What Leslie McDonald's Return Means for UNC Tar Heels

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterDecember 18, 2013

Leslie McDonald is available to play immediately for North Carolina after missing the first nine games.
Leslie McDonald is available to play immediately for North Carolina after missing the first nine games.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

North Carolina does not need a savior. But the Tar Heels could sure use another shooter, and they got that on Wednesday when the NCAA cleared guard Leslie McDonald

McDonald is not P.J. Hairston. He's not as good a shooter. He's not as complete a player. And he wasn't in the same kind of trouble, apparently.

Nov 17, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Leslie McDonald (2) and guard P.J. Hairston (15) sit on the sideline during the second half of their loss to the Belmont Bruins at Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center. Belmont won 83-8
Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports reported that a source close to the UNC program said Hairston is unlikely to play this season. McDonald is available immediately, beginning tonight against Texas. 

That's good for the Tar Heels. Not good that Hairston can't play, but good that they know who they'll have going forward and can move on from P.J.-gate. 

Roy Williams has done a masterful job of coaching his team through the drama and figuring out how to be successful without two key players. 

No team in the country has three better wins than UNC's victories over Louisville, Michigan State (on the road) and Kentucky.

Williams was not coaching without talent. But he was coaching without a natural shooter. Marcus Paige has stepped into that role—and he's done so admirably—but it's tough to run an offense without more than one threat from the outside. It's tough not to slip up (see Belmont and UAB losses) without more than one guy who can make a shot outside of the paint. 

Paige has made 21-of-56 of his threes. The rest of the team has made 4-of-28. The Tar Heels have made 50 of their 161 jumpers (31 percent) and 36-of-109 spot-up jumpers (33 percent), according to Synergy Sports Technology

Marcus Paige leads UNC with 19.2 points per game.
Marcus Paige leads UNC with 19.2 points per game.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Those numbers are not good. And it's amazing that Williams has figured out a way to piece the puzzle together without the very important shooter piece.

McDonald does not change what the Heels want to do. They've formed their identity: scoring in the paint and hitting the glass hard. The Heels are great at both.

McDonald should just make both easier. 

McDonald has made 93 three-pointers the last two seasons, and his presence should create space for UNC's big men. It's easier to operate in the post with a second shooter on the floor. 

Williams will be able to blend McDonald into the rotation, as the Heels are already playing well and don't necessarily need him or Hairston. But adding a shooter makes this team better. And getting an answer from the NCAA—finally!—is one less thing to worry about. 

Williams now knows the pieces he has to work with, and knowing that Hairston can't play at least allows this team to move on. 


C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.