UNC Basketball: What if Marcus Paige leaves for the NBA?


On a list of very unfortunate “What If’s” for fans of the North Carolina Tar Heels, the possibility of point guard, Marcus Paige, leaving for the NBA draft next season is definitely worth noting. While many fans may not want to envision this UNC team without Paige, it would be interesting to see the way this team would function in his absence.

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Having emerged as a star so quickly during his sophomore campaign, Marcus Paige, now a junior, has taken up an important leadership role among the players in the UNC locker room. As the most experienced and most vocal player for this team, Paige is the floor general on the court, and the one leading the rallying cry behind closed doors.

In addition, on a team that already struggles to score, losing an aggressive attacker like Marcus Paige would be very difficult to adjust to. While next season, all things remaining equal (the rest of the team stays and Paige leaves), Kennedy Meeks is certain to develop his game into that of a top-5 big man in the college game, there are still large questions about the already pitiful perimeter threat the Tar Heels have offered up thus far this season (31 percent from 3-point range).

However, in limited minutes, this year’s Tar Heel freshman have showed some promise on the perimeter. Joel Berry III (10.9 minutes per game) and Theo Pinson (15.1 minutes per game) have shown flashes of brilliance from beyond the arc, and driving from the wings to the basket. If Marcus Paige was to leave the team, Berry should take his starting job over a very inconsistent, conservative Nate Britt. Regular starter, Justin Jackson’s shot should improve over the offseason under the guidance of shooting coach, Hubert Davis. Jackson already plays big boy minutes as well, so he will have that advantage over the others.

Jan 5, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II (2) dribbles in the second half. The Fighting Irish defeated the Tar Heels 71-70 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Players like Paige are not only difficult to replace because of their talents, but because of those leadership qualities that help a team, especially a young team like these Tar Heels, focus on a common goal. Can Berry fill that role as well? It is difficult to say because he plays very little without the help of Paige, or being replaced after Paige has been rested. The rest of this team must mature more if there is to be a true source of leadership to emerge in the absence of Paige.

In this season’s losses to Butler, Iowa, and Kentucky, there was a point in each game where the game was out of reach, and many of the Tar Heel players were clearly dejected. It would seem that Paige was the only player still fighting to close the gap on the opposing team. Roy Williams has since seemed to truly reach his players to improve their will to keep pushing. However, without Paige, Roy will lose his in-game coach for his players to guide them where he cannot.

What’s the likelihood Marcus Paige does forgo his senior season? Right now, it is doubtful.

Paige would probably be projected to be picked in the middle of the second round of the 2015 NBA draft. In today’s NBA, a second round choice lands you a very shaky lump of cash, a spot on the Summer League squad, and a slight chance to make roster of the team that drafted you. That chance becomes much slimmer, barring a trade, for a player like Paige who may very well end up later in that second round, and picked by a team not necessarily in immediate need of his talents.

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Does Paige want to go to the NBA? Of course he does. It’s certainly nice to get paid, and actually benefit from your likeness. However, I doubt he wants to be on some practice squad, or in the NBA D-League next year. The real money is in the first round of the draft, so he will need to become a first round player if he hopes to live that dream.

These facts make Marcus Paige very likely to return for his senior season. That is, unless of course, he manages to turn up his game, and mess around and win the Wooden Award. Then we will likely see him swing back up into the first round of the draft. Either way, stay or go, Paige has had a good run here in Chapel Hill. Fans are just hoping he will still around for one more run next year.