After a respectable freshman campaign, Paige blew up last year as a sophomore. Before the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, ESPN's Paul Biancardi recognized the 6'1" floor leader from Marion, Iowa, as the nation's most improved player. He was also a first-team 2014 All-ACC selection.
Paige's UNC bio states that he is "the first Tar Heel point guard to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore since Phil Ford in 1976."
After taking a big leap forward and having a breakout second season in Chapel Hill, how does Paige compare at this stage of his collegiate career with the all-time great Carolina point guards?
In order to make a comparable evaluation, we will not look at career stats. We will strictly assess sophomore-season performances of the best past triggermen in North Carolina program history.
You might be surprised at where Paige stands among this collection of great point guards.
Paige was a dynamic scorer as a sophomore, leading the 24-10 Tar Heels by averaging 17.5 points per game. While most Carolina fans didn't expect him to fill this role, Paige did not shrink from being the Heels' go-to guy.
Paige's high-scoring ways not only put him at the top of last year's team, it also positioned him near the top of the scoring list among the all-time best point guards during their sophomore seasons:
|Phil Ford||Marcus Paige||Ty Lawson||Jeff McInnis|
It is no shame for Paige to be a step behind Phil Ford in terms of scoring. Following his sophomore season, Ford started for the 1976 USA Olympic team that won the gold medal in Montreal.
Paige is a dead-eye free-throw shooter, knocking down a crazy amount of his freebies. In fact, his sophomore year was better than any of the past point guards.
|Marcus Paige||Kenny Smith||Ty Lawson||Raymond Felton|
Paige not only led UNC from the line for the 2013-14 season, but he was the best overall free-throw shooter in the ACC. His 87.7 percent was the third-highest single-season free-throw percentage in school history, and during one midseason stretch, Paige hit 31 consecutive free throws (UNC bio).
Paige is not only a marksman from the line, he is also lights out from beyond the arc. Last year, he hit at least three three-pointers 17 times.
Again, Paige's sophomore season sits pretty good among the top point guards of all time:
|Ed Cota||Shammond Williams||Jeff McInnis||Marcus Paige|
Paige's 86 three-pointers accounted for 58.9 percent of the Tar Heels' 146 treys. This is the highest percentage in school history (UNC bio).
Kenny Smith would have very likely been on this list, except for the fact that the three-point shot was not incorporated until his senior season (1986-87), when he shot 40.8 percent from downtown.
Here is where Paige did not perform among Carolina's top point guards. While, as a sophomore, he did lead the team in assists, dropping 143 dimes (4.2 APG; 2 A/TO) does not come close to the best Tar Heels floor leaders:
|Kendall Marshall||Ed Cota||Raymond Felton||Kenny Smith|
Ed Cota is UNC's all-time assists leader, handing out 1,030 assists over his four years at UNC. Paige would have to more than double his assist total over the next two years to even come close to Cota's record. That is not likely because there is a good chance that Paige will enter the NBA draft after this season.
After looking at the above stats, it is clear that Paige is one of the best point guards in UNC school history.
He is ready for an enormous junior season that could translate into the Tar Heels getting a shot at the ACC Championship and a deep NCAA tournament run.