The 2014-15 season is almost here and in preparation for that we profile the players. Today we wrap it up with junior point guard Marcus Paige.
Marcus Paige, PG, 6-1, 175 lbs
Everybody's All-American, literally. If someone published a preseason All-America list, you can be sure that Paige is on it, and more than a few are going so far as to predict he will be the National Player of the Year. Quite a turnaround for a player many were ready to relegate to the blue team during his freshman season.
This time a year ago, the primary question surrounding Paige was whether or not his new found "bulk," a term still used rather loosely, would translate to better performances on the court. The prevailing thought (or maybe hope), was that the strength Paige gained over the off season would allow him to better absorb contact, thus increasing his ability to to finish and protect the basketball. What was not expected, nor could it have been, was Paige authoring arguably the greatest individual season for a Tar Heel point guard not named Ty Lawson.
There are any number of statistics that could be given to describe how much Paige improved last year, and how good he was, but two really stand out above the rest. First, Paige's TO% went from 25.5 as a freshman to 15.6 as a sophomore. A jump of nearly 10 percentage points alone should be impressive enough, but to put that into perspective:
Ed Cota's best TO% was 26.6.
Raymond Felton's best TO% was 25.0.
Kendall Marshall's best TO% was 27.2.
Over the last 20 years, the only point guard to better the 15.6 TO% that Paige posted last season was Ty Lawson (14.3) in 2009, in what should have been his NPOY-winning season.
The second number to consider, with respect to the level of Paige's play last season, is 120.2. That number was Paige's ORtg last season, 23.8 points higher than what he produced as a freshman and a jump that I would not have guessed to be possible. Once again, Paige's play, as described by this statistic, was the best of any UNC point guard not named Ty Lawson. (For the record, Ty Lawson may be the greatest Tar Heel to not have his jersey retired.)
So what can can be expected from Paige as an encore this season? Well, as good as he was last season, it is likely that he will be even better this year. As was discussed in the Tokoto profile, juniors making a significant improvement while Roy has been at North Carolina has almost been the rule and, barring injury, it would be hard to imagine that Paige would be the one to buck that trend. That being said, I feel it is a fairly safe bet to say that Paige's ORtg won't jump another 20+ points (if it does, just go ahead an retire #5 immediately; and sorry haters, he's also an Academic All-American). But even if his improvement this season doesn't match the jump he made last year, an improvement that was on par with that made by his predecessors would put put his ORtg in the range of 128-130, which would be the second greatest ORtg of the Williams coaching era, and probably ever (yes, Lawson is first).
Despite the likelihood that Paige's overall play will improve, it is perhaps equally likely that his overall scoring output will decrease, and the reason for this is two-fold. First, it is very unlikely that he will be on the court as much as he was last season. Paige played a ridiculous number of minutes last season (nearly 36 a game), but he now plays on a team with depth at point guard and on the wing, meaning the team shouldn't fall apart when he is on the bench. Additionally, it is likely that there will be many more games where the outcome is decided well before the final buzzer, meaning it won't be necessary for Paige to be in the game to make free-throws and ice the game away. Taken together, it's very likely that Roy will try to limit Paige to 28-30 minutes a game until the Heels get to March.
The second reason why it is a safe bet that Paige's scoring numbers will drop is the presumed improvement of Carolina's inside scoring ability. With Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks manning 60-70 of the available minutes at the 4/5 position, UNC should possess the type of firepower that allows Roy's offense to flow from inside - out, and will allow Paige to be more of a "true" point guard. One has to go back to 1993 to find a Final Four team coached by Roy Williams that wasn't led in scoring by its center or power forward. If this team has similar aspirations, a good starting point would be for one of that trio to lead the team in scoring.
What this likely means for Paige is that instead of the 17 points and 4 assists a game he tallied last season, a more preferable statline this season would be in the neighborhood of 15 points and 6 assists per game, while maintaining the elite efficiency he demonstrated last season. Not coincidentally, that's right about what Ty Lawson averaged in 2009...