There will no doubt be plenty of discussion of J.P. Tokoto's decision to enter the NBA Draft and dissect his quotes. The nature of his announcement and the quotes themselves make it clear, barring injury, Tokoto isn't coming back to Chapel Hill despite leaving the door open by not hiring an agent. With UNC losing an underclassmen to the NBA Draft for a fourth consecutive season, here is the potential impact on next season.
1. Obviously UNC will have a new starter on the wing
There are a couple of ways UNC could go with existing personnel. The first is putting Joel Berry at point guard, moving Marcus Paige to wing guard and Justin Jackson at wing forward. This lineup was used some late in the season with decent results. In fact here is what this trio did over the final nine games of this past season.
Not all of this production necessarily came with these three players on the floor at the same time. However putting these three together given the stats each are capable of putting up can't possibly be a bad idea offensively. The defensive end might be an issue, especially since a Berry/Paige combo leaves UNC a bit undersized and stopping penetration is still a question mark.
The other lineup solution is to simply plug Theo Pinson in for Tokoto. In fact the first game of the 2014-15 season saw Pinson start in Tokoto's place because the latter had done something to upset Roy Williams in practice the day before. In theory Pinson should be a better defender, shoot than Tokoto but could be prone to the same suspect decisions.The overall defense is probably better with Pinson replacing Tokoto versus the Berry/Paige/Jackson lineup.
The second option certainly is the least disruptive in terms of how UNC played last season. Paige maintains he prefers playing point guard and some of the efficiency numbers bear out UNC is better that way. Simply plugging Pinson in requires less tinkering and might be an prove to be an upgrade if Pinson's decisionmaking is sound.
2. UNC is now pretty thin on the wing
In 2014, UNC was painfully thin on the wing. The arrival of Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson made that less of an issue in 2015. Tokoto's departure brings this issue back to the forefront. At present UNC has just two wing players on scholarship for 2015-16. Add in the three point guards and that leaves UNC with five players for three spots.
On one hand a tighter rotation is not such a bad thing, especially since it helps define player roles and aids in on-court chemistry. On the other hand, UNC's injury history isn't encouraging. One bad step or two and UNC is facing a crisis on the wing that has Stilman White playing meaningful minutes.
All that being said, there is something that could mitigate the depth issue and that is....
3. There is a spot for Brandon Ingram now
People will mention the other wing UNC is recruiting this cycle, Georgia native Jaylen Brown, but I don't think he's coming based on the intel out there. Kinston, NC forward Brandon Ingram on the other hand has said he might already be committed had the NCAA not been hanging around Chapel Hill so much. That still hasn't changed but even if UNC was sanction free, the Tar Heels aren't a lock. The NCAA issues may have scared Ingram off initially but the packed roster also made it a difficult choice for a recruit who expects to play right away.
With Tokoto's decision, the game has changed. UNC now has available playing time next season. If the playing time question was a major hurdle for Ingram committing to UNC is has now been removed. Duke probably still has more opportunity, especially since Justise Winslow is likely gone, but UNC has playing time it couldn't offer before.
Obviously adding Ingram gives UNC a shot of elite talent to go with an experienced group of players. Whether he could have a huge impact or not remains to be seen. Ingram, while talented, lacks physical strength and his adjustment to the college game in that regard could take a little time.
4. Unintended consequences
As much as we can guess on the impact of Tokoto's departure, there is still elements we won't see until next season. We know this because this season saw UNC miss the presence of James Michael McAdoo at times despite the belief his departure wasn't a huge loss. McAdoo's defense was routinely missed and for all of Brice Johnson's offensive production, McAdoo did a lot of little things that helped the offense. McAdoo was a solid player whose impact didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Tokoto's absence could raise similar gaps in UNC's offense. For all the complaining about Tokoto's shot selection and turnovers, there were times when he stuffed the stat sheet with key plays. His athleticism gave UNC the ability to go small if needed. He was capable of facilitating the offense as a point forward and played solid defense. Not to mention, it doesn't hurt to have a senior on the floor. The words "addition by subtraction" get thrown around but there is no way of knowing right now if that's the case.
The question facing UNC is whether plugging Pinson in at wing forward or sliding Paige to the two with Berry at the one sufficiently covers for the positive contributions Tokoto made? Make no mistake, this is a significant loss for UNC not one that can't be properly compensated for by the remaining personnel. Figuring that out in a timely manner will be critical.
5. No more spectacular dunks
The real tragedy in all this to be sure.