North Carolina's Marcus Paige was one of the most improved players in all of college basketball this past season. His exceptional 2013-14 performance elevated the Tar Heels from being an ACC middle-of-pack squad to an upper-tier challenger for the conference title.
Paige led UNC in a number of offensive categories: scoring (17.5 PPG), assists (4.2 APG), three-point baskets (86), three-point shooting (38.9 percent) and free-throw shooting (87.7 percent).
According to his his bio on GoHeels.com, the Marion, Iowa, native was named the 2014 ACC's Most Improved Player, a first-team All-ACC selection and was named to Sporting News' All-American second team.
And yet, his best basketball may be still ahead of him.
Looking toward next season, the Tar Heels return 73 percent of their scoring and 79 percent of their rebounding. On top of that, head coach Roy Williams and his staff reeled in an exceptional recruiting class that adds impact players to an already talented roster.
Carolina should be right in the middle of the hunt for the ACC crown in 2014-15. Though it is almost six months until official practices begin, we can still consider what will be the best way to use Paige during what will be an unforgettable junior year.
Keep the Ball in His Hands
Good things happen when Paige has the ball.
He can produce his own points or create scoring opportunities for his teammates. He proved last year that he can handle the dual roles of scorer and playmaker.
Earlier last season, Paige played shooting guard as he started alongside freshman Nate Britt. During ACC play, Paige shifted back to playing primarily the point while being teamed up with senior Leslie McDonald.
His position does not dictate his production. He is able to put up points and drop dimes from either backcourt spot. Paige had 11 games where he scored at least 20 points and 15 games where he handed out five or more assists.
Regardless of where he plays Paige on the perimeter, Williams needs to make sure that Carolina's attack continues to originate from and run through its dynamic floor leader.
Set Screens, Screens and More Screens for Him
Paige is deadly coming off any number of picks that are set for him in the Heels' half-court sets. He is an expert at setting up screens, reading defenders and then taking full advantage of whatever happens next.
When defenders choose to go underneath, he buries shots from beyond the arc. When whoever is guarding Paige tries to fight through, he turns the corner with tenacity, getting into the lane for a runner. When the defense tries to switch, he is adept at hitting the rolling screener for an easy bucket or a slam dunk.
Some of the big baskets that Paige scored this past season came off of some type of screen. The game winner against North Carolina State is a good example:
Even though the Tar Heels' offensive strategy can not be so simplistic or one-dimensional, springing their leading scorer to do what he does best sounds like an awfully good idea.
Get to the Line as Much as Possible
When a player hits nearly 90 percent of his free throws, he should try like crazy to get to the line as much as possible. Free points are free points.
Paige knocked down 87.7 percent of his freebies last season, which was tops in the ACC. He only missed 18 free throws (out of 146).
He was much more aggressive with the ball as a sophomore than he was as a freshman. He only shot 1.7 free throws per game his first year in Chapel Hill, and he attempted 4.3 free throws per game this past season.
If he could make a similar increase in getting to the line this coming season, Paige will certainly help the Heels win close games that come down to the final moments.
Paige has a great chance to lead this talented and deep UNC roster to an exceptional 2014-15 season. He will get the Heels' opponents full attention and best defender every game.
He is ready for an outstanding junior season that very well could put him in the running for ACC and national player of the year awards.
If he takes his game to the next level, North Carolina could make a deep run in the 2015 NCAA tournament and get to the school's 19th Final Four.
Player and team information provided by ESPN.com.
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