North Carolina Basketball: 5 Burning Questions for Tar Heels' Offseason

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2013

North Carolina Basketball: 5 Burning Questions for Tar Heels' Offseason

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    North Carolina traveled a rocky road last season with the departure of the Big Four. The Tar Heels were working with very little starting experience, and most players were forced into roles they haven't been at UNC.

    Heck, by the end of the season, P.J. Hairston was playing power forward and James Michael McAdoo was at center. It worked out, though.

    So did starting Marcus Paige as a freshman.

    Now all three players have starting experience, and everyone is much more aware of these players' deficiencies. With a six-month break before the 2013-14 starts, they will all have time to work out those kinks with coaches, teammates and former Tar Heels.

    That goes for the rest of the team, too.

    How much success the Tar Heels will have next season will all hinge on positive answers for these five burning questions.

Can James Michael McAdoo Step Up His Game?

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    Shooting percentages aside, James Michael McAdoo had a very productive sophomore campaign. He averaged 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in 2012-13.

    Isolated, those are pretty impressive numbers for a sophomore. Especially considering the production of his teammates P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock.

    However, he took 101 more shots than Hairston, who led the team with 14.6 points per game. Shooting percentage is an issue, and 44.5 percent isn't going to cut it at the power forward spot.

    But if McAdoo slows down a little bit and becomes more calculated in the post, he has the potential to become an absolute monster. Learning some solid post moves and playing with his back to the basket more often will calm him down a bit.

    Facing the basket, he usually rushes to the rim, relying on speed and athleticism alone to beat his defender. Once he learns to rock his opponent, he'll have a lot more open space to jam one home.

    All of this will slow his pace down. In turn, he will become much more efficient in the paint. And it will also cut down on his team-leading 96 turnovers.

    McAdoo has the makeup to become great. He simply needs to become more fundamentally sound.

    Former Tar Heels are always willing to help out over the summer. Rasheed Wallace is a regular and Tyler Zeller could teach him that nasty hook. McAdoo simply needs to take advantage of all the sources he is blessed with at Carolina.

Can Leslie McDonald Replace Reggie Bullock's Production?

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    North Carolina lost gobs of production when Reggie Bullock decided to jet to the NBA. The junior averaged 13.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He also buried 88 treys in 2012-13.

    That's a serious hit on both sides of the floor for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels.

    Whether Leslie McDonald plays the 2 or the 3, he will be considered Bullock's replacement. And he will have to put up some solid numbers for UNC to have a shot at the ACC title in 2014.

    For his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, McDonald appeared to just be a shooter. During the summer before his junior season, he was showing off improved dribbles, passing and a willingness to take it to the hole at the NC Pro-Am.

    A lot of people started expecting big things from the rising junior. Then he tore his ACL during the Pro-Am, keeping him off the court for the entire season. Then Dexter Strickland tore his ACL just 19 games into the 2011-12 season.

    That gave Bullock the opportunity to step up his game. Perhaps this is McDonald's grand opportunity, and he has just been waiting for his time to strike.

    Now is that time, L-Mac.

    Much like Bullock, McDonald isn't a superstar that will just dominate an offense. But he can shoot lights out from the perimeter, rebound, pass and is a better dribbler than Bullock. He is also stronger, and will post up smaller defenders.

    McDonald only saw the hardwood for 17.7 minutes per game last season. But if you average out his numbers to match Bullock's 31.4 minutes, McDonald would have 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.9 steals per contest.

    Factor in his poor second half of the season and having to produce off the bench, those numbers should increase as a starter in his senior year.

    But he will need to focus on his mid-range game, refine his handles and step up his game on the defensive end during the offseason. This is McDonald's moment, and he can't let it pass him by.

Can J.P. Tokoto Find His Jumper?

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    No matter how well McDonald plays, Coach Williams will be relying on J.P. Tokoto to add depth on the wing. Otherwise, he will be looking to point guards Marcus Paige or Nate Britt to spell P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.

    Like McAdoo, Tokoto has an excellent base to start with. He is extremely explosive going to the rim and his leaping ability is downright uncanny. His handles are OK and his court vision is excellent. He just needs to have a better feel of when to pull the trigger on the dish.

    He has a tendency to play a little loose in the passing game, which was a big part of his 31 turnovers last season.

    But most importantly, Tokoto needs to find his jumper. He was pretty decent from about 15 feet, but any farther than that, and Tokoto was catching mostly iron.

    He was just 1-of-11 from downtown his freshman year.

    This wasn't a surprise like it was with Hairston his freshman season. Tokoto wasn't a great shooter in high school. He thrived on defense and in the transition game.

    He can't just live off that at the college level. Not when he's the first wing off the bench.

    Tokoto can fix his shooting, though. His stroke looks nice; it's just everything below that's a little off-kilter. His legs spread out and he leans too much.

    His stand-still jumper looks more like a running floater. Assistant coach Hubert Davis is there to work these kinks out, and there are few better men for the job.

    With a full offseason to take some pointers from the master, we should see a much-improved J.P. Tokoto. If he doesn't, that could be a troubling sign for both the season and his career.

Who Will Win the Battle for Starting Center?

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    With Kennedy Meeks heading to Chapel Hill this season, Coach Williams has a stable of three centers to choose from. Joel James and Desmond Hubert showed flashes of potential on the offensive end and brilliance at times on the defensive side of the floor.

    But both will need to work relentlessly in the offseason to prove they are worthy of the starting job. If they don't, Brice Johnson or Isaiah Hicks might even be looked at to fill that spot.

    There isn't much negative to say about Hubert's defensive game. He's an excellent blocker with his length and has great instincts on his angles. He shows help when he needs to and gets back to his spot in a hurry.

    His offensive game is lacking, though. The Tar Heels need a guy they can feed the rock in the deep post and count on him to score. Most of Hubert's scoring last season was on open dunks.

    Wallace worked with him last offseason, and one has to assume he will put that time in again.

    Most of Joel James' problems seemed to be freshman jitters and an extreme lack of experience. He only played three seasons of organized basketball before coming to UNC.

    His hands were easily the biggest issue in the offensive half court. He dropped a lot of post feeds that should have been handled without a problem.

    There was no denying his natural shooting touch, though. With his 6'10", 260-pound frame, James could be a force down low if he can soften those hands and develop some strong post moves.

    Meeks will be a bit of a long shot for the starting job as a freshman. He is a little more refined in his game than the other two, but he isn't very explosive. He will be a great Tar Heel, but Meeks will probably need a year of development before he gets some serious playing time.

    I'm sure Roy Williams would love to have a clear-cut center after all the shifting last season, but having this many players to choose from may not be a bad thing, either.

How Much Magic Can Jonas Sahratian Work?

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    Jonas Sahratian is slowly becoming one of the best known strength and conditioning coaches in the nation. Tar Heel fans know him from the impressive work he did with Desmond Hubert and John Henson, managing to pack 20 pounds on the lanky posts.

    He was even featured in Men's Health.

    This offseason, he will have two more undersized players to beef up in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Paige weighed in at 157 pounds and Johnson at 187 pounds as freshmen.

    For Paige, adding some weight and strength will help him fight through screens, get physical on defense and absorb contact going to the rim. Since Johnson is a post player, weight is a big part of holding his ground against the big boys.

    He was actually quite impressive in the post, despite his slight build. But he will only get better with a heavier anchor.

    Fortunately, Sahratian hasn't wasted any time working on their frames. He started on them a month ago, and he even has Hubert back for more.

    And everyone is waiting for the next miracle from Jonas Sahratian.

    If the returning Tar Heels can step up their games in the offseason, they can make a serious run at the ACC title—and possibly even the national title. But if they don't, North Carolina may not be any better off than it was last season.

    Greatness will never be realized without hard work and dedication.