The 2014-15 season is almost here and in preparation for that we profile the players. Today we look at junior wing J.P. Tokoto.
J.P. Tokoto, WG/WF, 6-6, 200 lbs
Much has been, and will continue to be, written about the dramatic improvement Marcus Paige made last year. And while all of this (and perhaps more) is deserved, it shouldn't be lost that the strides classmate J.P. Tokoto made were also quite impressive. As a freshman, Tokoto could best be described as an, "astonishing athlete who was playing basketball." He was exciting to watch for sure, but the results were not often the most ideal. Entering his sophomore season, he was not expected to be a significant contributor, but the actions of then teammates P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald created an opening in the lineup that Tokoto actively seized. With that opportunity, Tokoto demonstrated that, through a combination of hard work and maturity, he had started to leave his Tasmanian Devil impersonation in the past and had begun to evolve into more of a "basketball player with astonishing athleticism." Tokoto's production as a sophomore skyrocketed, increasing from 2.6 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game as a rookie, up to 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game for his first season as a starter. And while much of this can be attributed to a 20 minute per game increase in playing time, examination of Tokoto's tempo-free statistics reveals that he not only increased the quantity of his play, but also the quality of it:
Aside from a slight dip in his offensive rebounding rate, the rest of Tokoto's play improved across the board. Though his outside shooting still remained suspect, it did improve enough to push his eFG% over 50. Most significantly, Tokoto did a much better job protecting the basketball, while still exhibiting his breathtaking athleticism. His TO% dropped from 27.6 (poor) to 19.5 (decent), and was able to sustain a 1.6 assist:turnover ratio for the season, which is quite good for a non-point guard.
Now entering his junior season, Tokoto finds himself on a team that appears on paper to be much deeper and more talented on the wing than last season's team was, leading some to question if Tokoto's minutes and production may take a bit of a step back. Recent history, however, suggests that the results could be completely the opposite. At North Carolina, Roy Williams has had thirteen junior starters who played at least 15 minutes a game their previous season, and all but one of them (Ginyard), saw a significant spike in their efficiency as a junior. For those twelve players whose play improved, the average increase to their previous season's ORtg was 8.2 points (7.7%). This is a substantial increase, and a similar improvement this season for Tokoto would vault his ORtg up to around 110 or 111; better than either of Harrison Barnes' two seasons and a touch better than David Noel's senior season, which could be a template of what to expect from Tokoto this year.
In his last season as a Tar Heel, Noel averaged 12.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, while shooting 53.2% from the field (42.4 3P%) and 62.5% from the line. It is not reasonable to expect that Tokoto will shoot greater than 40% from three, but if he can even improve to the low 30s, while making about one per game, that will open the floor up just enough for him to use his considerable gifts as a playmaker. Tokoto is a significantly better passer than Noel was (Roy tabbed him the best passer on the team), so it is not much of a reach to envision him at, or near, the team lead in assists with 5-6 a game, to go along with 10-12 points and 5-6 rebounds. Such production would not only put Tokoto on the radar for individual accolades (as well as the NBA), but it would also provide the Heels with the fifth double-digit scorer than has been a hallmark of each of Roy's three Final Four squads at North Carolina.