The North Carolina Tar Heels are an interesting team to break down this offseason, to say the least. The raw talent on this UNC squad runs deep, and its potential is off the charts.
But potential doesn't get you anywhere in life or on the court—well, with the exception of the NBA draft. We're talking college basketball, though. Players need to grow with their teammates to make it to the Big Dance.
Raw talent doesn't win titles. Maturity and team chemistry do.
With the nucleus of the 2012-13 team intact, it's very possible the Tar Heels will be able to eclipse their 25-11 record from last season and make a run at the national title. On the flip side, it's just as likely the team struggles through much of the season—especially while P.J. Hairston is out.
These are the factors that will make or break the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2013-14.
There is no factor more crucial to the Tar Heels' season than the development of the returners. That includes the stars of the show, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo.
There isn't a single player from last year's team that doesn't need to step up his game.
Hairston needs to become more selective with his shots and develop more of a mid-range game. McAdoo needs to work more with his back to the basket, to slow down his game and to reduce his turnovers after averaging 2.7 per game as a sophomore.
Both players should see their field-goal percentages rise with those improvements, making the Tar Heels a much more efficient team. The two accounted for 37.1 percent of Carolina's shot attempts last season. Every clank is a missed opportunity for someone else.
The sophomores may be the most important variable in the development equation, though.
As the point guard, Marcus Paige will need to show more command of the offense, cut down his mistakes and bury his treys to keep defenses honest. Brice Johnson showed a lot of pop on the offensive end, but he needs to become more consistent with his defensive efforts.
A lot of weight will be placed on the shoulders of fellow sophomores J.P. Tokoto and Joel James. There is very little depth on the wing, so Tokoto really needs to show improvement with his shooting. James will have to get over his jitters, shore up those hands and become the weapon in the post Coach Williams and McAdoo need.
As far as senior Leslie McDonald is concerned, I don't think it will be a matter of development. He just needs to live up to his potential now that he is finally getting the opportunity to do so. He's a solid rebounder for his position, distributes well, is a good defender and can really stroke it from deep when he's on.
Juniors Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons just need to continue doing what they do. They're both hustlers and outstanding teammates. It'd be nice to see some more offensive game from Hubert, but it's hard to change defensive-minded players.
I wouldn't expect too much there.
This Tar Heel squad has mounds of potential with all the impressive youth and two potential lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft. The reason development is so key is that the team isn't much different, personnel-wise, than last season's 25-11 (12-6, ACC) squad.
But as much flack as that 2012-13 team caught, it finished third in the ACC behind very good Duke and Miami teams and made it to the ACC Championship and the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Not bad for a team that people were predicting would be playing in the NIT with Kentucky.
Imagine what these Tar Heels are capable of with a year of seasoning.
If you thought last season was a mess at center, this season has the potential to be more chaotic. The starting spot is up for grabs yet again, and this time it will be between six players: Joel James, Desmond Hubert, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Jackson Simmons.
Remember the rotations last season between just Hubert, James and Johnson? Hubert would start, play two minutes, and then it would be James's turn for two minutes. It was an inconsistent mess, with nobody having time to get into a rhythm.
If nobody stands out in the first couple games, I fear more of the constant rotation with even more players. Coach Williams will never find a center like that. Hopefully, someone will step up over the next three weeks to solidify a starting role at the 5 before the season even starts.
I've said many times during this long offseason that Joel James will be that guy, and I'm not backing off of that anytime soon.
Yes, it would be great to have Hicks and Johnson on the floor as much as possible, but I don't see them thriving at center. Simmons would find a way to be effective, but at 6'7", 225 pounds, there would be a serious mismatch in size with opposing centers. Meeks still needs to shrink a bit (290 pounds), and Hubert lacks offensive prowess.
James, however, is the perfect building block for a dominant dominant presence in the low post. He stands at 6'10", 280 pounds (of muscle, mind you), which should be big enough to bully anyone on the block. He also has an extremely soft shooting touch, which is rare to find in big men.
James should be the perfect throwback center in Williams' system.
No matter who gets the starting nod, though, the Tar Heels will be better off at the 5 than they were last season. I don't see Coach Williams having to go with a small lineup and forcing McAdoo closer to the basket.
That's a big plus.
For the first time since the 2005-06 season, the Tar Heels found themselves outside of the top three in rebounds. They ranked 14th in the nation last season, averaging 39.2 rebounds per contest.
This was also the first time a Roy Williams-led UNC team was held under 40 rebounds. Prior to the 2012-13 season, his Carolina teams averaged 41.9 rebounds and finished with an average ranking of 4.55 in that category.
It was also the first time Coach Williams played a shooting guard (Hairston) at the 4.
The Tar Heels were a much better rebounding team before the Hall of Famer had to go small out of offensive desperation. McAdoo also started to have back issues, which only compounded the rebounding woes.
This season, the Tar Heels should look more like the teams we have been accustomed to under the leadership of Roy Williams. With a healthy—and hopefully more aggressive—McAdoo and a strong center like James, he should be getting close to 18 per game from the post duo.
As always, he also has excellent rebounders on the perimeter to haul in the scraps.
I won't go as far as to say this team will match the 2011-12 squad that pulled in 45.2 boards per game, but somewhere in the range of 42 per should be attainable. That could lead to a lot of put-backs and transition points.
Now that sounds like a Roy Williams team, doesn't it?
With the departure of sharpshooter Reggie Bullock, many folks are beginning to question how effective the Tar Heels will be behind the arc. That's a pretty reasonable concern, especially during the time Hairston is out with his suspension.
In the previous slide, I mentioned how important rebounds, put-backs and fast breaks are in Roy Williams' system. The three-ball is right there, too. When defenses crash to the star bigs, he expects his shooters to be able to bury the open treys on the kick-outs.
That's what the Tar Heels did last season. They buried 37.3 percent of their three-point attempts, which was their best mark since the 2008-09 season (38.7).
However, Bullock shot 43.6 percent from downtown, which gave a big boost to that percentage. Now that he is gone, can anyone else reach the 40 percent mark?
Hairston was very close last season at 39.6 percent. The only concern with him is shot selection. If he has a mid-range game this season, he should be more selective with threes and, therefore, become more consistent.
McDonald should also be able to flirt with 40 percent in his fifth year with the Heels. As a sophomore in 2010-11, he drilled 38.1 percent of his attempts. He started his junior campaign hot, shooting 43.1 percent (25-of-58) before his suspension.
Unfortunately, McDonald was never the same when he came back. By the end of the season, his three-point percentage had been reduced to 35.9.
Marcus Paige's season went in the opposite direction. For most of the year, the freshman couldn't hit sand if he fell off a camel. But, boy, when it clicked, we saw the Paige that dominated the high school ranks in Iowa.
He was 20-of-46 in his final 13 games of the season. I have no doubt that is the Paige we will see as a sophomore. In fact, I have him winning the Hubert Davis Award at the end of the season.
If three out of five starters are capable of shooting 40 percent from downtown, which they are, three pointers shouldn't be too big of a concern this season.
There were a lot of new parts last season, and having only two returning starters led to a very frustrating season for everyone involved. Hopefully, with an extended practice schedule this year and all the returners, the Tar Heels will be off to a much smoother start in 2013-14.
And if they develop as they should, this will be a nasty team to deal with.