Prior to this season for North Carolina, with the inexperienced players, the suspensions and all the rest, there was really only one certainty heading into the first game. That certainty was in the form of power forward James Michael McAdoo. He was supposed to be this team's best player and best scorer. So what has happened?
Coming out of Norfolk Academy in Norfolk, VA back in 2011, McAdoo was the second-best power forward prospect in the country. He was a 5-star recruit and graded out as a 98 according to ESPN Recruiting Nation.
Joining a roster that was admittedly loaded, McAdoo played sparingly but shined in bursts. Before it was announced JMM would be returning for his sophomore season at Carolina, many draft experts had the highly touted prospect lottery-bound in the 2012 NBA draft.
This may have been a case of the Marvin Williamses. Like the UNC forward a few years before him, McAdoo benefited from the lack of exposure. It made people see what his upside could be rather than what his production would be. Had he been on a different team as a freshman, or had he been given more minutes throughout, it seems likely his stock would have actually been lower than what it was.
That's not to say McAdoo was a bad player, because he wasn't. He was rated so highly out of high school for a reason. As a 6'9" power forward, McAdoo was (and is) surprisingly fluid with the basketball. He can take a rebound coast-to-coast, post-up a defender on the block or score facing up to the basketball off the bounce or with his jump shot.
Heading into his sophomore year, expectations were sky high, and he was able to deliver, somewhat. He showed himself as the Tar Heels' best interior player and second-best player overall. Playing nearly 30 minutes per game, McAdoo jumped from six points and four rebounds per game as a freshman to 14 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore.
The conversation followed the likely script. "He just needed more playing time," was the common refrain. His production jumped with the jump in minutes. Before he decided to return to school yet again, mock drafts again had JMM in the lottery. Although, this time, there was a bit of a backlash about it. People were concerned with his ability to take over games and his defensive acumen. Supporters claimed he just needed another year to develop.
Entering his junior season, expectations remained high. McAdoo was Carolina's top returning player. With P.J. Hairston suspended indefinitely, it would be up to McAdoo to carry the team's offense.
Instead of that narrative, McAdoo's game has done the opposite. As the pressure, expectations and minutes continued to increase year after year, JMM's game stagnated and now, as a junior, has declined. He still has offensive talent for sure. He can shoot with some range but shines when taking the ball to the basket and using his athleticism to beat slower big men.
However, those skills have not materialized as often as Tar Heel fans want. Playing over 30 minutes per game now, McAdoo continues to shoot a lot of field goals (11-plus per game), but his percentages are way down. He has developed nothing resembling a three-point shot, and he is still a disaster from the foul line. With opponents giving McAdoo the long two, his field-goal percentage is all the way down to 40.4 right now.
On the other side, his rebounding has also decreased. Never thought of as a rim protector, McAdoo's defensive strength was his ability to rebound. Last year, he led the team in all categories of rebounding, offensive, defensive and total boards. This season, the story has shifted greatly. Not only is McAdoo getting outrebounded by the likes of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, they are doing so in much fewer minutes.
James' NBA stock has clearly and unfortunately diminished since his freshman year. No one at the next level now sees him as a potential best player for a pro team. It also remains to be seen what position he would even play on the defensive end in the pros. As the draft approaches next summer, people will probably begin to suggest he return to school for his final season, to try to improve his standing in the pro scouts' minds.
But before that time, JMM must improve his standing with the 2013-14 Tar Heels. He is not currently playing as one of the Heels top-two forwards, meaning fans are clambering for him to lose his starting role. He is also nowhere close to the team's best player, even without Hairston being eligible.
If his struggles are somehow a result of too much pressure, it may be a good thing for coach Roy Williams to allow him to come off the bench for a time. Otherwise this problem will continue to compound itself, and the only way for James Michael McAdoo to turn the narrative around would be to play his way out of it.
Frankly, that seems rather unlikely at the moment.