Statistics don't always tell the whole story. They can even be used to deceive. However, reading box scores and stat lines are great ways to complement an understanding of a team's performance.
Occasionally, there are a few stats that pop off the screen. These are numbers so outrageous, some large conclusions must be drawn from them. Or, the numbers don't feel right. They are eye-popping only in their unbelievablility...and yes, I might have made that word up.
The 2013-14 season for the North Carolina Tar Heels has produced some numbers that fit both categories. Some of these eye-popping stats are amazing and exciting. Others are alarming or doomed for decline. Either way, they help to tell the story of the Tar Heels' season.
James Michael McAdoo currently leads the Tar Heels in steals. He is second on the team in blocked shots. This is impressive coming from a player who only blocked 14 shots all of last year. According to Sports-Reference, McAdoo added just 2.0 wins on the defensive end in 2012-13. He is already halfway there this season, and conference play just began.
On a national level, he doesn't quite measure up to the elite players in terms of combined blocks and steals, but he does have some highly-thought-of peers. McAdoo's 3.1 steal percentage and 3.8 block percentage match up nearly identically with Louisville's Montrezl Harrell, one of the top 20 defenders in the country according to Defensive Rating.
With so much focus on McAdoo's poor offensive season and ghastly free-throw shooting, it is easy to overlook the contribution he's made on the defensive end.
Usage percentage is not always a good stat to lead in. It is sort of a ball-hog corollary. Usage percentage, according to Basketball-Reference, estimates "the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor."
However, Marcus Paige is North Carolina's best player, and he is currently not using the ball as much as he should be. His 22.3 rating is only fifth on the team, trailing the likes of McAdoo and Brice Johnson. For a player who desires to be one of the conference's best, Paige must assert himself more. He also must use his possessions more efficiently.
In the past three games, Paige has attempted just six total free throws. He ranks eighth in the country in free-throw percentage. He must get to the line more.
Poor shooting nights like against Wake Forest are going to happen. Overall though, North Carolina will be better off if Marcus Paige is more involved in offensive possessions.
In terms of total rebound percentage (an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor per Basketball-Reference), Kennedy Meeks leads the team.
If he was averaging enough minutes per game to qualify, he would actually rank 14th in the nation in that category according to Sports-Reference.
It has been fascinating to follow coach Roy Williams' decisions on playing-time of his young forwards. With Isaiah Hicks, he is forced to balance on-court time with limiting his mistakes. For Brice Johnson, it is about getting the most out of him on the defensive end, as well as offensively. With Meeks though, it has always seemed to be just about conditioning and not wearing the big guy out.
The evidence of this seems to be in his production. He isn't making a ton of mistakes (only 12 turnovers on the year) or getting into regular foul trouble (three or more fouls in a game just three times). Meeks is also doing a lot with the time he's being given.
Perhaps Williams has already established the perfect balance between playing and resting Meeks. It will be interesting to see if his production can keep up with his playing time if he gets closer to 20 MPG during conference play.
While much has been made of North Carolina's offensive prowess, or lack thereof, from behind the arc and from the foul line, not enough has been mentioned about the other end. The Tar Heels are holding opponents to a stellar 38.5 percent from the floor this season.
Thanks to a deep rotation in the front court and great on-ball defense from starting guards Marcus Paige and Nate Britt, opponents are having trouble putting the ball in the basket against UNC.
The other factor in this total is the amount of threes UNC is giving up. Opponents have shot 295 threes already this season. Since the three-point shot is factually harder to make, a team's field goal percentage will suffer with an increase in attempts from deep.
The downside of this observation is this tactic leaves UNC open to upsets beyond just foul-line blunders. If a mediocre team gets hot from the outside, Carolina does little to prevent an onslaught from outside. Texas took 21 attempts from three in its win over the Heels. Belmont, earlier in the year, took an astounding 37 threes on its way to victory.
Roy Williams is known for using a deep bench. This season though, that tactic was partly out of his control. With the well-publicized suspensions of two possible starters and then the injury to starter Joel James, Williams was forced to go deeper on his bench than he ordinarily would.
This could be a good thing for North Carolina. With Leslie McDonald back in the fold and getting his legs into game shape, and Joel James due back sooner rather than later according to reports, Roy Williams will have his full compliment of players at his disposal. (Or as full as it's going to get.) When that time comes, Williams can finally implement his desired rotation for the first time all year.
Having to go deeper on the bench early in the season helped him and his coaching staff discover what certain players were capable of and who could be counted on in big games. The rotation will continue to be in flux as players go through hot and cold streaks, but playing 10, 11, sometimes 12 guys per game prior to conference play was a silver lining to the early-season distractions.