Kendall Marshall and Marcus Paige are the latest two in a long line of great North Carolina point guards. Both players, who are left-handed and wear the number 5, have completed two seasons in Chapel Hill and their careers have been similar enough that one cannot help comparing the two.
For this article, I will treat the comparison as if I had first pick in a pick-up game and were going to choose one of these players. First, a few ground rules need to be set. Only the careers at Carolina matter for this article. Their high school stats (and Marshall’s professional career) have no bearing on this comparison. Also, it must be said that they have played on very different teams at Carolina. Paige, especially this most recent season, was the main scoring threat on the team, and was clearly the team’s best player. Marshall, on the other hand, had a large supporting cast, including players like Reggie Bullock, Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller. This has to be taken into account.
First, here are the career stats that matter for each of the players:
.467 field goal percentage
60-12 career record at UNC
.408 field goal percentage
48-21 career record at UNC
Why Kendall Marshall is better:
Kendall Marshall starred on two very good North Carolina teams, playing a big role in getting them to the Elite Eight in back-to-back years. I have always felt that the 2011-12 team would have won the National Championship had he not broken his wrist in the Round of 32. The two games that the team played without Marshall showed how important he really was. The team had trouble scoring, almost lost to Ohio (a 13 seed that finished third in the Mid-American Conference during the regular season!) and was not nearly the offensive juggernaut that they had been all year. No offense to Stilman White, who did admirably in a tough spot, but Marshall was so important to that team that the season was doomed as soon as he went down. He may have had a great supporting cast, but without Marshall, the team was mediocre.Marshall was also a better passer than Paige is. Marshall led the ACC twice in assists (by a ridiculous margin his sophomore year) and had the most assists in the nation his second year. He is also the career leader in assists per game for the ACC. He was the distributor on the 2011-12 team, getting the ball to Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes in places where they could score easily. (That also begs the question whether these two would have been as good had Marshall not been at UNC with them, but that’s a different debate.) The point is, Marshall was a great floor general, and leader, who brought the best out of his teammates through his good passing.
Why Marcus Paige is Better:
Paige was no doubt the leader and best player on last year’s team. This team went through a lot of turmoil, not having PJ Hairston all season and Leslie McDonald for most of the year. This left Paige as the only outside threat and best scoring option for the Heels. He delivered, leading the team in virtually every offensive category. Paige was the main reason the team had as good a year as it did last year, exceeding just about all expectations. Paige also took over games, such as the one at NC State, simply willing the Heels to victory several times throughout the year.
That being said, Paige is a very gritty player who can keep his team in games with his scoring. He’s also not a bad passer, as he led last year’s team in assists. He didn’t have Marshall’s assist numbers, but scoring was Paige’s primary job.
This is a tough choice for me, and I’ve been going back and forth on it as I’ve written this article. I know that a lot of people are going to disagree with me, and my opinion may change throughout next season.
Personally, I think that Kendall Marshall was the better player for UNC. He ran a great offense and was a leader on two very good teams. While he did have a lot of other players on the teams, they all needed Marshall to be successful (as they showed in their dismal performance against Ohio). I think that Marshall’s passing and leadership on the court was what made the teams good, and that he made everybody around him better, which is exactly what you want in a point guard.
I’m interested to hear what you think. Please feel free to comment and let me know your opinions.