North Carolina Basketball: Midseason Report Card for Tar Heels

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

North Carolina Basketball: Midseason Report Card for Tar Heels

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    This has been a disappointing season for fans, players and coaches that live for North Carolina basketball. It's always tough to imagine the Tar Heels could ever be 15-6 (5-3 ACC) at this point in the season.

    In truth, it happens to the best of programs. Even Kentucky is on the down tick so far this season.

    Many of the players have put up monster games, but a lack of consistency, energy and focus by all has proven to be the their greatest weaknesses. For that reason, very few Tar Heels received exemplary grades on their midseason report cards.

    This is not a grading of their skill sets.

    Rather, it is a grading of their production and proper use of their skills, along with well they have developed throughout the season. Consistency and shot selection also factor into the grades the players receive.

    However, many of these players have been put in a tough position, after John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall bounced early for the NBA.

    For that reason, no players were graded extremely harsh. The end of the season will be a different story, however. They will have had plenty of time to adjust to their new roles at the collegiate level.

    Every Tar Heel, including Roy Williams, has been given a grade for their performances up to this point. The players are in order from the lowest to the highest grade.

Dexter Strickland, SG/PG

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    Dexter Strickland was expected to still be the top defender, even after recovering from a torn ACL. That hasn't been the case, as he doesn't appear to have the same lateral quickness prior to surgery.

    Normally, that wouldn't be held against him, but he has yet to really step up in any other facet of his game. He is having a career-low season in field-goal percentage (42.7), three-point percentage (20.0) and free-throw percentage (62.1).

    Strickland's biggest problem with shooting—aside from free throws—appears to be shot selection. He rushes and forces too many shots, when he is much better at slashing to the basket or hitting the open 17-footer.

    Strickland hasn't gone without improvements, though.

    Playing more of a point guard role than in the past, he has doubled his assists with four per game. He is also only averaging 1.4 turnovers per game, giving him a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.

    That's enough to hold his head above water, but Strickland really needs to be more selective with his shooting, as he was last season before going down. In 19 games last year, Strickland only shot one three.

    This season he is 4-of-20.

     

    Midseason Grade: C

Marcus Paige, PG

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    It seemed like Marcus Paige would be earning higher marks by now. Freshman point guards are going to have slow starts, but he was expected to pick up his game a little faster than this.

    This is a situation where it is tough to grade him after such a nice game against Virginia Tech. He finished with 19 points, five rebounds, five assists, two turnovers, one steal and four treys.

    Now I'm supposed to grade him fairly for the entire first half of the season.

    But it has been a very slow start for Paige, so the bad games must be factored in with the good. And when we look at the overall picture, he has an OK assist average and has been a very poor shooter for most of the season.

    Paige is averaging 4.5 assists per game, to go with 2.5 turnovers. That works out to a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, which leaves a lot of room for improvement.

    His 7.4 points per game would be fine if he was dishing out more assists, but he is going to have to up one or the other. And in order for those points to go up, he will need to shoot better than 32.5 percent from the field in the second half of the season.

    Paige is fourth on the team with 160 shot attempts, yet he is sixth in points.

    One area he has truly stepped up is on defense, even though his one steal per game doesn't show much for it. He has deflected a lot of balls that end up in other Tar Heels' hands or at least disrupts the play. That doesn't show on the stat lines, but he is proving to be a better defender than some expected.

    Because of his slow start, poor shooting and overall inconsistencies, Paige has to get a low grade.

     

    Midseason Grade: C+

Joel James, C

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    Joel James is in the middle of his fourth season of organized basketball, so nobody was expecting too many gaudy numbers from the man-child. But I did expect him to do well enough to earn a starting role and make a significant contribution.

    Whether or not he has actually earned the starting role subject to individual opinion. But in Roy Williams' eyes, he hasn't, so James isn't separating himself from the crowd of centers.

    For most of the season, James would come in for a few minutes, seemingly picking up a couple fouls and a turnover with every rotation. That didn't get him in the good graces of his coach, and he has been on a short leash all season.

    In his 11.2 minutes per game, James is putting up 2.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. He is also one of the few Tar Heels shooting over 50 percent from the field. He has a smooth stroke and a soft touch, so he will only get better as he gets more looks.

    But we won't know how much better until he gets more time on the floor.

    Like Paige, his rough start and inconsistencies have earned him a lower grade, even though expectations of him weren't extremely high.

     

    Midseason Grade: C+

Desmond Hubert, C

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    There weren't many people out there expecting Desmond Hubert to light up the nets. He didn't show much last season on either side of the floor. The only things that boosted offseason hype was his post work with former Tar Heel Rasheed Wallace, along with his 30-pound increase in weight.

    Trying to get better is one thing; getting better is another.

    Hubert has improved this season, though. And he really started to break out five games ago against Maryland. Not only did he help hold Alex Len to 10 points, he also tallied two blocks and two steals over his 14 minutes of action.

    He followed that up with a five-block game against Georgia Tech.

    Hubert has been extremely active on defense as of late, and that has helped Carolina get out and run the way they like to. That sort of makes up for the lack of offensive production from the sophomore.

    He plays more minutes at center than anyone, but he only averages 1.4 points per game. He is also only 3-of-14 from the charity stripe, so that could become a problem in tight games.

    Overall, Hubert has done well with his skill set, even though he is not one of the top dogs.

     

    Midseason Grade: B-

Leslie McDonald, SG

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    Depending on who you were talking to in the offseason, Leslie McDonald was going to be the go-to guy or just another solid jump shooter. The Pro-Am is the only place there has been any indication of a go-to status from McDonald, and it's never wise to base predictions off what you see in those games.

    McDonald has finished some fast breaks and has occasionally slashed to the basket. Other than that, it's pretty much just been three-point shooting.

    Fifty-eight percent of his shot attempts have been threes.

    Fortunately, he has made 39.7 percent of them—even after taking an 0-for-5 hit in his last performance. But the junior should be driving to the basket more often, and finding higher-percentage shots than threes.

    In 15 games played this season, McDonald has scored single-digits in 10 of them. He had two games of 20-plus points, but they were against Mississippi State and UAB.

    Due to tweaking his knee, and then serving a three-game suspension, McDonald has only played in two of the eight conference games this season. The latter was his own fault, so that does affect his grade.

     

    Midseason Grade: B-

Luke Davis, PG

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    We won't spend too much time on Luke Davis, as he has only earned a total of 69 minutes this season.

    Davis is a great ball-handler and a pretty good passer, but he doesn't give a lot of upside. He's much like Stilman White in that way.

    He'll run a team just fine, keeping mistakes to a minimum. But there isn't much in his arsenal to help Carolina dominate.

    He is the only Tar Heel that is perfect on shooting for the season, though. Davis is 2-for-2 from the field—both were threes—and he is also 2-for-2 from the foul line.

    It's tough to judge his skill set, considering his lack of playing time. But he has made little impact when in the game, so that's why he doesn't get an "A."

     

    Midseason Grade: B

J.P. Tokoto, SF/SG

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    It was hard to imagine J.P. Tokoto getting many minutes behind this deep group of wings. But the combination of Roy's rotations and Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston missing games, earned the freshman a lot more action.

    So did his play.

    Tokoto has been one of the more active players on this roster on both sides of the floor. His on-ball defense has been superb, and he doesn't seem to have many mental lapses away from the ball.

    On the offensive end, he has been steadily burying 15-18-foot jumpers, and flying in to throw down many put-back dunks. On a few occasions, they have been off his own shots.

    It's one thing to do that right by the goal, but Tokoto will come from 15 feet out to put back his miss.

    Tokoto is also one of the few Tar Heels shooting above the 50-percent mark. It's tough to argue against 52.9 percent shooting from a small forward/shooting guard. But his three-point percentage and free-throw percentage could certainly use some work.

    He is 1-for-11 on threes and just 9-of-24 from the charity stripe. Ouch.

    If he can get those two issues in check, Tokoto has a promising future in Chapel Hill.

     

    Midseason Grade: B

James Michael McAdoo, PF

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    I refuse to grade James Michael McAdoo on the scale of hype entering this season. What he did last season filling in for John Henson was a great spark, but it wasn't enough to warrant all the offseason accolades.

    It was plain to see last year that McAdoo needed development, and that wasn't going to all come together during the offseason. He would have to gradually improve as he gained more experience.

    Therefore, I don't look at his season as the disappointment others do.

    McAdoo is still leading the team in points and rebounds, averaging 15 and 8.6 per game, respectively. Beyond scoring and rebounding, he has also proven to be a pretty solid passer, too.

    Make no mistake about it, McAdoo is talented but needs time to polish his game.

    He is only shooting 45.8 percent from the floor, which is low for a post player. He should be in the 50-percent range with the other guys.

    McAdoo is the only post player on the team shooting below that mark.

    In the last game, he showed he can nail the 15 to 17-foot jumper with consistency. And that is something he will have to continue doing when the defense gives it to him.

    McAdoo will still have to bring down his average of 2.8 turnovers per game, and raise his 59.1 percent free-throw shooting. He has taken twice as many free throws as anyone else on the team, with 115.

    Free throws matter.

    Grading off the preseason hype, his grade would be much lower. But it wasn't justified hype, so I don't hold that against him. And his improvements over the last couple weeks have earned McAdoo a higher grade.

     

    Midseason Grade: B

Brice Johnson, PF/C

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    Brice Johnson has probably been the biggest surprise of the 2012 class. We knew he had skills, but through most of the season he has been one of the most consistent shooters on the squad.

    His shooting hasn't been quite as impressive of late, as he is only 10-of-28 over the last five games. But he still holds a shooting percentage of 56.2, which is the third-highest on the team behind Luke Davis and Jackson Simmons.

    Johnson has also proven to be a solid rebounder and shot-blocker over his 12.8 minutes per game. He has 16 blocks on the season, and is averaging 4.2 boards per game.

    That's not too shabby for a freshman who has to step in behind McAdoo.

    His main struggles have come on defense, where he is consistently outmatched by weight. His 187-pound frame isn't made to bang with the big boys, but he does pretty well for his size and experience.

    Johnson will also have to improve his free-throw shooting, as he is only 9-of-16 on the season.

    Overall, it has been an impressive freshman campaign for Johnson, and he has given the team a much bigger boost than originally anticipated.

     

    Midseason Grade: B+

Jackson Simmons, PF/C

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    With all the players stacked up in the front court, Jackson Simmons was destined to ride a lot of pine this season. After a breakout game against Florida State, his minutes have been on the rise—and rightfully so.

    In 15 minutes, he had eight points, four rebounds, one assist, one block and a handful of hustle plays you won't find on the stat lines.

    Nobody will say Simmons is the most athletically-gifted player on the roster. And at 6'7", 220 pounds, his size is of little advantage playing the post. But players can overcome those impediments by being fundamentally sound.

    That's what Simmons does.

    He is almost always in the right place at the right time. He only takes high-percentage shots, which is evidenced by his 20-of-30 shooting from the floor. He is also 8-of-10 on his free throws.

    Simmons won't dominate the box score with his numbers, but he has been a steady contributor for the Tar Heels. Considering the team's lack of consistency, it's been good to see him come off the deep bench for solid play each time out.

    Simmons is playing at just about his peak level, which earns him one of the higher grades.

     

    Midseason Grade: A

Reggie Bullock, SF/SG

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    With all the talk of McAdoo in the offseason, Reggie Bullock was one of the guys that got lost in the mix. But he has certainly stepped up to be one of the top players on the team, and he has been that on both sides of the floor.

    Statistically, he is one of the most complete players on the team.

    Not only is Bullock second on the team with 13.6 points per game, he is also second in rebounds (5.8), third in assists (3.0) and third in steals (1.3). He also leads the team with a three-point percentage of 42.6 and a free-throw percentage of 87.9.

    I'd say that's a pretty complete game.

    Since Strickland went down last season, Bullock's defense has steadily improved. Now he is widely considered the top defender on the team. He proved that guarding the NCAA's leading scorer, Erick Green, on the final shot of regulation, forcing an airball that sent the game to overtime.

    His only true weakness is driving to the basket. His handles need some work, and his 205-pound frame doesn't overpower many opponents.

    That said, he has still managed two 20-point games and has scored double-digits in 16 of the 19 games he has played this season.

    His 7-of-27 shooting beyond the arc over the last four games has his score down a tick. Bullock has taken a lot of unnecessary threes, where he would have been better off trying to drive or dishing it off.

    He needs to learn you can't be hot in every contest, and his game needs to be adjusted accordingly. That's why he didn't earn the highest mark possible.

     

    Midseason Grade: A

P.J. Hairston, SG/SF

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    After his MVP performance in the NC Pro-Am, P.J. Hairston's hype got turned up a notch. So far, he has lived up to that hype, despite only starting one game.

    Many fans would agree that isn't his fault.

    In just 19.6 minutes per game, Hairston is putting up some impressive numbers. He is averaging 12.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.9 steals per game.

    Like Bullock, Hairston pretty much does it all.

    The difference between the two is that Hairston will drive and dunk on opponents with authority. That kind of killer instinct is something this team is truly lacking, which makes his coming off the bench even harder to understand.

    It looked like he was about to have a monster game against Boston College that surely would have forced him into the starting lineup. In just 12 minutes, he had 14 points, three assists, one charge taken and was 4-of-4 from downtown.

    Then he collided with Strickland on defense, which knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

    The only thing one can really knock Hairston for is a lack of consistency. His shooting has been up and down, but he has still managed two 20-point games and hit double-digits in scoring in 12 of his 19 games played.

    And that's coming off the bench.

    Because of his lack of consistency, and his willingness to settle for too many jumpers, he won't reach the highest mark either. But there is no doubt Hairston is making his case for team MVP.

     

    Midseason Grade: A

Roy Williams

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    Sometimes coaches receive too much of the blame when a team doesn't do well. At the same time, they tend to get a lot of credit for the wins.

    It is only fair to judge them evenly for both results.

    We really won't find out until the season is over, whether or not Roy Williams' stubbornness will pay off. So far, the results have been mixed.

    For far too long, Roy has worked out an 11-man rotation. Luke Davis seems to be the only one that doesn't get off the bench in each game. As inexperienced as this team is together, it's kind of hard to build chemistry that way.

    Each player needs to know what 10 other guys are going to do on the court.

    On the flip side, that could pay off later in the season when the team will need depth the most. Everyone is either a freshman or playing a new role on the team, so game experience is of great value.

    But at what cost?

    That's the biggest question, as the Tar Heels head into the final stretch. Roy's never-ending rotations could eventually boost the team, or it could bury them with more losses.

    Another obvious mark against Coach Williams is having P.J. Hariston come off the bench, even though he seems to be the missing spark the team needs at the start of each game. He has complained about Hairston's hustle at times, but Hairston seems to play as hard as any other starter.

    Is there something we don't know about?

    There could be. Or he could be refusing to take away Strickland's starting spot because he is a senior. Only Roy really knows what's going on.

    To the rest of us, it is one confusing mess.

    Right now the Tar Heels are sitting at 15-6, and Roy has yet to even pick a center to take a majority of the minutes. Hubert gets the starts, but he only plays 12 minutes per game, which only adds to the confusion in Chapel Hill.

    At some point, Roy Williams has to make a decision on these matters, and come up with a consistent rotation. It's tough to imagine the players will ever be consistent until he does.

    But the season isn't over yet, and the Hall of Famer still has time to prove us wrong. As it is only a matter of opinion with his decisions at this point, I can only grade him for the results.

     

    Midseason Grade: C