North Carolina desperately needs to get off to a quick start in every game, and that is something P.J. Hairston is more than capable of providing. While I understand the need for senior leadership with this young group of Tar Heels, it's not like that can't be provided by Dexter Strickland as the sixth man.
That's exactly why Hairston should be starting over Strickland.
Honestly, it's nothing against Dex. P.J. Hairston is just that good.
Despite averaging nearly eight fewer minutes than UNC's senior combo guard, Hairston averages three more points. He is also a much better rebounder and shooter—from the outside and the free-throw line.
What folks usually lean on with Strickland is his defensive prowess. However, Roy Williams hasn't been sold on his play this season.
In his press conference before the UNLV game, Williams said, "Dexter is still nowhere near the defensive player that he was last year. It’s not even close."
One would assume his recovery from an ACL tear has a lot to do with that. Having been through the process myself, it takes a while before you have full confidence in that knee again. Naturally, that lack of confidence will slow down lateral movement, which allows opponents to get by.
It takes time to fix these things, and time is of the essence for North Carolina.
Even with Strickland playing the top-notch defense we have come to expect from the senior, Hairston should be the starter. He provides just as many—if not more—big plays on defense than Dex, between steals, blocked shots and taking charges.
And when it comes to offense, it isn't even close. Both players take their share of ill-advised shots, but I have much more confidence in Hairston to knock those down—especially when it comes to threes.
On the season, Strickland is just 4-of-18 behind the arc; Hairston is 24-of-71. While Hairston's attempts should be closer to 60 at this point, fewer people scream at the TV when he takes a three.
That has never been Dexter Strickland's specialty. Prior to this season, he was 16-of-67 from downtown. So Carolina fans do have good reason to get upset when they see him attempt a three, rather than driving to the basket.
Aside from defense, penetration has actually been Strickland's specialty—and continues to be to this day.
That's a plus for North Carolina, as this team is getting to the line at an alarmingly-low rate. It's averaging 19.2 free-throw attempts per game, which ranks 187th in the nation.
Strickland and Hairston rank second and third on the team in free-throw attempts, behind James Michael McAdoo. But Hairston leads the team in free-throw percentage, at 86.8; Strickland is shooting 59.1 percent.
Not only do the Tar Heels need to get to the line, they also need to make them. That's something that McAdoo isn't providing, and is only made worse when Strickland is missing them, too.
McAdoo is 39-of-63 from the line, and Hairston is 33-of-38. Putting those numbers side-by-side, it's much easier to see the disparity between the two. If McAdoo is taking more free throws than anyone, UNC needs other players on the floor that can make them—period.
Who Should Start at the 2?
We could go through stats all day, comparing Strickland and Hairston.
Hairston is similar or better in every category. He's simply bigger, tougher and more versatile. And when it gets to be desperation time, it would appear P.J. Hairston quickly becomes Roy's go-to guy.
Why wait to be desperate?