UNC Basketball: Who Should Start at Center? Joel James or Desmond Hubert?


Perhaps the only starting spot on the court that has not already been decided or pre-determined, the starting center position for UNC this year will likely be awarded to Joel James or Desmond Hubert. The incoming freshman Kennedy Meeks is not being counted out. It is just unlikely in Roy Williams’ system for a freshman who has never put on a North Carolina uniform to start over a sophomore or junior unless that freshman is hands down better and understands the system.

Mar 3, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Michael Snaer (21) shoots as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Joel James (0) defends in the first half. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Williams likes his big men to be efficient. He wants them to shoot a high field goal percentage, rebound at a high rate, make free throws, be a defensive force, and have a low turnover rate. Joel James and Desmond Hubert did not have the greatest season in 2012-2013, but there are signs of encouragement from both players. Those signs of encouragement coming from during the season and updates from this summer.

Joel James and Desmond both shot the ball relatively efficiently this past season. Joel shot 51.7% on 30/58 shooting and Desmond shot 54.3% on 19/35 shooting. Looking at their minutes played, Desmond played 57 minutes more throughout the season than Joel yet still had much less shot attempts. Joel, despite the slightly worse shooting percentage, showed a much softer touch while shooting the ball. He has more of a finesse game in the post while many of Hubert’s points came from put backs or dunks. The offensive category goes to Joel James despite the slightly lower field goal percentage.

Now I mentioned earlier than Desmond played 57 more minutes than Joel did this past season. The starting center needs to be able to put himself into good position and box out well to rebound well. Rebounding on the defensive end starts the fast break. Hubert averaged 1.7 rebounds a game which comes out to be 60 rebounds over the course of the season. Joel James averaged 2.4 rebounds a game which comes to a total of 72 rebounds on his season, despite playing 57 less minutes throughout the year. The rebounding category goes to Joel James.

Free throws are very important, especially in close games. Both Joel and Desmond were both awful from the free throw line this year, but one of these players was a little bit less awful than the other at the free throw line. Desmond Hubert shot a terrible 21.4% on 3/14 shooting. Joel James only got 16 attempts from the line, but made 9 of them. His percentage was 56.3%. Both are terrible percentages that will be improved this season, but the advantage here goes to Joel James again. The fact that Joel played less minutes, got the free throw line more, and made more of his attempts won him this category.

A big man in Roy Williams’ system needs to be able to provide a solid defensive presence and bring a certain intimidation factor. Joel James, who stands at 6’10” and 260lbs was not quite the defensive factor as Desmond Hubert was on paper, but still altered shots with his size and length when he was in the game. He blocked shots at a rate of .3 per game. This stat was lower than that of James Michael McAdoo, PJ Hairston, Brice Johnson, and Desmond Hubert. Desmond blocked shots at a rate of .8 per game and was much more of a factor on defense than Joel James was this past season. Desmond Hubert wins the category of defense.

Basketball IQ is a key factor that is completely directed with playing time. It is knowing where to be at the right time, when or when not to throw a certain pass, shoot a shot at a certain time, and many more things. Joel James had a .7 turnover per game average while Hubert only had a .4 turnover per game average. This season it seemed that Joel was not confident while out on the court and did not know what to do in certain situations. This lack of confidence and basketball IQ lead to his mistakes in games and ultimately his lack of playing time. He was only a freshman and has only been playing organized basketball since he was in high school. His IQ and confidence will have certainly improved after spending the summer in Chapel Hill working out and playing with his teammates. Desmond Hubert knew his role on the team and accepted it well. He never tried to do too much on offense, and knew he was the best defensive big man. That is where he excelled. Advantage in the basketball IQ/turnover category goes to Desmond Hubert.

Joel James is a better option offensively for the Tar Heels and shows high potential for the Heels on the defensive side of the court. He has a year in Roy’s system and now knows the expectations and what he has to do to earn playing time and to ultimately start. His 6’10 260 pound frame gives us a huge center and brings a certain intimidation when someone drives into the paint. Joel James, overall, shows more potential than Desmond Hubert to succeed and contribute to the Tar Heels. This offseason Joel has worked out many of his confidence issues. He has already stated in a summer interview that he will be the starting center while saying it with a huge smile on his face. I believe he is correct that he will start.