebounder, which is something Carolina will desperately need down the stretch.
Simply put, Brice Johnson makes this team better when he is on the floor. As special a player as James Michael McAdoo can be, I just don't get that same vibe from him.
While Roy is still experimenting with his starting lineup and rotations, I don't think it would hurt to have Johnson get the starting nod in one game to see what he can do. That could also serve as a reminder to McAdoo that no position is set in stone.
Everyone needs to earn their keep.