Ahead of schedule.
Roy Williams provided an update on junior wing guard Leslie McDonald during his Friday press conference.
Is there a date in mind on when you need to make a decision on Leslie?
“No… When he got going, his rehab has been sensational, it’s been off the charts. He’s been ahead of every expectation… He practiced in 5-on-5 stuff on Tuesday a pretty good bit of practice. And Wednesday had some soreness so we held him out. Today he went through a lot of practice and we’ll see how it feels tomorrow… I think I said this early: Human nature, you want to say, ‘Why would you give up a whole year, just to play half a year?’ So that’s been in the back of my mind since the start. So that’s something we want to see. And to me … [a decision] is not going to be very long from now. In my opinion, why would you wait until February to bring a guy back? That wouldn’t be very wise, in my opinion.”
On McDonald’s play in practice:
“First day, he didn’t miss a shot. He was off the charts. And today, he didn’t make a shot. He said they fouled him all the time. So mentally, he’s there. When he misses, it’s somebody else’s fault.”
My thinking on McDonald's status throughout has been that he shouldn't return this season. Part of that was predicated on the expected rehab period which had McDonald returning in late February/early March. I also am not crazy about injecting a player back into the mix late in the season when everyone is comfortable with their roles. And yes, I selfishly would love to see McDonald in Chapel Hill two more season, especially if he has made strides as a scorer.
Now that it looks like McDonald might be ready almost two months early, that does change things up a bit. Granted it doesn't alter my misgivings about introducing a new player into the lineup at this stage in the season. However the notion that UNC could get something on the order of 10-12 regular season games plus as many as nine postseason games, bringing McDonald back doesn't seem as crazy as I first thought.
The problem with bringing McDonald back now is what it may do so the current rotation. Looking at the minutes played, who ends up losing time if McDonald returns? I don't think Reggie Bullock, who is a key player for this team, should see his minutes drop. P.J. Hairston is at 12 mpg right now so could you really take time from him? Strickland is at 25 mpg with some of those being played at the point. As we move into February, Kendall Marshall is going to start creeping into the low and mids-30s in terms of minutes played. Likewise Harrison Barnes will probably see his minutes rise which takes away time Bullock or Hairston or theoretically McDonald might get at the wing forward spot. I suppose we could see Bullock or Barnes rotated to the four with less Justin Watts on the floor. The list of permutations and possibilities goes on and on.
Of course if McDonald does return, whatever Roy Williams might do is going to be similar to the way things would have been had McDonald been healthy from Day 1. The difference now is the players who have been on the court have settled into roles and have reasonable expectations of what their minutes will be on any given night. This goes back to my original misgivings concerning bringing a player back at this stage of the season, especially at a position UNC is heavily loaded at as it is. If McDonald were a post player, it would be a nice addition of depth. On the wings it raises a question of players losing minutes.
This may be much ado about nothing in the end. Roy and McDonald may ultimately conclude redshirting is the best option. Whatever gets decided Roy is paid a fat salary to work it all out and I have plenty of confidence in his ability to handle this kind of scenario.