As we gear up for yet another season of North Carolina basketball, Coach Williams and his coaching staff have some things that they must work out in their starting lineup prior to the start of the season as the early season suspension of P.J. Hairston creates a major hole on the wing for the Tar Heels.
Point Guard: This is one of only two spots in the lineup that is already set as Marcus Paige prepares to lead the Heels attack for a second season. The sophomore Iowa native struggled at the start of his freshman season which was to be expected, but he turned it on over the final 10 games shooting 46% from the 3-point line and 47 % percent overall from the field. With the upcoming suspension to Hairston he will likely become the Heels top scoring option on the perimeter. It should be a scoring load that he can handled as he is reportedly worked his way up to 171 pounds with the hopes of being 175 at the start season which should help him finished in the paint with his beautiful floater. How he is able to handle the extra defensive attention that he is likely to see will play a major role in how successful the Tar Heels are early in the season.
Shooting Guard: Leslie McDonald will start the season at the 2 guard position and will try to replace Hairston’s scoring in his absence. The 6-5 senior struggled last season as he tried to come back from a torn ACL and was also suspend for several games in the middle of the season. He shot only 35% for the season, making only 42 out of 117 3-point attempts while only averaging 5 points in conference play. If whoever starts in P.J.’s spot at the 3 has a good start to the season that could allow Hairston to slide into his natural position at the 2-guard spot and allow McDonald to come off the bench and give the Heels a much needed scoring punch in their second unit.
Small Forward: P.J. Hairston will likely take over this spot once he returns but who starts in place appears to be between junior Jackson Simmons and sophomore J.P. Tokoto. Each player offers something different, Tokoto is a freak athlete often compared to Vince Carter for his leaping ability. He appears to be the next defensive specialist for the Tar Heels but must improve his shooting if he is going to see more playing this season. Simmons is a fundamentally sound player who does not make any spectacular plays but always has a positive impact on the game with his hustle plays. Tokoto will likely get the first opportunity thanks to his skills as an on the ball defender.
Power Forward: Of course the other position that is already known is the 4 spot where James Michael McAdoo will be starting for a second straight season. While the rising junior had a solid season last year, it was not as good as many had hoped. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, McAdoo earned all-conference honors but struggled with being the go-to-guy. This season he should benefit from more depth at the front court positions which will allow him to play his more natural power forward position and also give him the he needs to operate on the offensive end of the floor.
Center: Easily the hardest position to predict is the center position as there are at least 4 possible candidates to choose from. Last season no one played well enough to claim the starting spot, which lead to the coaching staff playing a smaller lineup and caused McAdoo and Hairston to play out of position. Of the possible candidates no one has more upside than Joel James, the 6’10, 280 pound sophomore has the potential to be a monster on the low block for Carolina. The big guy struggled throughout much of his of first season in Chapel Hill but there were moments when he showed an outstanding shooting touch and great feet work. Add in the fact that he has the size to bang down low with anybody and the Heels could have something special in James.