One of the oddest aspects of the current Tar Heel season is the cold and hot nature of Marcus Paige's play over the course of the single game. The sophomore guard has been quiet offensively in the first half of most games then seemingly unstoppable in the second half. In games where UNC needs a big play in the second half, it is Paige who has usually provided it. However the disparity between what Paige does in the first half versus the second has people asking a couple of questions. Why does it happen? Why can't he play like that the whole game?
Both last night on his radio program and today in his press conference Roy Williams fielded questions of this sort. His take is if it's working why would he change it?
You wonder why. Last night on the radio show [I said,] "If it ain't broke don't try and fix it"
It's not easy for me to explain but it is easy for me to understand, it really is. Point guards, they start the game trying to run the game plan. Trying to get everybody involved. Trying to see how, well point guards and intelligent players, not just point guards. I thought Sean May always had a great feel for how people were going to play him. So you spend some time going through that trying to find out how you're going to be played. How everyone else is going? Is Leslie [McDonald] shooting it in the hole today? You decide how you can help your team the best. I think every player should do that but I think point guards do it more. I think Marcus [Paige] by nature is not very selfish. By nature he is trying to run the team more. By nature it's "do my part" to help the team. Then all of sudden he realizes my part to help this team today just might be scoring again.
Would everyone agree he's had a pretty doggone good year? First team All-ACC, why in the hell should I try to screw it up? Let's be honest.
Williams nails the most obvious reason why Paige plays different earlier in the game versus later. That's his job. Paige is a point guard and spends a good portion of the first half trying to facilitate the offense. He is a player with an exceptional basketball IQ who also takes his time to assess what the opposing team is doing. This is an important factor as it pertains to his own ability to score not to mention involving his teammates. Most teams at this point come in with a game plan that includes stopping Marcus Paige. Most of what Paige and UNC sees in the first half is predicated on that so in some ways it makes perfect sense for Paige to be quieter in the first half as he figures out the best way to exploit an opponent's weak points.
As for what happens in the second half, it really boils down to a couple of things. The first is Paige has a grasp of what the opposing team is doing so he makes more of a concerted effort to exploit that. Secondly, Paige is just a clutch player. Last month, I outlined Paige's production in the first half vs the second half and even examined his play after the ten minute mark of the second half. With the full ACC schedule completed, I have updated the numbers to include all 18 games. As was the case then, a clear pattern emerges. It's not so much the second half as it is the final ten minutes of the game that really sees Paige's production increase.
|% of points in 2nd half
|% of 2nd half pts after 10 min mark||70.5%|
|% of all points after 10 min mark
|% of all shots in 2nd half
|% of 3P shots in 2nd half
|% of all shots after 10 min mark
|% of 3P shots after 10 min mark||36.3%|
|% of 2nd half shots after 10 min mark||62.1%|
|% of 2nd half 3P shots after 10 min mark||61.2%|
|1st Half FG%||34.0%|
|2nd Half FG%||50.8%|
|After 10 min mark FG%||53.2%|
|1st Half 3P%||21.7%|
|2nd Half 3P%||50.7%|
|After 10 min mark 3P%||56.1%|
In 18 ACC games, Paige scored 48% of his points after the ten minute mark of the second half. That's 70% of his second half points. Paige takes 34.8% of his total shots for the game after the ten minute mark and shoots 53% from the floor and 56% from three in that span.
As Williams noted, this is ultimately about Paige doing what his team needs him to do. In the first half it is being the point guard and facilitating the offense for others. In the second half it is doing that but raising his own offensive production as needed. In the final ten minutes of many games, the team needs him to take over so he does. The really remarkable aspect is how well Paige shoots late in the second half. Part of that is skill and part of that is intangibles which Paige has in buckets from toughness to basketball IQ to being a player who can make that "big play" under pressure.
One of these games it would be fun if Paige did indeed play both halves like he did at NC State or Duke providing UNC won the game. That last part is the key. UNC won 12 straight games and also snagged some earlier big wins with Paige playing this way. As long as UNC wins games, there is little argument for it to change.