Leslie McDonald Out For The Season, Backcourt Still CrowdedPosted by KCarpenter on January 13th, 2012
On the eve of North Carolina‘s ESPN GameDay match-up in Tallahassee against one of the most stubborn defensive teams in the country, Roy Williams delivered some long expected news. Leslie McDonald, despite a relatively rapid recovery, would be redshirting, saving his eligibility for a full season. While McDonald’s injury during a summer game was considered a serious blow to UNC’s perimeter attack, the emergence of Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, as well as Harrison Barnes‘ deadly three-point accuracy so far this season, have largely mitigated that concern.
Despite being the team’s designated three-point sniper last season, it’s entirely possible that McDonald would have struggled for consistent minutes this year. Since Bullock and Hairston have emerged as premier offensive weapons off the bench for Tar Heels and Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland have waged strong campaigns for their indispensability, there simply aren’t many available minutes for another non-ball-handler in the backcourt. Indeed, their is already a bit of a logjam in the rotation, with some fans clamoring for a starting spot or at least more time for the skilled-at-both-ends Bullock. But where do the minutes come from? Strickland and Barnes both play less than 26 MPG as it is, and honestly, it’s hard to justify taking minutes away from either. But what about minutes from Marshall?
Marshall plays a team-high 30.8 MPG and Roy likes his point guards playing less than that if he can help it. One obvious way to get more Bullock and Hairston is to simply remove Strickland from the wing rotation, making him primarily the second point guard. Bullock would start at shooting guard and Hairston would sop up the remaining minutes at wing. This looks insanely good on paper, and indeed, during the minutes that the Bullock and current starters line-up has played, they have posted some pretty crazy numbers. Adrian Atkinson of Tobacco Road Blues and defensive box score and line up tracking fame shows that in the 49 minutes that line-up has played, the Tar Heels have posted an offensive efficiency of 144.3 and a defensive efficiency of 78.3. That, in case you aren’t good at math, is pretty damn good.
Still, there are a few reasons to be skeptical of such a move. The main one might be Marshall’s defense. Quick, scoring point guards are a clear weakness of UNC’s defense and the main way that this has been mitigated is through cross-matching Strickland onto opposing point guards while allowing Marshall to play off-ball on defense. Now, while the obviously bigger Bullock offers other advantages on defense, covering a a much quicker player, as he would likely be expected to do on occasion, might be problematic. Another reason has less to do with match-ups and more with chemistry and style. Strickland and John Henson form the energetic core of the team. While Marshall, Tyler Zeller, and Barnes offer steely professionalism under pressure, the palpable fire of Strickland and Henson is what energizes an occasionally too-cool starting line-up. Similarly, while I would love to see more Bullock, one of the most enjoyable bench combos in the ACC is the pairing of Bullock and Hairston on the wing. It’s exciting and fun to see the two big wings try to make shots for the other, it’s a weird mirror-neuron-type of chemistry that is just delightful on an aesthetic level.
Now obviously, Williams isn’t going to be setting his line-ups based on my sense of pleasing visual spectacle. Still, McDonald’s redshirt might be a blessing in disguise for a coach trying to make sense out of an already jumbled wing rotation.