Interesting hypothesis from J.P. Gilgio at the N&O
Much has been written about how the Heels will be better when (if?) Lawson returns because Thomas has been playing so well in his stead.
The problem with this logic is it assumes Thomas can produce the same at 10- or, at best, 15-minute intervals as he can at 25- to 35-minute ones. One major reason Thomas has been playing so well is because he's playing consistent minutes for the first time in his college career (it's also the first time he has warranted those minutes).
It's easier to do your job when you know your role and you know the minutes will be there. Ask Brandon Costner or Ben McCauley. When you start subbing in and try to produce in 5-minute or three-possession spurts, you often do too much to try stay on the court and in turn do the opposite. Again, ask Costner and McCauley.
Thomas has been exactly what UNC needed in Lawson's absence because that's how Roy Williams' system is structured to function. Thomas is not going to suddenly morph into Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson when Lawson returns and generate instant offense off the bench.
That means UNC is better prepared to handle injuries than most programs but it doesn't make them a better team if (when?) Lawson returns.
First of all, Giglio is usually spot on with his analysis but I disagree with him here(yeah real shocker, I know)
The basic premise is that once Thomas returns to spot duty at 10-15 minutes per game, his effectiveness will recede because his role will somehow be less defined. He cites the diminished play of Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley at NCSU as examples of guys who had their roles changed/reduced by another player and how they no longer knew what to do. Now the first place you want to go looking at that analogy is looking at QT's attitude which, at least where Costner is concerned, is miles ahead. McCauley is a good kid and plays smart basketball. However, I do not think that is what Giglio is getting at and he says as much in response to some comments.
I'm not comparing Thomas to Costner and McCauley in terms of attitude but their respective situations.
Last season, Costner and McCauley were two of the most productive players in the ACC as starters. They knew what was expected and they had the minutes (not that the coach had no other choice).
Hickson changed McC and Costner's minutes and roles. Lawson's return will do the same for Thomas.
The mistake everyone else is making is that UNC will automatically be better when Lawson returns because they'll have both Lawson and Thomas.
My point is Thomas won't be in the same role, or mode, when Lawson returns.
I would counter Giglio here by pointing out that in the NCSU situation Costner and McCauley are not only sharing minutes with J.J. Hickson but they also have to be on the court with him at the same time. Some of the disruption to their production is their place in the offensive pecking order has changed and they find themselves having to play at different spots on the court because Hickson is occupying the middle. I also think the lack of ACC caliber PG play is part and parcel to their lack of productivity. If the Wolfpack had a good to great PG, he could find a way to involve everyone in the offense and the productivity for McCauley and Costner would go up in my opinion. From my perspective this is an apples and oranges comparison simply because what NCSU needs more/different things from Costner/McCauley than UNC is asking of QT.
In UNC's case QT is being asked to come in, run the offense and take care of the ball with just a tinge of point scoring. This seems to be a less complicated role for a player who specializes at that spot versus what Costner and McCauley from whom more versatility is required. When QT comes in for Lawson, he comes in to play PG and understands his role, even more so now that he has done it for five games almost full time. Granted, the "mode" will change and QT needs to adjust to coming off the bench for shorter periods and adjust more quickly but I am not sure that will be an issue. The two major problems QT had for three years was lack of confidence and experience. He has gotten both of those now and it is amazing to me to watch how the offense morphed from looking disjointed versus Duke to almost like it does when Lawson is in versus Virginia Tech. Also, unlike the Pack players, Lawson and QT will likely never be on the floor at the same time which further reduces any confusion that might interfere with productivity.
The improvement in UNC as a team comes from the reduction of the gap between Lawson and Thomas at PG. Before the injury, bringing QT in was an absolute crapshoot(see at Clemson.) The offense fell to pieces, the fast break was non-existent and UNC was generally lost with QT turning the ball over more than anything else. Most of those issues seems to have been resolved during this stretch of games with QT at the helm. In my mind, when Lawson returns and QT enters the game, the chances UNC will miss a beat on offense is severely reduced.
I am convinced that QT is nothing but a character guy. We know this because he is still wearing a Tar Heel uniform despite being relegated to third on the depth chart in favor of younger players, one of whom, Bobby Frasor, was not even a true PG out of high school. His attitude and maturity tells me he can adjust to being the backup again and still operate at much the same level as he is doing now when he plays only 10-15 minutes a game. I would even go as far as to say QT would give Frasor a serious run for the #2 PG spot were the junior guard healthy, though I think Frasor's defense tips the scales in that battle. The difference between Lawson and QT is that with Lawson Pomeroy had UNC as a top three offense. With QT the offense is "merely" in the top 10. That is the gap you are looking at between the two and to me there is no question it is an improvement over the way it was prior to the Lawson injury.