North Carolina senior Will Graves was dismissed from the team for failure to abide by team standards yesterday.
On its own, his dismissal may not seem like a big deal. He wasn't the most talented player on the team by any stretch of the imagination.
But when you factor in the losses of Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson to graduation, Ed Davis leaving early for the NBA draft, and the transfer of twin forwards David and Travis Wear, Graves' leaving the team becomes another hurdle the extremely young Tar Heels will have to clear in order to shake off a disastrous 2009-10 season.
Aside from Alabama transfer Justin Knox, a last-minute addition to Chapel Hill after the sudden transfer of the Wear brothers, Graves was North Carolina's only scholarship senior.
He was the team's third-leading scorer last year, averaging 9.8 points per game, while posting the best three-point percentage on the Tar Heels' roster. With Thompson and Davis gone, Graves was the highest scoring player returning to the team.
He also happened to be the only North Carolina player who has ever scored 20 points in a college game.
At 6'6" and 235 pounds, Graves was one of North Carolina's best options at the power forward position behind John Henson. The Tar Heels lost four post players after last season, and only Henson, Knox, and Tyler Zeller remain as true interior players.
Graves wouldn't have been a force in the paint, but his size would have allowed him to hold his own and rake in a few boards.
The simple truth is that no one was counting on Graves to be an All-ACC caliber player—those expectations rest mostly on freshman star Harrison Barnes and a more physically matured Henson. But compile the loss of Graves with the other players gone from last years' squad, and North Carolina has some serious questions to answer.
For starters, where are the points going to come from?
With Graves joining the long list of North Carolina departures, the Tar Heels have officially lost 69 percent of their scoring and 71 percent of their rebounding from last season—that's a big deal.
Just look at how much trouble Roy Williams had in replacing the 77 percent of scoring and 54 percent of rebounding the Tar Heels lost before last season, and that was with the addition of the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation that featured four McDonald's All-Americans.
The top candidate to make up for the lost points in the scoring column will be Barnes, the top freshman in the nation.
Barnes can score in a variety of ways, and he will most definitely be the Tar Heels' first option on offense. That said, Barnes will have to log considerable minutes at the power forward spot with Graves (and the Wears) now gone.
He can handle some time in the paint, but Barnes is certainly more effective as an oversized guard/forward than as an undersized interior player. The last thing North Carolina needs to get over last season's offensive woes is for its best offensive player to spend time playing out of position.
What about perimeter shooting? Graves' long-range shot was one of the few bright spots on one of the worst three-point shooting teams North Carolina has had since, well, the advent of the three-point line.
Freshman Reggie Bullock comes in with the reputation of a sharpshooter. His ceiling is much higher than Graves' and he could be one of the Tar Heels top options on offense, but he is still a freshman.
At the very least, the loss of Graves means that North Carolina will again be limited in its options from the perimeter.
He, along with Bullock and Barnes, would have given Williams the option of having three outside scoring threats on the court at the same time. Now it's possible that three-point shooting will be a weakness for the Tar Heels once again.
With their post options just a fraction of what they were last season, the loss of a shooter is a big handicap for UNC's offense.
Beyond statistical categories, the loss of Graves is a big hit in the experience department.
Graves started most games last season. Without him, Larry Drew II is the only returning starter for the Tar Heels.
It felt like North Carolina had to start from scratch last year after the loss of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor. Graves' dismissal is a clear reminder that North Carolina will have to start over once again.
The bulk of UNC's talent lies with their underclassmen. Barnes, Henson, Bullock, and Dexter Strickland are more talented players than Graves, for sure.
But Graves was one of the few proven commodities for North Carolina. He wasn't going to be a star, but he would have contributed and given the Tar Heels experience and extra options on offense.
How North Carolina adjusts to the loss is up to Coach Williams, but things certainly aren't getting easier for him in Chapel Hill.
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