Lucas: On Guards
Marcus Paige played point guard so well as a freshman that his reward might be occasionally not playing point guard as a sophomore.
It's not as backwards as it sounds. Paige had a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 assists per game, and compiling an assist/turnover ratio of 1.88.
Those are solid numbers for a freshman. They're stats that suggest the Iowa sophomore is going to be a capable floor general for the Tar Heels, that he's on his way to becoming the next link in the Felton-Lawson-Marshall chain.
But very quietly, mostly obscured by a bad start, Paige also proved himself to be more than just a game manager. In Carolina's first 23 games, he shot just 29.4% from the three-point line, a meager percentage that would have just barely edged out the 28.3% mark posted by the 1992 edition of Derrick Phelps (a great defender, but never a noted sharpshooter) as the worst percentage by a Carolina starting point guard since the shot was instituted for the 1986-87 season.
Early perceptions die hard, and so Paige ended his first year in Chapel Hill with the reputation as a tough competitor and a savvy lead guard...but not really a dangerous scorer.
Except that, quietly, Paige shot the ball much better over the final six weeks of the season. He connected on a team-leading 43.5% of his three-pointers over the final 13 games of the season. He made 45.5% of his three-pointers in three ACC Tournament games, on his way to a team-leading 60 percent mark from the field overall. And he even shot 40 percent from the three-point line in Carolina's two-game stay in the NCAA Tournament.
Those statistics have led to some buzz that the 2013-14 Tar Heels might be prepared to--for at least certain stretches of the game--let one of their best shooters...be a shooter.
Paige was the first to mention the possibility of playing in tandem with either freshman point guard Nate Britt or junior Luke Davis. After watching summer pickup games, Kendall Marshall also threw out the idea. And then, in a recent conversation, Roy Williams confirmed that the Paige-Britt or Paige-Davis combination could be used this year.
"Marcus has the ability to shoot the ball off the dribble or at a standstill when someone throws it to him," the head coach said. "That's what you like a perimeter player to be able to do. Nate has a good ability to penetrate, as does Luke Davis."
Williams has frequently mentioned that some of his favorite teams at Kansas employed two traditional point guards. As he will be quick to tell you, one of his very best Jayhawk teams, the 2001-02 team, featured three players who had at one time started at point guard for KU--Jeff Boschee, Aaron Miles and Kirk Hinrich started nearly every game for the Jayhawks that season. Kansas went undefeated in the Big XII, went 33-4 overall and advanced to the Final Four. The Jayhawks averaged 90.9 points per game and broke 100 points a dozen times. They were, in other words, a near-perfect example of the type of offense Williams prefers to play.
Between them, the guard trio handed out 527 assists, and the inside combination of Drew Gooden and Nick Collison benefited from the perimeter threats by shooting a combined 54.1% from the field.
The Tar Heels don't have an equivalent of Gooden or Collison on this team, at least not that's been established so far. But they do have a potential emerging star in Paige, and they want to figure out a way to keep him on the court.
"There are two reasons Marcus is going to play some '2,'" Williams said. "One is that Nate and Luke deserve some playing time, and we can't take time away from Marcus to get time for them. So we'll need to get Marcus some time with one of those guys. And second, Leslie (McDonald), P.J. (Hairston) and J.P. (Tokoto) are the only three perimeter wing players we have on the whole squad. We need somebody else to play one of those wing spots and Marcus fits that description better than anyone else. If someone were to penetrate and pitch it to Marcus, he would make a good decision, and that's good to have."
Having two players on the court simultaneously who are accustomed to Williams' desire for a frenetic tempo has the side benefit of helping the Tar Heels push the ball. So: more shooters on the court, an increased three-point presence and a faster tempo--what's not to like?
Paige is listed at 6-1, 175 pounds...and he's the "big" guy of the point guard trio. Davis is 6-0, 175 pounds, while Britt begins his freshman campaign at 5-11, 165. That could present some defensive issues against opponents who have more size at the guard position.
"Obviously, we're not going to do it if the other team has big guards who are posting up every time," Davis said. "But Nate and Marcus are quick, active and aggressive on defense, and that's what we need. That will help them guard any two-guard or wing just as well as anyone else.
"Having two point guards works if both guys are unselfish. And I think that's what we've got this year."
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.