UNC Basketball: Biggest Improvements Returning Tar Heels Must Make in 2013-14

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2013

UNC Basketball: Biggest Improvements Returning Tar Heels Must Make in 2013-14

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    Avoid getting this look from Coach Williams
    Avoid getting this look from Coach WilliamsStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The North Carolina Tar Heels are loaded with potential for the 2013-14 season. Roy Williams has managed to bring in a solid 2013 class with future studs Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt.

    Fortunately, this class won't be asked to do as much as the guys from 2012. UNC has retained most of it's returners, and they will be shouldering the load this season.

    If they plan on making a run for any titles, every returner will have to refine his game, though. These are the improvements they must make to become contenders once again.

Desmond Hubert, C

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    Desmond Hubert's formula for improvement is pretty simple: Bring some offensive game.

    Over 338 minutes last season, Hubert hesitantly attempted 35 field goals. That's one shot every 9.7 minutes of action. He did manage to shoot 54.3 percent from the floor, but most of his attempts were from spittoon range.

    There is no denying the junior center's defensive skills, but to be an impact player Hubert will have to become an offensive threat. Otherwise, the power forwards will be fighting off double teams every time Hubert steps away from the basket.

    This summer, he has been working with former Tar Heel Eric Montross and has developed a hook from both sides. If he combines that with some back-door alley-oops and transition slams, Hubert would really extend the Tar Heels' depth.

Joel James, C

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    USA TODAY Sports

    For Joel James, confidence and basketball IQ were his greatest areas of weakness. That's pretty understandable for a freshman playing his fourth season of organized basketball in one of the most formidable conferences in the nation.

    The 6'10", 280-pound big man was prone to dropped passes, travels and unnecessary fouls. Each mistake seemed to pile on his shoulders, weighing him down and destroying his confidence, which only led to more mistakes.

    That certainly doesn't mean we have seen the best of James in his first 281 minutes of action. Sometimes one has to look past the frustrating blunders and see the prospective talent that spews from the charismatic man-child.

    In contrast to Hubert, James offered up a field-goal attempt every 4.8 minutes of play, sinking mostly hooks and jumpers at a 51.7 percent clip. And with that Downy-soft shooting touch he was gifted with, his potential is off the charts.

    Joel James just needs to get his mind right.

Brice Johnson, PF

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Buckets came easy for Brice Johnson as a freshman. Defensive pride did not.

    That is where Johnson must improve his game the most.

    It certainly wasn't the case that Johnson lacked defensive skill. He averaged 5.3 blocks per game out of high school and swatted away 19 as a freshman. But he had a tendency to become complacent on that end of the floor—one of the knocks on him coming out of high school.

    "I'd go down [and] score, then end up giving up points and a foul or something," Johnson told ESPN's C.L. Brown. "They would always scream at me about it."

    And rightfully so. He has to get it done on both ends of the floor. Otherwise, his scoring doesn't matter.

    Johnson will undoubtedly earn more playing time this season if he shows dedication on the defensive end of the floor. The extra 20 pounds he packed on in the offseason should help him immensely if the effort is there.

James Michael McAdoo, PF

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    For junior James Michael McAdoo, it's all about posting up and staying under control.

    McAdoo has an excellent base. He's an athletic and active player with a quick first step and a nice turnaround jumper. Beyond his trademark move, though, he has been largely ineffective in the post.

    Last season, he preferred to take opponents off the bounce and straight to the rack. Unfortunately, when he was unable to jam one home, he was forced into wild shots over double-teams and turned the ball over at an alarming rate of 2.7 per game.

    That must change in 2013-14.

    McAdoo has to get his field-goal percentage above 50 to be a true threat in the post. Last season, he finished at 44.5 percent—what we would expect from a guard. If he develops some back-to-the-basket moves and someone steps up at the 5, we should see that percentage increase.

    McAdoo also has an issue with working too fast, which is probably because he was focused on beating his man off the dribble. Working more with his back to the basket should slow him down, allowing him to find open teammates on the wings and become more calculated with his shots.

    It should also reduce those nasty turnovers.

J.P. Tokoto, SF

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    There is no doubt about where J.P. Tokoto must improve—especially while shooter extraordinaire P.J. Hairston is out. 

    As a freshman last season, Tokoto struggled mightily with his jumper. He managed to sink only one of 11 three-point shots, and was somewhat inconsistent from mid-range. A little balance could change all of that.

    Maintaining proper balance is crucial for jump shooters, but Tokoto was typically leaning forward, backward and sometimes to the side. That's begging for bricks and airballs.

    Tokoto has spent a lot of extra time before workouts this summer to refine his spot-up and off-the-dribble shooting. He has also received some help from sharpshooter-turned-assistant coach Hubert Davis, who is a stickler for mechanics.

    If anyone can get Tokoto turned around, it's Davis.

    Don't forget this kid was putting up almost 20 shots a game and averaged 24.6 points as a senior in Wisconsin. Going from that to the bench can be a bit of a downer.

    Much like fellow sophomores Joel James and Marcus Paige, it's hard not to have confidence in the guy when you hear him speak. He's smart, classy and much more confident going into his second season at Chapel Hill.

    Tokoto could be the Tar Heels' biggest surprise.

P.J. Hairston, SF/SG

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    P.J. Hairston was a lightning rod as a sophomore, inspiring teammates with his intensity on both ends and burning up the nets with his sweet stroke. He led the team with 14.6 points over just 23.6 minutes per game.

    In his 14 starts, Hairtson averaged 18 points and scored 20-plus six times. In all, he accumulated a team-high eight 20-point performances. On top of that, he buried 39.6 percent of his threes—second only to Reggie Bullock.

    Where could he possibly improve?

    Adding a mid-range game would make Hairston absolutely lethal. He would probably be a more efficient three-point shooter because of it, too.

    He relies way too much on his range at times, and will fire up threes when a 15-footer would do. They aren't as glorious to players as the three-ball in this era, but mid-range jumpers are much easier to bury. A balanced game also keeps defenders on their heels.

    It would also be nice to see Hairston develop a floater to drop over the defense when the lane closes up on a drive.

    If you think Hairston was good last year—and he was—wait until you see a more developed version of the star.

Leslie McDonald, SG

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    Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    It's tough to tell exactly where Leslie McDonald needs to improve with his limited playing time over the span of his career at Chapel Hill.

    He seems to be a fairly well-rounded 2-guard that can pass, rebound, defend and drop treys. He hasn't shown next-level talent yet, but he has Reggie Bullock-type potential.

    In order to reach that status, though, he's going to have to find some consistency with the deep ball. As a junior last season, McDonald shot just 35.9 percent behind the arc—down from 38.1 percent as a sophomore.

    He was actually hanging with Bullock at 43.1 percent (25-of-58) before his hand went cold following a suspension.

    McDonald also needs to become more aggressive on the offensive end and take it to the hole every once in a while. He has solid handles and is a good finisher at the rim. He also showed a bit of a post game against Duke last season.

    As a fifth-year senior, this is McDonald's time to shine. He just needs to open the toolbox and go to work.

Marcus Paige, PG

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    Watching Marcus Paige grow last season was like seeing your kid walk for the first time. You couldn't help but to be proud of the transition he made from the start of the season to the end.

    He was still a little wobbly, but you knew eventually he'd be able to run with the big boys. That just might be this season.

    Paige has added almost 20 pounds to that slender frame, tipping the scales at 175 pounds now. Strength was a major need for the sophomore floor general, and it's pretty safe to say he's taken serious strides in that area.

    He has also been working on his floater, which is something I was surprised we didn't see more of last season. He was pretty efficient with it in his prep days at Linn-Mar.

    Paige was also a very efficient three-point shooter in high school, which went mostly unseen during his freshman campaign at North Carolina. Losing Bullock to the NBA, Roy Williams will need his point guard to step up his game and be the marksman of old.

    We did catch a glimpse of that version of Paige when he drilled 20 of his last 46 treys to finish the season.

    I have a feeling Marcus Paige is going to blow some naysayers away with his performance as a sophomore. He had a lot on his shoulders as a starting freshman point guard. Now that he is more comfortable with the scheme, his teammates and his own game, he should be a much more confident and consistent player—and one of Carolina's top weapons.