Does J.P. Tokoto’s Departure Help or Hurt the Tar Heels?


J.P. Tokoto surprised a lot of people last night when he let everyone know that he would be taking his talents to the NBA next season. He has not hired an agent, so there is still a chance that he could come back, but now it seems very unlikely that he would do so.

The question now is what impact will this have on the 2015-16 North Carolina Tar Heels. This is the million dollar question, because it is tough to answer and nobody really knows. There are two very good arguments on each side, and we won’t really know which one is true until we see a few games next season. For now though, let’s just take a look at some of the positives and negatives from the decision…


More playing time and shots for Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson

Justin Jackson played really well last season as a starter, while Berry II and Pinson filled in admirably in smaller roles when they were healthy. Next season, all three will see more shots and opportunities now that Tokoto is gone. Berry could slide into the lineup as a point guard and Justin Jackson will get more shots and open looks on the wing.

Theo Pinson will also see more playing time, because Tokoto was an obstacle somewhat blocking him on the wing. Tokoto’s departure allows the three sophomores to make bigger leaps and strides.

More playing time potentially for Brandon Ingram and/or Jaylen Brown

Two tweets for this one…


Two elite recruits in the Class of 2015 now are probably taking a second look at UNC with an extra spot on the wing opening up. Both Ingram and Brown are the type of recruits would could come in and play and maybe even start right away at UNC now. Getting one of these two elite recruits would greatly lesson the blow of Tokoto’s departure.

Better floor spacing

Next year, UNC will be replacing a bad three-point shooter (Tokoto) with most likely an average to above average shooter in Joel Berry II. Also, with Marcus sliding to shooting guard, UNC should have a better starting lineup in terms of floor balance and spacing.

This should lead to a better three-point shooting offense for the Tar Heels next season, which will have positive effects on other areas, like more space on the inside for Brice and Kennedy to work.

A positive effect on team chemistry?

This one is tricky, because there is no great way to measure chemistry. But some have suggested the chemistry might have been off with Tokoto.

Will getting rid of Tokoto have a real effect on UNC’s chemistry and thus on the win loss column? I have no idea, but, it is worth mentioning.


Loss of a veteran starter

Just on a very basic level, it is never good to lose a veteran starter. You never want to see that happen. I’ve never been a huge champion of Tokoto’s playing style or shot selection, but there is a difference between not liking a player and wanting him off the team. I think Tokoto still would have added a lot of value with his experience and talent.

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If you are a preseason Top-5 team, as UNC will be next season, you never want to lose a starter from last season. To really cheer for or applaud that doesn’t make any sense. Tokoto was in the starting lineup for a reason, and UNC was awfully good last season as a team. Losing a starter from a good team hurts.

Loss of an above average defensive player

The first thing people say about Tokoto is that he is a great defender. Even a lock down defender. Honestly, I’m not really sure how lock down he was, or how much better he is than Theo Pinson will be next season with increased minutes in Tokoto’s role. But Tokoto was at the very least an above average defender. He was tied for first on the team in defensive win shares, per He had 1.5 steals per game, always guarded the other team’s best player and competed on the defensive end.

I think everyone agrees that Tokoto’s defense will be missed.

Loss of an above average offensive rebounder for his position

I haven’t seen much about this, but this is also important. Tokoto is a really good offensive rebounder for his position on the wing. UNC needs offensive rebounds to keep the offensive engine running, and without Tokoto and his 61 offensive rebounds that he grabbed last season, the offense rebounding numbers and therefore the offense will suffer, even if it’s just a little bit.

I covered this earlier in the season, if you want to read up more about the value of offensive rebounds and how UNC relies on them for easy baskets.

No more awesome dunks

No more of this…

We are all going to miss Tokoto’s dunks.


To answer the question of whether Tokoto’s departure will help or hurt Carolina, I’m going to tell a quick story. Imagine if UNC’s basketball team last year was a big sand castle. Roy was the architect, and the five main towers of the castle were the five starters.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

Many expected that the same team and starters would return next season, so the 2015-16 sand castle would look very similar. There would be small changes – Justin Jackson would be better, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II would play more – but largely the castle would be the same.

Now, with Tokoto’s departure, Roy gets to knock down one of those towers and start over. He gets to build a new tower with Berry II, Pinson and Jackson making up the key parts, and he can build it higher than the old tower ever would have been.

Basically, Roy gets a chance now to make this team better. It is his job to build up that castle and make it better each season, and now, he has a much easier chance at building up the castle and shaping it and making it new and better for next season.

This leads into my final point. Earlier this week, I wrote about UNC’s lack of room to grow. I said that with the starting five returning, UNC just didn’t have many places to really improve because the same team and the same players were coming back. Small changes, like Justin Jackson’s impending offensive outbreak, would occur, but the season would largely be similar or just a bit better because the same team was returning.

Now, with Tokoto’s departure, UNC again has a huge ceiling and a bit of insecurity heading into next season. That is bad, but it is also good because UNC can put Jackson and Berry II in those spots and allow them to take the team higher than it ever would have gone with Tokoto. UNC no longer has that problem of the lack of room to grow.

The question of whether Tokoto’s departure will help or hurt UNC can’t be answered until the team plays a few times next fall. For now, wish Tokoto the best of luck in the draft and start dreaming about how high Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson and maybe even Brandon Ingram or Jaylen Brown can take the team next year.