UNC Basketball: Juniors failing to show progress for Tar Heels

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Jan 14, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) talks to his teammates during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at PNC Arena. The Tarheels won 81-79. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

 Marcus Paige (#5, Guard)

Paige’s regression from last year to this year is much less pronounced than Tokoto’s fall. And, it is unclear just how much of this regression is due to Paige’s struggles with ankle and foot injuries. Paige himself said he was “back” after hitting the game winning shot against Louisville. He appeared to be ready to just set the world on fire after hitting that shot to beat the Cards and torching N.C. State on Wednesday, January 14th, but, Paige has resorted back to that “meh” state in the ACC games since.

Paige shot chart from 2013-14 season

Looking at Paige’s play, he has been just slightly worse. Last year, Paige was second in the ACC among all players who used at least 20% of their team’s offensive possessions in offensive rating, an all-encompassing offensive stat. This year, Paige ranks 11th.

However, there is a noticeable change in his shot charts from the two seasons. Paige’s sophomore shot chart is to the right, and includes the key at the bottom. Take a look at that chart. How about all that red from Mr. Paige, especially from beyond the three-point arc!

You see Paige’s favorite spot on the floor is from the left-wing and from the left baseline. He was an excellent shooter from both those locations last season. He was also pretty good from right at the basket — he didn’t take a ton of shots from around rim, but he hit enough of them to be effective from that location.

Paige shot chart from the 2014-15 season

Next, check out Paige’s shot chart from 2014-15 season, the one without the key at the bottom. There is a small yet clear change in charts from year to year, a change which is mirrored by Paige’s counting stats and advanced stats.

Paige is much worse this season, almost 10% points worse, from the left-wing. He has improved from other spots around the wing, especially from the right-wing and from the top of the key.

Where Paige is really struggling is from inside the arc. He is 10% worse in terms of FG% from at the rim than last season. I hypothesize that this change is due to the cramped spacing. I highly suggest you read this post from Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports. It outlines how cramped the Heels spacing is without any real three-point threats outside of Paige himself.

I’m going to steal a graphic from that post (read it!).

Graphic from here

Look at how cramped that spacing is! There is no space for Paige, the driver, or Meeks, the roller, to go because the defense is clogging the paint so much.

As a result, Paige’s offensive rating has fallen by four points, from 120.1 last season to 116.7 this year. The changes can also be seen just by looking at Paige’s points per game. In 2013-14, Paige averaged 17.5 points per game. This year? 14.2.

Paige has been dealing with spacing and shooting issues all season long. Those spacing issues, combined with injuries and a slight regression in shooting, have combined to make this a difficult junior year for Paige. He just hasn’t improved enough to take his game and his Heels to the next level.


The play of these three players hasn’t been bad, but they haven’t made significant improvements from last season to this one. There is still time for each of these guys to keep improving and beyond, but so far, their play has been underwhelming. And their underwhelming play, along with a number of other reasons, is why the Tar Heels haven’t quite been able to take that next step this year.

Stats via kenpom.com, shotanalytics.com and sports-reference.com. Go check those websites out!