Evaluating the Tar Heels: The Bench


With thirteen non-conference games in the books here is a report card on the Tar Heels so far this time looking at the bench.

P.J. Hairston, 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 spg, 34% 3P, 38% FG, ORtg: 117.5

So far: Hairston has established himself as UNC's 3rd leading scorer despite only coming off the bench and not playing more than 22 minutes in any game except for his single start against UNLV. Hairston has also been fairly effective even though his shooting has not been all that great. His 34% from three is fine but counting all shots Hairston is at 38% which means he could and should be scoring more. In addition to the scoring, Hairston is averaging 4.5 rebounds with nearly half of those coming on the offensive end. In general Hairston has been a solid player who brings a no fear attitude to the court and a much improved defensive effort.

Outlook: Let's be upfront with this. Hairston needs to play more minutes. One of the reasons he supposedly hasn't seen the floor more is because there are questions about his defense. After his performance on the defensive end against UNLV, I am not sure that is a valid excuse anymore. In fact this general toughness and attitude is exactly what UNC needs on defense. The problem is massaging the lineup for Hairston to play more since he is Reggie Bullock's backup at wing forward. In most cases, Hairston is not out there with Bullock at the same time unless UNC goes small. One possible solution is moving Dexter Strickland to PG and solely sharing that position so Hairston and Bullock can play the wings. That is unlikely to happen given that would involve a major change from what UNC has been doing. Still, the more Hairston we see on the court, the better it is for everyone involved.

Leslie McDonald, 9.1 ppg, 45% 3P, ORtg: 118.6

So far: McDonald is UNC's second best three point shooter hitting 25 of 55 attempts to the tune of 45%. That makes McDonald the off-the-bench instant offense guy who should be able to come in, hit a couple of threes and give you a boost. Beyond that, McDonald has been fairly limited as witnessed by his 16-44 shooting from two.

Outlook: In an ideal world, McDonald would provide more scoring of the slashing and driving variety. In fact there was some expectation McDonald could be an all-around scorer but so far that hasn't happened. For now, UNC needs him to hit three pointers and hit them against good teams. Of course to do that, McDonald would need to actually take threes which has not happened against better competition. In four games against KenPom Top 100 teams, McDonald has taken six threes total hitting two of them. The other 49 attempts have come against lesser competition. For UNC to be successful in ACC play, the Leslie McDonald of the Miss. St, UAB and ETSU games will need to make a few appearances.

Brice Johnson, 8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 63% FG, ORtg: 117.4

So far: Johnson has been fundamentally sound and fairly effective in 18 mpg in the front court. While his defense still has a ways to go(primarily due to his size) Johnson has played well on the offensive end from grabbing nice putbacks to catching he occasional alley-oop. He also has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to go along with his ridiculously quick shot.

Outlook: What Johnson does the rest of the season depends greatly on his playing time and that appears to depend greatly on how he progresses on the defensive end. Part of that cannot be helped since what Johnson ultimately needs is more muscle. That kind of development will need at least another offseason off work. Beyond that, experience will help as he continues to acclimate to the system. Assuming Johnson can get plenty of minutes, the question is how will he fare offensively against some of the ACC's better front lines? The UNLV game provides some insights into that as Johnson scored 12 points against a team that will be very similar in caliber to the rest of the ACC. If Johnson can do that consistently it will keep UNC balanced. Otherwise going small and raining threes will be the Heels' best option.

J.P. Tokoto, 4.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 55% FG, ORtg: 100.0

So far: Tokoto was probably the biggest enigma heading into the season. He is a freak athlete but his game was otherwise considered to be a little raw. While his insane vertical has generated much excitement and anticipation of highlight dunks, no one could say for sure if Tokoto was just a bigger version of Orlando Melendez or if he actually had some game. The verdict so far Tokoto looks like a player with a nice feel for the game who can rebound, score around the basket and even has shown a deft passing touch.

Outlook: The issue with Tokoto is there isn't really a niche for him on this team. His stats are not eye popping but there are little things he does here and there that have been helpful. His play versus both Texas and UNLV showed signs of promise. However if anyone had to identify Tokoto's exact role on this team, I am not sure they could. And maybe it doesn't matter. UNC has plenty of talent and the personnel to do all the heavy lifting so Tokoto's place is simply to fill in some gaps, especially on defense and rebounding.

Joel James, 3.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 51% FG, ORtg: 97.4

So far: After showing some early signs of potential, James has regressed somewhat. His size and strength certainly give UNC something that no other person on the roster can provide. However, James has struggled with his own mechanics with costly turnovers and fouls.

Outlook: At this stage, it appears James' will see less playing time as the rotation tightens up to focus on the players who do most of the contributing. That doesn't mean James won't be helpful to some extent given the right situations but he is still at a very raw point in his development which is going to curtail his impact, at least for the rest of this season.

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