UNC Basketball: How Far Will Marcus Paige Take Tar Heels in 2013-14?

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UNC Basketball: How Far Will Marcus Paige Take Tar Heels in 2013-14?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

North Carolina's Marcus Paige has absolutely blown up to start the 2013-14 college basketball season.

He has gone from averaging a decent 8.2 points per game as a freshman to a blazing 22.4 PPG in the first five games of his sophomore campaign.

Paige has moved, out of necessity, from running the point last year to initially lining up as the team's shooting guard this season because neither P.J. Hairston nor Leslie McDonald has been cleared by the NCAA or the university to play.

ESPN's C.L. Brown points out that if Paige maintains his current scoring average, he would be "on a short list of Tar Heels who have averaged 20 or more points a game since 1970":

Phil Ford (20.8 ppg in 1977-78); Michael Jordan (20.0 ppg in 1982-83); Brad Daugherty (20.2 ppg in 1985-86); Hubert Davis (21.4 ppg in 1991-92); Antawn Jamison (22.2 ppg in 1997-98); Joseph Forte (20.9 ppg in 2000-01), Rashad McCants (20.0 ppg 2003-04) and Tyler Hansbrough (22.6 ppg in 2007-08 and 20.7 in 2008-09).

Paige's improvement in just about every offensive statistical category is outrageous (h/t Kenpom.com)

He has improved his effective field-goal percentage from 44 to 66.4 percent.

His free-throw rate has gone from 22.8 to 45.3 percent.

So far, the 6'1" guard is shooting a fiery 53.1 percent from beyond the arc (as compared to 35.6 percent as a freshman).

With Paige's early burst, the question is: How far will he take the Tar Heels in 2013-14?

To fully consider this, we need to look at two different scenarios: If Hairston and McDonald do not return and if they do return.

Their status will significantly impact what Paige will be able to do or not do for the remainder of the season.

If They Do Not Return

If Hairston and McDonald are not reinstated, Marcus Paige will remain the Tar Heels' shooting guards. If he stays at the 2, they will be seriously deficient in their long-distance shooting.

In Carolina's first five games, Paige has hit 89.4 percent of the team's three-point baskets. He has connected on 17 of 32 shots from beyond the arc. The rest of the team has only knocked down two of 16 attempts, a dreadful 12.5 percent.

As hot as the 6'1" guard has been so far without any complementary long-distance shooters, Paige's productivity will be seriously challenged. As the Heels move into their ACC slate, their conference opponents will be able to more effectively shut down his productivity.

While UNC also has a capable front line made up of James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, this team's future success is tied to having an adequate amount of outside shooting.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Can J.P. Tokoto be counted on to knock down three-point shots?

If They Do Return

If Hairston and McDonald do return, Paige will move back to the point with his upgraded scoring efficiency and improved shooting accuracy.

Last year, the two dynamic wings hit 131 three-pointers. Hairston knocked down 89 of 225 shots from beyond the arc. McDonald nailed 42-of-117 from distance.

This year, these three would create a compelling perimeter trio that would be extremely difficult to contain.

Paige's role in this lineup would still be critical. Instead of being forced to shoulder the majority of the team's outside shooting, he would balance skilled scoring with productive playmaking.

This squad would allow freshman point guard Nate Britt and sophomore wing J.P. Tokoto to bring the action off the bench. This rotation would be the most potent and dynamic group that head coach Roy Williams could put on the floor.

With effective frontcourt play from McAdoo, Johnson and Meeks, this Tar Heel team could contend for the ACC title and make a deep run in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
How big of an impact would Leslie McDonald have on the Tar Heels' outside shooting?

Looking Ahead

We will not have to wait long to see how Marcus Paige and his Carolina teammates compete against No. 1 Michigan State (Dec. 4) on the road and No. 3 Kentucky (Dec. 14) at the Smith Center.

It is exciting to see the unexpected success that he is having playing off the ball for the Tar Heels.

If they come through these challenging matchups with two wins, do not be surprised to hear Paige being mentioned in preliminary National Player of the Year discussions.

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