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Parts, Parts Everywhere

After the NC State game where Roy Williams used a variety of lineups and made some interesting choices on playing time, the rotation/lineup questions are flying once again.


Looking at the box score on Saturday night there are some interesting items. The most intriguing is P.J. Hairston's stat line which reads:

17 mins, 19 points, 6-10 FG

This line has set off another round of discussion concerning Roy Williams' lineup choices. Inside Carolina(the front page, not the message boards) has joined in the act with not one but two articles on lineups. The latter openly advocates Hairston starting and Strickland moving to PG to compete with Marcus Paige for minutes.

On a simple level, there is a lot of merit to this in fact, it was pointed out on this blog after the Heels lost to Miami that the best lineup was one with Hairston and Reggie Bullock on the floor at the same time. The problem is I am not sure simply exchanging one player for another solves all the problems. Why? Because this is a team with maybe two players(at most) who are well rounded. One of those is Bullock who produces on the offensive end and plays solid defense. The other is McAdoo and just barely so since his offense can be inconsistent and there are certain matchups that hurt him on the defensive end. Outside of those two the rest of the personnel all have something in their game that is a liability. That means it is not as simple as taking one player out and putting another one in. For the moment let's focus on the three backcourt/wing players sans Bullock.

Dexter Strickland: Good defender but no longer a great one. Gives UNC an element of speed and is experienced. The liability is he can't shoot and the lack of other offensive options fewer open looks in the FT line area and driving lanes.

Marcus Paige: Does a decent job running the offense but has not shot the ball well. His size makes it difficult for him to check bigger opposing PGs. Handles the ball well.

P.J. Hairston: Great shooter, strong and one of the tougher players on the roster. Has trouble handling the basketball, even 25 feet from the basket. Does some good things on defense but also prone to lapses.

It is evident that changing out one player for another is more difficult than it seems because none of these players do everything needed at a certain level. If Hairston handled the ball better or Strickland could hit a jumper or Paige was a better defender then perhaps it is an easier task. However taking one player out means giving up something in exchange for something else. Of course that is not the biggest problem. The more daunting issue some players being together exasperate the problem.

For example, playing Strickland-Paige-Bullock-Hubert-McAdoo is not a great idea. There are only two real offensive options on the floor and easy enough to stop those and make the other three beat you. It also seems like a bad idea to put Paige and Strickland on the floor together because the backcourt is highly ineffective at scoring but if you go small with Hariston instead of Hubert, that lineup looks better. With Hairston on the floor there are three offensive options which creates more space. The opposing four has to come out to guard Hairston creating more room around the basket. That lineup gives you the best three offensive players on the team and two good ball handlers plus Strickland can still play defense. Of course Hairston has to guard to opposing four on the other end and rebounding might be an issue.

The other option is what most people want and that is Hairston and Bullock on the wings with either Paige or Strickland always at PG. It appears this is not a viable option for Williams. Today, Williams said Hairston's reduced minutes are a result of improved play from Tokoto, foul trouble and Hairston not getting after a loose ball on Saturday night. That means Williams does not like the notion of using Bullock and Hairston together unless the latter is at the four. Running them both at the wings sacrifices ball-handling which is something Williams is apparently unwilling to do. That also means the comparisons of Strickland's minutes to Hairston are worthless. Hairston's minutes are apparently being shared with Tokoto not Strickland.

The bottom line is because UNC has a team full of basic role players, there will always be deficiencies no matter who is on the court. The question is which deficiencies can the team get away with exposing for extended periods and still win the game? Most everyone is convinced whatever Hariston brings on the defensive end is worth living with because changing the dynamics of the offense is a big enough boost to make the team better(and I agree.) Most everyone is convinced that any combo of Paige and Strickland without at least three offensive options on te floor is an inherently bad idea. Having Strickland with only one offensive option on the floor is a really bad idea because in the end he's probably going to force a bad shot. That means doing something else Roy Williams is likely not to do and that is riding Bullock, Hairston and McAdoo for 35 mpg.

As has been noted many times before, Roy Williams is fairly stubborn on his lineups and also loves to rotate anyone who can breathe and is getting their room and board covered. Williams also makes lineup decisions on more than what happens in games. This is what makes this discussion particularly tough since who starts and plays gets hashed out in practice which the fans cannot see. All fans and pundits see are the games and the argument can be made that's all that should matter. For Williams its different because what likely happens is he see what we wants in practice but then it doesn't translate to the court or has Dean Smith called it "game slippage." He has made mention of this "slippage" multiple times this season. This slippage is what possibly makes sound lineup decisions based on practice look incredibly bad in games. In likelihood that stems from UNC being outclassed at times which makes maintaining the same level execution much more difficult.

Whatever the case, Roy Williams is likely to ride this season out in much the same manner as he has already meaning complaints about the lineup will fall on deaf ears.