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.

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

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.