North Carolina Basketball: Best-Case Scenarios for Projected Starters in 2014
Development will be a huge factor in how well North Carolina will play in 2013-14. UNC is loaded with talent, and many of its players are blessed with very high ceilings.
Today, we will focus on those ceilings as we go through the best-case scenarios for the Tar Heels' starting five.
As you stroll through the following slides, remember this is a gauge of their true potential—not a prediction of what they will actually accomplish. We'll need a few more months of offseason before we can properly assess that.
Otherwise, we'd just be shooting in the dark.
Center: Joel James or Desmond Hubert
This is why I have also included Desmond Hubert, who is likely to be James' most worthy challenger. The other options are two freshmen—one of whom is a power forward—and a sophomore power forward who isn't breaking 200 pounds wet.
In the best-case scenario for Joel James, the sophomore starts showing signs of being the best center Roy Williams has put on the floor. That says a lot, considering Sean May and Tyler Zeller played under the Hall of Famer at Chapel Hill.
Neither of them had the body of James, though. And his Downy-soft shooting touch is worthy of placing him among Roy's best.
Last season, James displayed a nice hook and a smooth jumper from about 10 feet out. With his massive 260-pound frame, adding a drop step would be lethal. And with his improved confidence, he will play more freely.
That means defenders better get out of the way when the big man goes up to rock the rim. That's something we didn't see last season, even though he is perfectly capable of posterizing defenders.
By no means will he reach the level of Zeller and May as a mere sophomore. But his rapidly improving play will open a lot of eyes.
In this scenario, James will average 11 points, nine boards and almost two blocks per game. That's more than enough to take attention off of James Michael McAdoo.
If Hubert ends up getting the nod, you can expect him to put up similar numbers. However, he will still be less dominant in the post.
Most of his points will come from fast breaks, alley-oops and putbacks. He'll probably drop a hook in here and there, but he doesn't come off as a back-you-down kind of guy.
It's not a weight thing, either. He'll probably come into November pushing 240 pounds. But a post player has to have the offensive willpower to go with the weight.
And Hubert is a defensive-minded player.
That said, defense is where we will see the most impact from Hubert. As a starter, he would land somewhere in the top 25 for shot-blockers, with an average over 2.5 per game. He will also be considered for the ACC's all-defensive team.
His rebounds and points would be a little less than James, though. Expect eight points and eight rebounds as a best-case scenario for Hubert as the starter.
Shooting Guard/Small Forward: Leslie McDonald
Faith in Leslie McDonald has diminished a little over the past couple of seasons. Many were projecting him as a starter in 2011-12 before he went down with a torn ACL.
His comeback season of 2012-13 had mixed results, as the junior couldn't match his hot start as the season progressed.
But with Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland out of the way, the rising senior finally has the chance to start—and prove his worth as a Tar Heel.
In the best-case scenario, that's exactly what he does.
Don't think of McDonald as a star. Think of him as a crucial role player who finds a way to contribute where the Tar Heels need him the most.
There will be a battle between P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald for the sharp-shooting crown in 2013-14. He will shoot more like he did at the start of last season, burying over 40 percent of his threes.
McDonald won't mirror Bullock's junior stat lines, but he will come close. In this scenario, he will average 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and over one steal per game.
That will be more than enough with UNC's assortment of weapons.
Small Forward/Shooting Guard: P.J. Hairston
Until the full story of his arrest comes to light, we have to assume P.J. Hairston will be a starter for North Carolina. He is the energy guy who fuels this team.
He is also the most talented and versatile player on the squad, with a jump shot as pure as the water of Fiji.
In this scenario, Hairston will come in with a refined mid-range game to go with his perimeter shooting and ability to take it to the rack with authority. The combination of a complete game and strong frame will make a tough matchup for any defender.
Hairston averaged over 18 points per game as a starter last season, so he has the potential to drop 20 or more through the course of the season.
But scoring isn't the only thing Hairston does. He's also an excellent rebounder and a very active defender, taking advantage of any miscues by the opposing offense.
He is perfectly capable of averaging five or six rebounds, a couple of assists and close to two steals a game. He's also proved to be an excellent shot-blocker for his position, so he will be just shy of one block per contest.
With everything Hairston brings to the game, he has the makings of a Wooden Award winner. Ultimately, he won't get it because of the arrest over the summer. But voters will be fighting the temptation with the numbers he will put up.
He won't let his mistake bring him down. If anything, it will be the fuel that pushes him to prominence.
Power Forward: James Michael McAdoo
Last season, it seemed James Michael McAdoo was unwilling to adapt or improve upon his game. Natural talent and athleticism will only get a player so far. Relying on that alone ultimately led to his failure to live up to expectations.
But if he took his first season starting as a lesson, he will be the player everyone expected.
McAdoo was streaky with his turnaround jumper, which was really his only go-to move. In the best-case scenario, he adds a hook shot to his repertoire in the post. He will also become more consistent with the turnaround and mid-range jumpers.
His patience and post work make McAdoo much more efficient player, decreasing his turnovers and boosting his assists.
McAdoo will improve on the defensive end of the floor, too. Instead of trying to force a charge every time, he uses his length and athleticism to contest the shots. With a solid center on the court, this will make the paint a very unfriendly place for the opposition.
This version of McAdoo will average 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and almost one block per game. His numbers and flashy play will make him a candidate for the Wooden Award.
Point Guard: Marcus Paige
Marcus Paige will turn a lot of heads in 2013-14—and that isn't even the best case scenario.
I'm just telling you that straight up.
Many outside of Tar Heel Nation—and even a few within—just remember Paige for his rocky start. He was highly prone to turnovers and had a serious problem finding the bottom of the net. That should be expected from a freshman point guard, but the play of Kendall Marshall was still fresh on everyone's minds.
Butter's play would be tough for a junior to match—much less a freshman. Only Country Crock spreads that smooth.
Paige is a different player, and he will make his own legacy. He was a scoring machine in high school, with a deadly floater and jumper.
We will see more of that Paige this season. His threes improved as he progressed through his freshman year, and his renewed confidence will carry into his sophomore campaign. In the best-case scenario, he will be flirting with 40 percent shooting from downtown.
He will also gain 15 pounds over the summer to help on both ends of the court. He'll still be a featherweight at about 170 pounds, but the added strength will allow him push through tight screens and slice through the paint.
Being able to take more contact and drop floaters will lead to a lot of and-1 situations—and Paige is automatic from the line.
Expect close to 12 points and six assists from the sophomore point guard in this scenario. And Carolina's returning team defensive player of the year will add close to two steals per game to those stat lines.
The Paige doubters will soon be in hiding—or pretending they never doubted him in the first place.
You know how it goes.
There is no way of predicting how much these players will actually develop this offseason. Sometimes it takes a couple of years of starting for players to reach their true potential at the collegiate level. Only McAdoo and Paige started the entire 2012-13 season.
But you can count on these Tar Heels to come close to matching their best-case scenarios in 2013-14.