Draft boards, experts, and the like weren’t projecting North Carolina’s Marcus Paige to be drafted in the 2016 NBA Draft. Much like he did on the court for four years in Chapel Hill, Paige proved the naysayers wrong and was drafted 55th overall by the Brooklyn Nets before ultimately being traded to the Utah Jazz. Being drafted in the second round doesn’t mean that Paige will get a guaranteed contract from the Jazz or even see any minutes come the fall. Nonetheless, the mere fact that he was selected conveys that Paige has what it takes to potentially carve out a roster spot somewhere on the NBA’s 30 teams.
Firstly, it’s a humongous accomplishment to be drafted. As you well know, there are only 60 spots each year, and Paige finishing amongst that top 60 is something that can never be taken away from him. For all the criticism levied against him for his shooting struggles and late-game mistakes, Paige now finds himself with a legitimate chance at earning an NBA deal. Just that boost of motivation to work even harder, knowing you were drafted but still have a lot to prove, should be even more valuable for Paige.
Part of the reason there was some surprise around Paige’s being drafted was due to his rather normal physical stats. But, anybody familiar with his time at UNC knows exactly what kind of person Paige has become. The past few years have been frustrating for Tar Heel basketball fans, constantly seeing the top high school recruits choose Kentucky or Duke over Carolina. On top of that, the academic scandal has harmed both the reputation of the athletics program and the entire university itself.
Paige has arguably been the most well-known player during that time and, with that, he became the lightning rod for a lot of unfair criticism towards what UNC wasn’t accomplishing. Yes, his shooting regressed as his time went on, but injuries did disrupt any rhythm he found. Yes, he wasn’t putting up 30 points a game, but he was a great team player loved by all of his teammates.
All of this was lumped onto Paige while he still represented the best of a student-athlete: pursuing his education, working hard both on and off the court, and just generally being a decent college kid. He’s entering a league where many players before him have gotten angry about criticism and media, but Paige never once complained or moaned about that negative attention.
Even when he hit one of the greatest shots of all-time to only be topped seconds later, with reporters and journalists hounding him, he was resolute and eloquent in such a heartbreaking moment. We’ve seen Cam Newton and Steph Curry in recent months become frustrated in press conferences after big losses. Whether or not you agree with their actions or the attention focused on them, Paige took it on the chin like an adult. A large part of why he now finds himself with this opportunity is that character, personality and humility.
And, you know what? Paige can still knock down threes, finish some clutch lay-ups, and make the right, smart pass on the fast break. He’s never going to the biggest or fastest guy on the court, but he limits his mistakes and knows his role on a team. He’s extremely smart on the court and off it (2015 winner for the ACC’s top scholar-athlete for men’s basketball, as well as a two-time second-team Academic All-American). He’s a consummate professional and teammate (three-time captain in his four years at Chapel Hill). Simply, Paige checks a lot of the boxes that suggest a lengthy, fruitful career.
Paige should find himself with a roster spot for at least a few years in the NBA. And, even if that doesn’t happen, there’s little doubt that he won’t be successful in other areas. Whether it’s coaching on the sideline, developing and assisting players or even becoming the poster boy for exactly what the NCAA should be, Paige will be just fine.