This past week, the NCAA reinstated McDonald after he missed "the first nine games of the regular season for receiving impermissible benefits," per C.L. Brown of ESPN.com. Later, UNC announced it did not and will not seek reinstatement for Hairston.
While head coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels were hoping to get both upperclassmen back, UNC's backcourt receives a significant upgrade with McDonald's return.
The 6'5" senior is much more than another body to put out on the floor. He brings skills and abilities Carolina has been lacking in the first segment of the 2013-14 season.
One game was all Leslie McDonald needed to become this year's No. 2 beyond-the-arc shooter for the Tar Heels.
He went 4-of-9 in his season debut against Texas. Up until UNC's game against the Longhorns, no North Carolina player besides Marcus Paige (27-of-68) had made more than three total three-pointers in his first nine games (J.P. Tokoto had hit three of nine).
In fact, Paige, Tokoto and freshman guard Nate Britt (1-of-6) were Williams' only players to knock down a jumper from long distance over nine games.
|3-Pts Attempted||3-Pts Made||3-Pt %||3-Pt Rate|
statistics from ESPN.com
In his first three seasons in Chapel Hill, McDonald made 104 three-pointers on teams that had plenty of long-range talent, such as Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Kendall Marshall, Hairston and Paige. During his first 100 games at UNC, 54 percent of his field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc.
McDonald's impact on the Tar Heels' three-point shooting has been immediate. In the first nine games, as a team, they shot 29.7 percent (25-of-84). In two games with McDonald in the lineup, the Heels have knocked down 12 of 25 threes (48 percent).
While many might believe that P.J. Hairston has been a much better long-distance shooter than McDonald, the numbers don't bear this out. In Hairston's two years at UNC, he shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. With McDonald's two games this season, he is shooting 34.7 percent—virtually the same percentage.
Strangely, in two games this year, 10 of his 12 field-goal attempts (83.3 percent) have come from behind the line. His confidence and accuracy (5-of-10 in first two games) from downtown are forcing other teams to play more honestly, and it is opening up the lane for his teammates to drive and post up.
Getting to the Line and Making Free Throws
In its first 11 games, North Carolina has missed 141 of its 364 free-throw attempts, which means it is misfiring on 12.8 free throws per game.
The Tar Heels have clanked 56 free throws in their three losses, which have come by a total of 10 points. You do not have to be a statistical genius to figure out that, if they had connected on a handful of these missed opportunities, UNC (8-3) would be undefeated and would be ranked in the AP Top Five instead of checking in this week at No. 19.
McDonald is a skilled slasher who aggressively takes the ball to the rim, gets fouled and consistently goes to the line. In his two games this season, McDonald has more free-throw attempts (14) than field-goal attempts (12).
In his first three seasons, he hit 74 percent of his free-throw attempts. Yes, I know that McDonald is only shooting 7-of-14 in his two appearances this year. But after he knocks the rust off of his free-throw form, he will return to his previous level and be knocking down close to 80 percent of his tosses from the charity stripe.
A Leader on the Floor
While ESPN's C.L. Brown says that Marcus Paige is "the pulse of the Heels," Leslie McDonald may be the weathered and wily big-brother type for this young UNC team.
McDonald, who will turn 23 in February, has been through a lot in his time at Carolina. He played a limited role as a true freshman. He became a steady backcourt backup in his sophomore season.
Because of a torn ACL sustained in a 2011 summer league game, he was forced to redshirt his junior year in Chapel Hill.
Last year, he came back from the injury to again play a supporting role on the perimeter. And now, after sitting out the first nine games of the 2013-14 season, you better believe that McDonald will take a pull-out-all-the-stops approach to the final few months of his collegiate career.
He is more than just an experienced senior with 102 games (and one start) under his belt; he is a tested veteran who may make his biggest contributions in being a tough, lead-by-example guy.
McDonald returns to a team whose identity is still forming. He has stepped in and is playing starter minutes. More importantly, he is leaving his mark on this team, instantly influencing how it plays.