UNC Basketball: 5 Most Impressive Tar Heels in 2013-14 Regular Season
For a team that currently sits in third place in the ACC standings and has won 11 consecutive ballgames, it may seem like a chore to single out just five players who have had outstanding seasons.
However, for the North Carolina Tar Heels, there is a select group of five men who have risen above the rest and proven themselves the most impressive and most valuable on this roster this regular season.
Some of these guys have been flat-out great while others have so vastly out-performed expectations that their inclusion is a necessity. With the way UNC's season has progressed, though, there is no surprise the following list of five is comprised of four forwards and just one guard.
Taking a look at the season stats, sophomore guard Marcus Paige leads the Tar Heels in many important categories: minutes played, points, assists, free-throw shooting and three-point shooting.
Usually statistics don't tell the whole story, but taking a closer look at just how much better Paige is in these areas than his teammates tells a pretty accurate tale of North Carolina's season.
Paige plays nearly 36 minutes per ballgame. Coach Roy Williams likes to rotate guys in and out. James Michael McAdoo is the only other Heel playing at least 30 minutes a game, and he's at exactly 30.0. In terms of total minutes, Paige has already eclipsed 1,000 on the season. No other guard on the team has played more than Nate Britt's 600.
In terms of scoring, it is easy to see why Paige is the team's best player. Averaging 17.2 points per game, Paige has made more than half of UNC's total threes (71 of 122). He is also the team's only reliable foul shooter, currently ranked second in the conference at 89.1 percent. Along with a better than 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Paige has transformed himself from a bench afterthought as a freshman into a legitimate star in his sophomore season.
As the year winds to a close, he should be considered as a possible Wooden Award or Naismith Award finalist as the nation's best player, let alone up for conference Player of the Year honors. He has meant that much to UNC's success this season.
After Paige, there has been no more consistently valuable player on the Tar Heels than J.P. Tokoto.
His overall season numbers don't jump off the page at you, but that is not his game.
He isn't a prolific shooter. What he does do well is take the ball to the basket and score in the paint. At 48.2 percent, his field-goal percentage is respectable, but it is buoyed greatly by his shot selection. With only eight made threes on the year, Tokoto reaches his 9.4 point per game average by getting close to the bucket.
According to hoop-math.com, a site that collects play-by-play statistics, Tokoto makes 75.4 percent of his shots at the rim, good for second on the team out of players playing at least seven minutes per game. The D-I average is 60.9 percent, and the fact that Tokoto is not a frontcourt player makes the figure all the more impressive.
Along with his efficient use of shots, Tokoto grabs 5.8 rebounds per game and is second on the team in assists. But his most useful skill is his defense.
By Sports-Reference's defensive rating metric, Tokoto is one of the 10 best defenders in the ACC. Because of style of play, coaching technique and the like, of the eight players ahead of him, five happen to play for the Virginia Cavaliers and three are members of the Clemson Tigers. So, for whatever this is worth, Tokoto is the best defender in the conference who isn't a student at UVA or Clemson.
Because of his all-around contributions and skills that don't show up in a normal box score, Tokoto has arguably been Carolina's second-best player all season.
James Michael McAdoo
Comparisons to McAdoo's previous NBA draft stock or hypothetical career ceiling are not up for discussion here. No matter how you feel about McAdoo compared to what you expected, there is no denying his contributions and impressiveness in terms of Carolina's season.
McAdoo plays 30 minutes per game and tallies 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He has been the team's second-best offensive weapon all season long. After starting off the season with two 20-point games in the first three contests, McAdoo went into a bit of a slide through the very beginning of December. From that point, the junior forward scored in double figures in 17 consecutive outings.
Besides putting up points, he is also adept at getting to the free-throw line. In fact, he leads the ACC in free-throw attempts. Although his percentage from the line has been shaky, driving to the basket and drawing a foul is still one of the better basketball plays someone can make.
What has made McAdoo a better player this season, though, has been his acceptance in becoming the team's second option and his improved defensive numbers. His usage rate is down three percent, and his turnover rate has come down nearly six percent. His block percentage is also up, making him one of the rare threats for both blocks and steals.
It would be easy to glance at a box score and overlook Kennedy Meeks' contributions to this team. After all, the freshman big man plays just over 16 minutes per game and only averages 7.7 points per game.
However, the limited minutes help to make Meeks one of the most efficient players on the team and one of the more underrated players across the conference landscape. To get a better idea of how important Meeks is, we must take a look at rate and percentage figures to counteract his low playing time.
Now keep in mind, when comparing Meeks' averages to some of the better players in the conference, Meeks fails to meet many of the minimum playing requirements to qualify for the leaderboards. An increase in playing time often lessens the effectiveness of a player, especially one with conditioning concerns like Meeks. But it is still relevant to point out what type of numbers Meeks generates.
(The following figures courtesy of sports-reference.com.)
Meeks' defensive rebounding percentage is 24.9. Not only is that better than any Tar Heel who's played in at least 10 games, but if he qualified, that figure would lead the entire ACC. Meeks' current rates of offensive rebounding (15.5) and total rebounding (20.2) are also better than the current conference leader.
If he had enough minutes to qualify, Meeks would also find himself in the top 10 in the ACC in block percentage and defensive rating.
The other facets of his game are not quite on that level but are still impressive. Meeks is a deft passer and scorer in the post. He throws a mean outlet and utilizes the pump fake better than most of his contemporaries. On a per minute basis, no one has been more impressive for North Carolina than Meeks.
From a sparsely used rotation player a year ago, Brice Johnson has developed into a main cog in North Carolina's big man substitutions. Although he still appears sporadic at times on defense and can get in over his head on offense, Johnson is a supremely talented scorer and shot-blocker.
To be honest, his defensive numbers are artificially inflated because of his shot-blocking. With a 91.2 defensive rating, he leads the team by a wide margin. But that is thanks mostly to his team-leading 37 blocks and 6.9 block percentage.
In terms of rebounding, Johnson has a similar M.O. to Meeks. His numbers are superb on a rate basis but don't show in the totals because he is still only playing 19.6 minutes per game.
Johnson's main value to the Tar Heels, though, is scoring in the paint. He is a powerful finisher at the rim and has a sneaky post game to boot. With an improving jump hook, Johnson may be the team's most impressive post weapon.
What is keeping him from becoming a star are his lapses in judgment and effort and his propensity for fouls. Johnson manages to lead the team in fouls even while being just sixth in minutes per game. Nevertheless, even with his shortcomings, Johnson has been one of the team's five most impressive players this season.