Nov 16, 2012; Long Beach, CA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston (15) goes up for a layup against the Long Beach State 49ers during the first half at Walter Pyramid. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

UNC Basketball: Time to Start PJ Hairston Over Dexter Strickland?

North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams is known for being extremely loyal to upperclassmen, he is also known to always start his best perimeter defender when one has clearly separated himself from the pack.   Throw in the fact that Dexter Strickland has been a three year starter and it’s not much of a surprise that Strickland has started every game this season for UNC.

Before the season I wrote that I believe Strickland was the ideal sixth man on this team.  With his dual role of both perimeter defender and backup point guard to freshman Marcus Paige, I still feel like he would be better utilized off the bench.  Considering that over 66% of the Tar Heels offense from last season was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft I feel like Carolina needs to get more scoring on the floor to start the game.

The strength of this Tar Heel team is the depth on the perimeter and Roy needs to figure out ways to get them on the floor for more minutes to take advantage of his best lineup combinations.  We saw some of this when UNC went small with PJ Hairston and JP Tokoto playing some power forward for about 16 minutes in the last game in Maui.  That’s not the only way Roy can get these guys on the court for more minutes.

Hairston and Leslie McDonald emerged as big time scoring threats during the tournament and they deserve more than the 15 minutes per game they are playing right now.   One of the biggest things this team is lacking is a consistent perimeter threat to drive the ball to the basket and create offensive opportunities for himself and others.  PJ Hairston has proven that he can do just that and they need that prescense on the floor.

Is it Time to Start PJ Hairston Over Dexter Strickland?  I think the answer is yes.  By starting Hairston teams would have to account for more than just one big time shooter on the perimeter, along with Reggie Bullock, having both of them on the floor would give more spacing inside for James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson to work in the post and teams would still have to account for Hairston off the dribble.

I’m a big fan of Strickland, like anybody else I love what he brings defensively, he’s great in transition and can drive to the basket, but he’s not a scorer and I think he’s forcing too many shots from the perimeter perhaps because he feels Hairston and McDonald breathing down his neck for minutes.  By moving him to the bench Roy can redefine his role.  Let the senior know that’s his job to come in and settle the team down or get them going when needed.  He can focus more on being a true PG when Paige struggles and watch the opposing teams top perimeter player closely and figure out what he needs to do to shut him down when he gets into the game.

I’m not saying that Stricklands minutes should be drastically reduced by any means.  This is just one change that I think would benefit the Tar Heels rotation.  I also think they should go small a little more and maybe it’s a good idea in the early going to play Paige just a few less minutes while Strickland runs the team from the point.  No matter what happens it’s obvious both Hairston and McDonald deserve more playing time.

Hairston has really grown up this season and has been very efficient on the floor.  In just 15.7 minutes per game he’s averaging 10.8 points per game or a point every minutes and 45 seconds.  On a team that lost so much scoring it doesn’t make sense that it’s third leading scorer has five guys playing more minutes than him.   Hairston is also tied for fourth on the team in rebounding, another category this team desperately needs to get better at.

The rotation is still evolving and Roy is figuring out what he has in his freshman class and how the returning players will respond to increased responsibility.  Some things are obvious right now and it’s time to unleash PJ Hairston.

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Tags: Dexter Strickland North Carolina Tar Heels PJ Hairston

  • Charles Baker

    I absolutely disagree with almost everything in your article. Dexter’s role is one of the most important, as the only senior on this team. And for that fact, and the fact that he shot the highest FG percentage on the team last year before getting hurt, he is the last individual that should be an option to not start. Dexter brings another aspect to the game, given his ability to drive and get into lanes and push the ball at high speeds. As coach said before, Dexter is NOT a true PG, so he should not be expected to play that role. PJ has had a couple of decent shooting games against lesser opponents. This should not constitute concsidering starting him over anybody at this point! Lets see how he fairs at the halfway point in the season once UNC has played the likes of Indiana and Texas. PJ has a long way to go to wash away the stigmatism of last years performance. He is best suited off the bench at this point.

    • Keeping_It_Heel

      I agree Dex is important I just feel like this team needs more of a scoring threat in the starting 5 and Strickland is not that. Yes he can get to the hoop but he is not playing well on the offensive end and is putting up shots he has no business shooting this year. Remember I am not saying his mins should be reduced just that his role should be adjusted.

      • Horran Cameron

        I would rather see Leslie McDonald start at the shooting guard position. He is the best shooter on the team, and he is the most consistent with his form.

  • Souvanh

    I agree somewhat! Dex is not a shooting guard, but a great defender! Hairston would provide UNC with a another steady scoring option! And as he gain confidence by getting to start, I see a more physical, athletic Rashad McCants! A better fit for UNC now and in the future! We need a lights out shooter!

    • Horran Cameron

      Rashad McCants was clutch. Hairston doesn’t have his shooting ability (yet); but as far as their frame and style of play (guards who can post up), I see a resemblance. P.J. needs to realize what he did in the 2nd half against Butler – take it to the hole and shoot free throws or get an “and one.”

  • Heelfan82

    I agree a little, but I think he should play over Paige. I know he’s not a true PG but Marcus gets swallowed when he drives in the lane. The offense seems less fluid when he’s shooting a lot. He needs time to develop his body and decisions. Dex is stronger to the rim, can kick out or dump down to James Michael. His leadership and on the ball defense is invaluable to this team. It’s not ideal, but Roy did not expect to lose Marshall, so I think they need to make it work while Paige develops to this level. I would start these guys: Strickland, PJ, Reggie, Brice and McAdoo. That leaves Paige, Leslie, Tokoto, Hubert and James as respective back ups. Scoring threats and bigs in both. I think the rotation needs to be settled so these guys can play in sinc.
    Also been impressed with Luke Davis.

  • Derek Ball

    wasnt this the whole conversation last year but saying bullock should have started over dex? where there is smoke there is fire is how the saying goes