How Leslie McDonald's Return Will Give Some Much Needed Relief to Marcus Paige

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

During his freshman season, Marcus Paige started all but one game at point guard for UNC. In those 35 games, Paige played 35 or more minutes three times. So far in the 2013-14 season Paige has played 35 minutes or more in nine of UNC's 13 games. That kind of playing time is a lot for any college player to shoulder at this point in the season and even more so in Roy Williams' up-tempo offense. However with the lack of depth created by Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston's eligibility issue plus Paige's emergence as the team's best player, there was little choice but to play the sophomore guard extensive minutes.

Now that UNC has McDonald back in the lineup, Paige has seen his minutes in the past two games reduced slightly and  the fifth year senior's return has been a big reason why.

"It makes a huge difference. Coach [Roy] Williams texted me after the Davidson game saying he would never play me 41 minutes again." said Paige. "It is great to have another backcourt guy that's as effective as Leslie [McDonald] is. He's a great shooter and it's just another body in the backcourt. That was probably our biggest need was just somebody else in the backcourt to get my minutes down so I didn't have to play a few stretches of being super tired and get fatigued."

While the thin backcourt depth has been a major factor in Paige's extra minutes, the lack of blowout wins over weaker opponents hasn't helped either. Here is how Paige's minutes this season have compared to Kendall Marshall's in 2011-12 through the first 13 games of the season.

Marcus Paige 2013-14 Kendall Marshall 2011-12
Opponent Mins Margin Opponent Mins Margin
Oakland 32 23 Michigan St. 33 12
Holy Cross 36 8 UNCA 34 16
Belmont 36 -3 MVSU 25 26
Richmond 38 10 Tenn. St. 29 33
Louisville 36 9 SCAR 32 25
UAB 36 -4 UNLV 31 -10
Michigan St. 35 14 Kentucky 35 -1
UNCG 31 31 Wisconsin 38 3
Kentucky 37 5 Evansville 25 49
Texas 36 -3 Long Beach St. 36 14
Davidson 41 12* App. St. 29 15
Northern Kentucky 31 15 Nichols St. 25 50
UNCW 30 33 Texas 36 19
Minutes per game 35.0 Minutes per game 31.4

*Overtime game

A couple of caveats. One, Paige is playing more wing guard than Marshall who was exclusively a point guard. Secondly, at this point in the 2011-12 season UNC had more wing depth. Dexter Strickland was still playing, Reggie Bullock was effective off the bench and a freshman P.J. Hairston was providing some nice minutes. Still both Paige and Marshall were/are easily the most important player on the team and their presence on the floor a necessity for the team's success.

There is one discernible pattern when looking at the two players side-by-side. Marshall benefited from more blowout wins than Paige has so far. It is expected in "big" games to see key players in the game for extensive minutes. When UNC faces Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky, Texas, etc. the best players will see more floor time because the game is generally close and beating good teams requires significant contributions from the best players.

In games against the lighter portions of the schedule, there is an expectation of reduced minutes assuming the team plays well enough to stake a huge lead. Obviously there are exceptions such as versus UNC Asheville or Long Beach St. in 2011-12. In the current season, UNC's lack of dominance in these types of games has been an issue. In 2011-12 Marshall played less than 30 minutes in five of UNC's first 13 games. The average margin of victory in those games was 34.6. In four of those games. This season UNC has had just two games won by 30 or more points and only one other game won by 20 or more points. Because so many games have either been against highly ranked opponents or been games where UNC struggled put teams away(or even ended up losing) there has been little choice but to have Paige on the floor as much as possible.

The start of conference play marks the point in the season where Williams usually tightens up his rotation. In fact, he has already shown signs of that by not using Luke Davis until the final minute in the win over UNCW on Tuesday. Paige will still need to play some big minutes at times since that is the nature of ACC play. However Paige should see some benefit from McDonald's return and the continued development of Nate Britt at point guard. Britt has progressed to a point where Roy Williams can comfortably lean on the Britt/McDonald backcourt for stretches of the game. The presence of another shooter also means Paige will get somewhat reduced attention from opposing defenses which should require less effort on the offensive end to get open, score, etc. Ultimately Paige should be able to reach a point where his minutes are steady and reasonable.

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