UNC Basketball: Stock Watch for Tar Heels' Starters

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

UNC Basketball: Stock Watch for Tar Heels' Starters

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    The North Carolina Tar Heels are an extremely tough team to analyze through the first six games of the season. Against Louisville, the makeshift squad looked like world beaters without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Facing Belmont and UAB, UNC just looked plain awful.

    Fortunately, we aren't making any predictions today.

    Instead, we are focusing on the stocks of each starting Tar Heel in relation to where they stood at the beginning of the season. Only one has remained steady, and a couple are on the rise despite the most recent loss.

    The others? Well, let's hope their stock spikes again around 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Nate Britt, PG

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    Nate Britt's initiation into the world of college basketball has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. He looked shockingly dominant in the Tar Heels' exhibition against UNC-Pembroke but had somewhat mediocre performances through the first four games of the regular season.

    Britt's biggest contribution over that time was in the steal department, where he totaled nine. But he only had six assists and 12 points to go with those steals.

    Then there was the Louisville game, when everyone seemed to play their best. And Britt looked like he finally found his comfort zone. He was attacking the basket regularly, finishing with nine points and five dimes.

    Then there was UAB.

    Everyone, including Britt, was afraid to attack the Blazers' suffocating zone defense. As a result, the freshman was once again just another body on the floor for 27 minutes. He finished with two assists, two rebounds and one steal.

    That's it.

    Unfortunately, inconsistency is what you should expect from a freshman point guard. What's worse is, he doesn't have many weapons on the floor he can count on, which only exacerbates the problem at the point.

    Sound familiar?

    Marcus Paige is one of the best players on the squad, but even he struggled mightily for the majority of his freshman campaign for the same reasons. When the Tar Heels went small and introduced P.J. Hairston—their best offensive weapon—into the lineup, Paige started ballin'.

    Give Britt some credit, though. He hasn't made many big mistakes, but he just hasn't had enough of a positive impact on the team to this point. And with only one solid regular-season game to his name, his stock is on a down tick.

Marcus Paige, SG

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Marcus Paige has been absolutely magnificent this season. There is simply no other way to put it. Without his scoring ability, the Tar Heels would be winless right now.

    He's even doing it out of position. Due to the absence suspended wings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, the second-year point out of Iowa is having to play shooting guard.

    How's he handling the transition?

    Oh, he's just averaging 20.8 points, 3.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor, 44.7 from downtown and 93.3 from the charity stripe. And he has accounted for 17 of the Tar Heels' 20 threes on the season.

    If James Michael McAdoo is somewhat excused for his play because he has had to shift to the 3 at times, Paige should receive extra praise for what he has achieved thus far.

    He finally broke against UAB, going 0-of-6 from behind the arc. Though, many of those ended up being desperation shots in crunch time, and he was clearly fouled on his one air ball. Paige finished with 13 points, five assists and two steals.

    That's not exactly a bad day, considering the defense was obviously focused on the Tar Heels' one true shooter. Unfortunately, he didn't receive much help beyond J.P. Tokoto.

    That's pretty much been the case the entire season. The Tar Heels are 1-2 when Paige scores less than 20 points.

    There is no doubt Marcus Paige is the MVP of this year's squad. His stock couldn't possibly get any higher.

    Or could it?

J.P. Tokoto, SF

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    There are mixed feelings across Tar Heel Nation when it comes to sophomore J.P. Tokoto. Either you love his effort or you hate his poor shooting. One side thinks he should continue starting, while the other side thinks he should be buried on the bench.

    It's a battle of the extremes.

    This is a guy who was a raw athlete when he arrived in Chapel Hill and was expected to be a solid contributor as the second or third guy off the bench as a sophomore. Instead, he has been shoved into the starting role, playing 28 minutes per game.

    Tokoto has handled the transition fairly well in my book. He's currently averaging 9.5 points, five rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. The downside of his game has been the aforementioned shooting. 

    He is shooting just 42 percent from the floor, 25 percent from three and 39.4 percent from the free-throw line. Imagine what he could do if he got those numbers up.

    We got a taste of that against UAB.

    Tokoto was 7-of-11 from the field and buried his only three-point attempt of the night, producing a team- and career-high 16 points. He also added five rebounds, a block and an impressive steal-and-dunk following a defensive rebound by the Blazers.

    His shooting may be frustrating to watch sometimes, but we just can't overlook everything else Tokoto does on the floor. Not only is he one of the most active players on this squad, he is also one of the best rebounders, defenders and passers.

    J.P. Tokoto's stock bottomed out with his 4-of-16 performance from the free-throw line against Belmont, but it has been steadily rising since.

James Michael McAdoo, PF

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Coming off a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign, the basketball-related talk of the offseason was James Michael McAdoo's development. He vowed to improve his game and worked tirelessly in the gym to do so.

    In two of the first three games, we saw exactly what the new McAdoo was capable of. He reached the 20-point mark against Oakland and Belmont, including a career-high 27 against the latter. With his newfound patience and excellent decision-making, he was 17-of-30 from the floor in those games.

    In the three games since his career high, he has failed to reach double digits in scoring. In fact, he only managed to compile 24 points on 9-of-30 shooting and 10 rebounds over that span.

    We can try to blame his poor performances on having to play out of position at the 3, but he isn't there the entire game. And, quite frankly, he isn't a true power forward anyway with his lack of a post game. He's really between a 3 and 4, skill-wise.

    No matter which position he plays, most of his points have come off of penetration, rebounds and fast breaks. The problem lately is that he has gone into rush mode on the offensive end, and his shot selection has been poor as a result. He also hasn't been as active away from the ball as he was in the first few games of the season.

    Whatever the cause of the problem truly is, it needs to be fixed immediately. His sophomore counterpart, Brice Johnson, is outperforming him in just about every category—and he's doing it in 10 fewer minutes. The chances of him getting benched are slim to none, but it won't be long before fans around the nation grow impatient with the junior and call for some lineup changes.

    James Michael McAdoo is currently in a recession.

Joel James, C

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    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.