I noticed an interesting reccuring joke made by ACC Media members in the days leading up to the selection of the preseason All-ACC team. Votes for James Michael McAddoo were taken as shorthanded for everything wrong with the media; UNC was going to contend in the conference, and McAdoo was the biggest name on the team, so he would get the votes of the out-of-touch, North Carolina focused reporters. It was taken as given that he would both make the first team, and that no one who truly understood the conference would dare vote for him.
McAdoo did not, in fact, make the first team, which consisted of Syracuse's C.J. Fair, Virginia's Joe Harris, Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, and two Duke players, neither of whom have played a minute for the Blue Devils. But the comments were quite illuminating, demonstrating how McAdoo is perceived. It's as if he's the synthesis of the common criticism of two of UNC's superstars — like Harrison Barnes he has not dominated the number of games expected of him as the leading talent for UNC, and like Tyler Hansbrough what accolades that are bestowed on him are seen as undeserving, that he's not really that good.
How did McAdoo come to be seen like this? It started before he ever set foot on campus. McAdoo was the highest-rated recruit to commit to UNC since Barnes, and even flirted with arriving a year early after the Wear twins transferred leaving the Heels thin in the front court. He spent is freshman year coming off the bench playing opposite Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and towards the end of the season really came into his own. In his last seven games he averaged 10.6 points and just under 5 rebounds, and led UNC in scoring in the season-ending loss to Kansas. He could have easily taken the Marvin Williams route and gone pro after that year, where he was a potential lottery pick. Instead he returned to Chapel Hill and a host of expectations, beginning with a preseason All-ACC vote.
McAdoo's sophomore season was difficult, to say the least. Gone was Kendal Marshall, the point guard that could get the gal anywhere, through any defense. Gone also were his front court partners Zeller and Henson, leaving him to play with two freshmen and a sophomore, none of who made a convincing case for extended playing time. Defenses easily collapsed on McAdoo,double and triple-teaming with little fear of repercussions from the rest of the Carolina offense. His turnover rate skyrocketed, while his offensive rating plummeted to among the lowest on the team. But he trailed only Reggie Bullock in minutes played, and lead the team in points, rebounds and steals. Steals, as a power forward.
The second half of the season was overshadowed by P.J. Hairston's emergence. Under a new starting lineup that left McAdoo as the only true big man while putting a third scoring option on the floor to buy him some breathing room, he never fully clicked. Playing center was difficult, and his shooting percentage dropped, while Hairston started taking all the headlines. He finished the season with the fewest votes for second-team All-ACC, behind teammate Reggie Bullock. (Three of his preseason all-ACC teammates were also second team or below; only Mason Plumlee met expectations.)
Again McAdoo could have cut his losses and gone pro, at a slightly lower projected draft pick than after his freshman season. But he elected to come back again, and play a full season starting at his true position. So naturally, he spent the first exhibition game playing small forward due to multiple players in street clothes.
Presuming that he does find his way back to the power forward position, what can we expect? Well, Roy Williams is hoping to return to the larger lineups he typically runs; if none of last year's players prove up to the task, freshman Kennedy Meeks almost certainly will. This should limit opposing double teams, which should increase his rebounding and scoring totals. Sadly, the exhibition game didn't present much evidence that his biggest weakness has been overcome — poor dribbling in traffic, and the resulting turnovers. I'm hoping for quicker starts from the junior, however. He'll continue to lead defensively, as his game never really relied on the type of defensive play the new rules are outlawing. And I expect the same number of open-floor steals and spectacular fast breaks as last season.
Will that be enough to propel him to first team All-ACC honors and lottery pick status? I think so. McAdoo has often alluded to an increased work ethic this offseason, and Roy Williams seems to be sheltering him from public expectations. I think it's telling that McAdoo did not make the trip to the media day after doing so last season. With Bullock gone and Hairston sitting out a portion of the season, the mantle of leadership is naturally going to fall on his shoulders. I expect a nice improvement in performance from him, and significantly less jokes from the peanut gallery come March.