Now that James Michael McAdoo has announced his decision to leave UNC for the NBA Draft, let's take a look at the issues raised for the 2014-15 Tar Heels by this move.
Brice Johnson's turn
The biggest beneficiary of McAdoo's departure will be Brice Johnson. The rising junior spent most of last season coming off the bench but in his 19 mpg posted an offensive rating of 114.3 which was second best among Tar Heels with at least 20% usage. In fact the theory goes that simply plugging Johnson into McAdoo's minutes will produce more consistent scoring on the interior. Johnson scored 21.2 points per 40 minutes compared to McAdoo's 18.9 and was better at the free throw line shooting 62% to McAdoo's 53%. Assuming Johnson can get that number into the upper 60s and fine tune other aspects of his offensive game, the move from McAdoo to Johnson at the four could result in an upgrade offensively.
The issue with Johnson is his defense. McAdoo wasn't a world class defender but he understood the team defensive concepts and often rotated into position to contest a shot or draw a charge. Johnson will need to make a significant jump in this area, especially when it comes to grasping the overall team defense and his role in it. Johnson has the explosiveness and length to be a solid rim protector. In addition to that Johnson needs to show he can defend opposing face-up forwards and block shots without getting himself into foul trouble. He will also need to bulk up a little more to make defending in the post easier should he face a bigger player.
Hello Mr. Hicks
Aside from Johnson, Isaiah Hicks is the other player who stands to gain and in some ways the "X factor" for UNC in 2014-15. Hicks came to UNC as the 15th ranked recruit in the country according to the RSCI rankings. He is a tremendous athletes who McAdoo himself says has tremendous potential. Unfortunately Hicks only showed glimpses of what he could do thanks in part to playing a lot at the three his freshman year. That will no longer be the case. With the arrival of two wing players and a point guard, UNC will have no shortage of capable wing players leaving Hicks as the primary backup to Johnson at the four.
It is well known Roy Williams loves to have legitimate scoring options coming off the bench. Hicks has a chance to be that player now that he can focus solely on playing the four. It will also help(assuming nothing happens this summer) that Hicks will have the offseason to focus on that position solely. It can't be overestimate the value of Hicks knowing his role and having a grasp of what his playing time will be from game to game. Hicks' freshman season was fairly non-descript so the leap he makes to being a solid bench contributor will be a significant one. If it happens, UNC will have the necessary depth at the four to maintain a consistent offense throughout the game.
Rebounds and second chance points
During the past season Kennedy Meeks posted an offensive rebounding rate of 15.6% which was 10th nationally and a defensive rebounding rate of 24.9% good enough for 37th overall. Johnson was at 12.6%(83rd) and 21.7%(109th) respectively. For comparison McAdoo was at 9.5%(349th) on offensive rebounds and 14.9(NR) on the defensive end. In addition, Johnson's per game numbers were very close to McAdoo's despite playing 11 fewer minutes per contest.
The point here is the combination of Meeks and Johnson gives UNC a chance to be a really good rebounding team. UNC was a really good rebounding team last season with the 13th ranked offensive rebounding rate in the country. Rebounding clearly will not be an issue assuming the duo of Meeks and Johnson get a lion's share of the interior minutes. The real issue is whether defensive rebounds can be turned into transition opportunities and offensive rebounds into second chance points. UNC struggled a bit on the latter. The lack of efficiency on point blank range shots may have been more frustrating than the 62.6% free throw shooting. In fact, it could be argued that Johnson was injured against Iowa State because a simple put back was missed on the prior rebound.
The issue with second chance points is not really related as much to losing McAdoo as it is to UNC simply needing to be better in this regard. One factor in improving this area could be the arrival of Justin Jackson. Not to draw too much from a high school all-star game, but most of Jackson's points in the McDonald's All-American game came via shots at the rim. The caveat here is Jackson's play in that game was a reflection of his overall game. He is a player who picks his spots, gets to the right place and makes the correct play. He and J.P. Tokoto could end up being very important factors in grabbing some long rebounds or sneaking in there for the random rebounds and basket while Meeks and Johnson are locked up battling for position.
So is this an "addition by subtraction" situation?
It could be but as noted above there is some uncertainty. For example McAdoo's stretch of 11 games in ACC play that were basically everything UNC fans have wanted the junior to be since he showed up at UNC. Had McAdoo returned there was always the chance his free throw shooting could have improved, his overall shooting percentage could have gotten better and his efficiency gone up a few ticks. Had those things happened then having the experience of a three year starter would have been very much a bonus.
That being said, there is certainly great potential for Johnson, Meeks and Hicks to produce enough on both ends of the floor to mitigate the loss of McAdoo. Certainly Johnson could be an upgrade offensively but questions remain about how much production Hicks will provide off the bench and how well the primary trio of interior players will perform on the defensive end. If Johnson more than makes up for McAdoo's production but there is a drop-off with Hicks in the game, that is certainly not a step forward. If the defense doesn't perform as well as it would have with McAdoo in the game, that again does not point to a better team.
The bottom line is UNC still has to resolve certain questions with the players who will be taking up the minutes McAdoo is leaving behind. The good news is the potential is there and the track record of player development under Roy Williams is very good. The loss of McAdoo's experience and leadership must be accounted for as will the team gelling into a cohesive unit amid the personnel change. For now UNC still looks primed to be a Final Four contender assuming these questions get satisfactory answers.