UNC Basketball: Way-Too-Early Grades for Tar Heels' Starters

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

UNC Basketball: Way-Too-Early Grades for Tar Heels' Starters

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    Is it way too early to grade the North Carolina Tar Heels' starting five? Apparently we don't care.

    UNC's 2013-14 season has been a bit of a roller coaster through the first three games, with those sharp declines that make your stomach feel like it's set up camp in your throat. That is to be expected at the start of a season, though, especially when two of the three wings on the roster are dressed in suits.

    And one is the team's best player.

    For now, Roy Williams is forced to work with a makeshift starting lineup that has been both encouraging and discouraging thus far. Nobody can knock these guys for their efforts, though, and that is factored into grades for each of the five current starters.

Nate Britt, PG

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    When he wasn't working on his own game and physique, Marcus Paige spent the offseason coaching up freshman point guard Nate Britt. The now-sophomore knows exactly what it is like to start at the point for Carolina as a freshman, and he wanted to give his counterpart as much of a head start as possible.

    For Paige, Kendall Marshall's early departure forced him into the starting role. In Britt's case, it was the absence of wings Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston as the NCAA continues its investigation.

    So far, Britt has been up to the challenge.

    By no means does eight points, six assists and five turnovers through three games jump off the page, especially when he is averaging 24 minutes per game. The good news, however, is that he isn't making the big mistakes one would expect from a freshman point.

    He's tied with J.P. Tokoto for the most steals with six. That's definitely the upside to his game at this point; however, like Paige last season, he is struggling to fight through screens with his 165-pound frame.

    It's a little give-and-take on the defensive end with Britt.

    Though he has a bright future in Chapel Hill with his skill set, he hasn't provided much pop on the offensive end. He needs to use that elite speed and start attacking the paint more to open opportunities for floaters and dimes.

    Too often it seems like he is just another body on the floor, and that's not something the Tar Heels can afford to have happen with Hairston and McDonald on the bench.


    Grade: C+

Marcus Paige, SG

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    Obviously, Marcus Paige is usually listed as a point guard, but he has forfeited that position to Britt in order to fill in for the missing wings.

    Boy, has he produced.

    Paige is averaging 18 points, 4.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He has also provided the Tar Heels with eight of their 10 three-pointers, knocking them down at a 44.4-percent clip.

    He's looking more and more like the dominant scorer that produced 28 points per game as a senior at Linn-Mar. As well as he played in the final stretch last season, he wasn't slashing nearly as much as he is now. It seems like he's dropped more floaters in the first three games than he did through his entire freshman season.

    The added weight, knowledge of the system and overall spike in confidence is evident in his play.

    The only area in which he falls short is consistent aggression on the offensive end. I'd like to see him push a little harder through the entire game, rather than waiting until the Tar Heels are in desperation mode.

    It's obviously the point guard in him that is holding the sophomore back, but scoring is at a premium right now in Chapel Hill, just as it was in his final seasons in high school.

    In the end, when a guy is producing the numbers he is, I can only knock him so much for a lack of aggression.


    Grade: A+

J.P. Tokoto, SF

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    Sophomore J.P. Tokoto is the toughest guy to grade through the first three games. He provides the Tar Heels so much on both ends of the floor, but there are still some serious concerns with his game right now.

    Let's start with the positives.

    Beyond Paige and Britt, nobody on the squad has better vision and natural passing ability than Tokoto. He looks like a point guard out there at times. In fact, his 13 assists put him in a two-way tie with Paige for the most on the team.

    That's not too shabby for a small forward.

    Tokoto has also done a nice job replacing Reggie Bullock's production on the boards from that position. He's currently averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, and he has a knack for flying in for the putback jam.

    Very few Tar Heels are as active as Tokoto right now. He's averaging nine points per game because of it.

    Where he has come up short is his shooting.

    Tokoto still has serious balance issues on his jump shot. He has a tendency to lean forward or backward—especially off the bounce. The result has been 9-of-26 shooting overall and 1-of-5 from downtown.

    As bad as his jump shot has been, free throws have been worse. He's just 8-of-25 from the charity stripe. He hit an all-time low in the loss to Belmont, making just four of his 16 free-throw attempts.

    Free throws are more mental than anything, and I'm sure the air ball on his first attempt played into his poor performance.

    Though his shooting has been painful to watch at times, we simply can't forget everything else he has done up to this point. This is why he's being graded right in the middle.


    Grade: C

James Michael McAdoo, PF

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    With the exception of his disappearing act against Holy Cross, James Michael McAdoo has had a superb start to his junior season in Chapel Hill.

    The Tar Heels' star power forward is leading the way with 19.7 points and 8.7 boards per game. He's also shooting 50 percent from the floor, which is right about where he needs to be. He's still having issues at the free-throw line at 65.5 percent, but that's up from 57.8 in 2012-13.

    At times last season, it seemed like the effort just wasn't there from McAdoo 100 percent of the time. That doesn't seem to be the case so far this season. He's actively trying to get to rebounds he would normally let go over his head—even if they are just tip-outs.

    That's what you want to see from an upperclassman with his potential.

    What's also been notable is his control. He isn't rushing or forcing his shots the way he often did last year. He has been taking it strong to the hole when there is an opening and gently kissing the glass on leaners.

    When there isn't a shot, or he sees a wide-open teammate, he's dishing the rock instead of forcing the issue.

    As a result, his shooting percentage is up and his turnovers are down. He is averaging just 1.3 per game compared to 2.7 last season.

    There just isn't much to knock on McAdoo's game thus far.

    But there are some possible future concerns. He still isn't bullying the lower-tier opponents the way a rock-solid 230-pounder should be. We have yet to see any back-to-the-basket moves beyond his signature turnaround jumper.

    If he hasn't added any moves to his repertoire in the post, it could be very problematic for McAdoo and the Tar Heels as competition steepens. He can't just drive by everyone. He needs to be able to back down defenders to optimize Coach Williams' dual-post system.

    For now, I can only dock him for his performance against Holy Cross. Otherwise, McAdoo has been outstanding.


    Grade: A

Joel James, C

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    Joel James has gotten the starting nod from Coach Williams throughout the first three games. Although he has performed admirably—especially when compared to last season—he has still left much to be desired.

    Freshman Kennedy Meeks is quickly gaining ground on the sophomore big.

    James is averaging just four points in 13 minutes per game. To his credit, he is shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, but his lack of scoring opportunities falls squarely on his broad shoulders.

    For a 280-pound center, he's having an awfully hard time fronting his defender in the post. It seems he can never hold position long enough for someone to feed him the rock. Against Belmont, the Tar Heels' first three turnovers were all because he was never in position. Those passes shouldn't have been attempted.

    At the same time, his teammates should be able to count on him to front guys he has about 50 pounds on.

    The same problem is evident when he is trying to box out for rebounds. He's averaging 4.3 per game, but that is mostly due to an eight-board performance against Oakland in the Tar Heels' opener. Since then, he has just five.

    Again, this is against much smaller guys than he will be facing down the road.

    On the bright side, he is gradually looking more comfortable in his fifth season of organized basketball. He's making fewer blunders and isn't letting the mistakes he does make get him down.

    Still, James just isn't where we thought he would be in Year 2.


    Grade: D