UNC Basketball: How P.J. Hairston's Absence Would Affect Each Projected Starter

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2013

UNC Basketball: How P.J. Hairston's Absence Would Affect Each Projected Starter

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    The NBA has taken risks on talented serial boneheads before. For that reason, we shouldn't worry all that much about the professional future of one P.J. Hairston.

    What we are here to discuss is the impending college basketball season and North Carolina's place in it. While Hairston tries to keep his nose clean after a summer overflowing with references to traffic stops, marijuana, reckless driving and ties to convicted felons, the Tar Heels just hope no other shoes drop.

    Further indiscretions would seemingly warrant a suspension of substantial length, costing Hairston many more pivotal games than home tilts with the likes of Oakland and Holy Cross. A big enough boner would close the book on Hairston's college career for good.

    If that nuclear scenario does come to fruition, how cold would a Hairston-less winter be for UNC's other potential starters? Hairston's shooting ability spreads the floor and creates openings for his teammates, but how would they fare without him?

    Let's look at the depth chart and project what the other Heels might be in for if P.J. can't avoid further trouble.

PG Marcus Paige

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    With no Hairston in the lineup, Marcus Paige would very likely become the Heels' No. 1 scoring option. That might not necessarily be a problem.

    While Paige's cumulative numbers from his freshman season were eyesores, he started to find a stride in late February. Over UNC's final 10 games, the 6'0" rookie shot a respectable 47 percent from the floor, up from a pitiful 31 percent before that span. That included a very strong 15-of-31 (46 percent) from three-point range, which was always a strength of Paige's game in high school.

    Offseason weight training has Paige cutting a more impressive frame, bulking up from a wispy 157 pounds to 171, with a goal of 175 by summer's end. He'll need the extra muscle, especially if anything goes wrong with Hairston.

    A team already short on perimeter threats can't afford to spare its most dangerous one. The loss of Hairston would see Paige forced to step into the primary shooting role. His mindset would likely shift away from the distributor type that has succeeded at Carolina (think Kendall Marshall or Ed Cota) toward more of a combo-guard approach.

    Last year's late hot streak coincided with Hairston's run of dominant form. Without P.J. on hand to draw the defense's focus, Paige may struggle to sustain that level of efficiency.

SG Leslie McDonald

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    Leslie McDonald has shown the capacity for hot shooting games. Unfortunately, they've come more often against the likes of Mississippi State (21 points, 6-of-9 from three) or UAB (24 points, 5-of-8 from three) than ACC foes like Duke or Virginia.

    If the Tar Heels lack the services of P.J. Hairston, McDonald's stroke would have to stay with him every night, lest Marcus Paige be the only oar in the water.

    After missing the 2011-12 season with a torn ACL, McDonald had occasional struggles on either end of the court as he tried to recapture his explosiveness. On the offensive end, he was primarily a spot-up shooter, taking 60 percent of his shots from behind the arc per Hoop-Math.com.

    McDonald could be best suited as an instant offensive spark off the bench, but Reggie Bullock's departure makes that an unlikely option. As Robin to Hairston's Batman, McDonald can be assured his share of open looks. If Hairston were to disappear, there would be no more safety net. Perimeter shots would need to come from McDonald, Paige and freshman point guard Nate Britt or they wouldn't come at all.

SF Brice Johnson (?)

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    This second wing spot, whether you call it a small forward or shooting guard, would be Hairston's. If anything cost him his eligibility, coach Roy Williams might be left scrambling to fill it.

    Sophomore Brice Johnson is an underweight post player striving to reach a goal of 210 pounds. Last season, he proved capable of scoring on bigger teams, but was largely invisible after mid-February.

    Johnson's demotion coincided with Williams promoting Hairston to the starting lineup, so Johnson regaining a spot if Hairston were dismissed would carry some amount of irony.

    Freshman Isaiah Hicks and sophomore J.P. Tokoto are strong athletes, and Hicks' motor will certainly endear him to his new coach. However, neither has anything in the way of mid-range or perimeter scoring ability.

    Johnson at least tried a mid-range game last year, with 60 percent of his shots being jumpers. If he can't hit more than last season's 33 percent, however, it's back to the bench with him and Hicks gets to chase fast-break dunks all night.

    Or Tokoto joins the lineup as a designated shutdown artist.

    Or Roy Williams tries to see if George Lynch has any eligibility left. Something.

PF James Michael McAdoo

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    Forward James Michael McAdoo would suffer more than any other player if UNC lost P.J. Hairston.

    B/R columnists rated McAdoo as a second-team All-American coming into last season, and many other media outlets echoed the sentiment. In response, McAdoo carded a seemingly decent 14.4 PPG and 7.3 RPG. Decent numbers, though, don't usually draw All-America votes, especially not for a guy with a limp 46.9 true shooting percentage.

    Defensive attention was squarely focused on him, and it occasionally led to struggles like 4-of-15 shooting at Indiana and 3-of-12 at Miami. The lack of a post presence beside him didn't help, but he didn't fend for himself terribly well as the sole inside option in a smaller lineup, either.

    Some players may simply not have the temperament to be the alpha dog. If McAdoo is one of those guys, he'll dearly miss Hairston's scoring ability, his swagger and his vocal nature. Once again, defenses will camp out in McAdoo's back pocket and endlessly torment him.

    McAdoo is still touted as a borderline lottery pick by DraftExpress.com, and the pressure is acute. Hairston's shooting ability provides a safety valve for the expectations on McAdoo. Without Hairston, UNC's season could rest completely on McAdoo's shoulders.

    He doesn't appear to dig that scenario very well.

C Joel James

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    Sophomore Joel James will have to hold off hefty freshman Kennedy Meeks for the center position, but his seniority gives him a great advantage.

    James has already been where Meeks is now, trying to adapt to college and get his body ready for the rigors of the ACC. Where James failed was in getting his mind right, committing more than five fouls per 40 minutes and turning the ball over on 27.3 percent of his possessions per StatSheet.com.

    After the embarrassing February 9 loss to Miami, UNC played 13 more games. James played a total of 22 minutes in those outings.

    James is not a player who needs offensive sets run for him, as he can produce off the glass and even made 42 percent of his mid-range jumpers.

    Like everyone else, Jamesand Meeks, with whom he'll likely share minutes quite evenlywould miss Hairston's ability to spread the floor. In this case, James would fight more traffic on the glass, but his bulk would still give him an advantage in most matchups.

    James' development as an interior scoring threat is already essential to McAdoo's quality of life. The loss of Hairston would put a hefty chunk of the entire team's success on James' head. He can't afford to have that head in the wrong place this season.


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