Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports
Physically, Joel James is everything you could want in a collegiate center with his 6'10", 280-pound frame. Fundamentally, though, the sophomore comes up a little short.
Having only played three seasons of organized basketball before enrolling at Chapel Hill, James was Roy Williams' other raw project from the 2012 class. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels' Hall of Fame coach wasn't blessed with time to develop the big man, and that has shown on the floor.
James struggles to box out his opponents for rebounds and front defenders in the post. The latter prevents him from being a true scoring threat, despite his decent footwork and soft shooting touch. It's kind of hard to feed him the rock when he isn't open.
On the bright side, James seems to have come along over the past couple games. He looks more confident and is getting better at using his beastly body to fight for position.
Through the first four games, he had a total of 16 boards—and that's with an eight-rebound performance against Oakland. He's had six in each of his last two and picked up his first two blocks of the season against UAB.
For most of the season, James has been outplayed by freshman center Kennedy Meeks. But Coach Williams has remained loyal to his starting center, and that could pay off later in the season if he continues to improve.
James has admitted to being intimidated by large crowds. Considering how highly his teammates were speaking of the sophomore's play in the offseason, perhaps the intimidation factor is James' biggest hump.
For now, his progression has earned a slow but steady rise in his stock.
Rollin Yeatts is the lead columnist for North Carolina Tar Heels basketball on Bleacher Report. He also hosts a weekly all-sports video podcast at TSB Sports. Visit his B/R profile for more information.