Marcus Paige has continued to progress throughout the season, but we won't see true North Carolina basketball until he learns a few lessons—five of them to be exact.
So much weight falls on the shoulders of point guards, especially in a point guard-driven system like Roy Williams'.
Transition is a big part of UNC basketball under Roy. That requires quick decision-making and precision passing to maximize scoring efficiency.
And that's what makes it so hard for a freshman to come in and run Williams' system to perfection.
There is a learning curve going from high school to college. The guys Paige faces now are bigger, faster, stronger and equally talented—or better. There is less room for error now, and a player will quickly become exposed.
Paige has held up well through these tough times and is slowly becoming the floor general Carolina fans have come to expect. As the season rolls on, he will continue to improve if he takes lessons from each game.
And these five lessons will be keys to making his mark in Tar Heel history.
Like most young basketball players, Marcus Paige has a tendency to dribble too high. That's like dangling a slab of meat in front of a pack of hungry wolves.
It's going to get jacked.
Not only does a high dribble make the ball easier for the defender to reach, it also extends travel time from the floor to the hand. That gives time and space for the defender to poke it out.
It's also harder to make a counter-move because of that travel time.
When a player is driving, the ball should be dribbled below the knees, never reaching higher than the waist. In the photo, you can see his bounce is a little high, and it's begging to be poked out.
When you're 160 pounds wet, you need every advantage possible. There are few better advantages to have in the game of basketball than a tight dribble—especially for a point guard.
What usually causes errors in decision-making for a point guard?
It's usually questioning their own instincts and being afraid to make a mistake. Point guards will commit their fair share of errors. When you handle the ball more than anyone else, it's going to happen.
But the best point guards aren't afraid to make a play.
That's the type of hesitation I see in Marcus Paige's game. He has dropped some sweet dimes, like the one he's dishing out in the photo. But too often he seems a little timid about letting it fly—especially in transition.
We'll get to that in a minute.
I'm not sure how many times Paige has been busted in the air having second thoughts, but I can think of at least four off the top of my head. A couple times he was going up for a jump shot. Two other times he was driving the baseline and going airborne for a wrap-around that wasn't there.
Unless a player has the hang time of Michael Jordan, it's usually a bad idea for him to change his mind in mid-air. Whether it's a jump shot, a layup or a pass, Paige needs to learn to pull the trigger on his first instinct.
When hitters double-clutch, they strike out. When quarterbacks double-clutch, they get picked or sacked. When point guards double-clutch, it ends up as some form of a turnover.
Pull the trigger, Marcus.
Marcus Paige isn't slow by any means, but he certainly isn't as quick as Ty Lawson. Neither was Kendall Marshall.
But Marshall wasn't afraid to chuck it 70 or 80 feet, and that produced transition points even faster than Lawson could with his feet. Paige needs to sit down with a tape of Marshall and see how it's done.
There have been so many opportunities where the window was small, but it was a pass Marshall would have no trouble sticking in there. Paige shouldn't have trouble doing it either, but he is just playing too timid right now.
In Paige's defense, he doesn't have a Tyler Zeller that's always 15 feet ahead of everyone else on the break. That would be nice.
But there has been room to thread some passes in there.
Carolina basketball needs the fast break, especially this season when the half-court offense struggles for quality possessions.
It's about scoring and wearing down opponents, neither of which is going to happen with "slow" breaks.
Game management is a big part of being a floor general, and tempo is the key to success in that department. It's up to him how fast or slow the team plays, and he should allow the flow of the game to dictate the tempo.
It's about knowing your teammates and your opponents. As a freshman with a bunch of new teammates and opponents, this has been another one of the issues with Paige.
There will be times in the games when the Tar Heel offense is slumping. Guys are missing shots and making mental errors because it feels like the sky is falling.
That's when the point guard slows it up and gets his team back in control.
If he doesn't, misses and mistakes will pile up, leading to fast breaks and easy buckets by the opposing team. And stepping on the gas in that situation only makes it worse. Just look at the tapes from Indiana, Texas or NC State.
When the Tar Heel defense is coming up with big stops and turnovers, that's when Paige needs to put his foot on the throttle. The point is to destroy the opponent while it is weak.
The point guard is the coach on the court, and Paige needs to know when to make adjustments.
Ed Cota with the floata!
Another Carolina point guard wearing No. 5 knew a little somethin' about the "floata."
Ed Cota was a master of the floater, and it proved to be a very deadly weapon. Like Paige, Cota didn't have great size either, but he made up for that by not having to get to the rim on a drive.
The floater is a work of art. Shooting on the run is one of the toughest ways to find the bottom of the net, but it's nearly impossible to defend when executed to perfection.
Paige hasn't used the floater very often at the collegiate level, but I've seen him drop a few in his high school reels. Perhaps he's waiting to get in his shooting zone.
He is 9-of-20 in his last two games, so it would seem he's getting there.
Paige is a much better shooter than we have seen thus far. When he gets his touch back, he should start making the floater his primary scoring weapon.
If Page can get a grasp on these lessons before ACC play is over, this team could make a run at the ACC tourney title. The talent and system are there. They just need Paige to turn the crank.