Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
“Most valuable” or “Most Important” has always seemed like an incredibly fuzzy concept to define. Statistical greatness doesn’t do it justice. Neither does sheer talent differential – is a player important just because the rest of his team isn’t very good? Such crude measures don’t take into account other vague elements that often go into describing these players. All in all, given the indeterminate criteria used, arguments can be made for a handful of different players any given year. Amid all the uncertainty, one thing remains clear: These players are indispensable to their respective teams. They are the underlying force that sets the course for a strong season, that fuels the competitive motor for five months and upwards of 30 games, that captivates fan bases and crushes opponents’ dreams. You may not have a grounded explanation for why these players are so very crucial. You just know. It’s one of the reasons singling these guys out is highly subjective. So bear with me as I reveal one player from each power league whose value transcends analytical or statistical strength, and whose importance can’t be boxed into any single dimension. They are their teams’ X-factors, and that’s all you need to know.
Three qualifying parameters: The mid-major ranks are littered with teams whose winning formula relies heavily on one player. In the interest of narrowing the focus of this expansive and rather ambiguous category, they will be excluded here. Selections will also be geared towards teams with credible conference and national championship aspirations. Lastly, there are no freshmen included here (here’s a fresh look at this season’s batch of impact newcomers).
North Carolina – James Michael McAdoo
There are few teams that can overcome losing three first-round draft picks and still have enough in the reserve ranks to retain their competitive equity. That is the challenge UNC faces this season following the departures of Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes, who each played more than 66 percent of available minutes and combined to use 73 percent of their team’s possessions. Replacing such a large heaping of production will require a huge sophomore leap from McAdoo. While his playing time was limited last season thanks to the NBA-bound forwards in front of him, McAdoo arrived with McDonald’s All American-level hype and made good on that reputation in the little court-time he saw. He even contemplated leaving for the draft after last season, and many speculated he would have been taken as a lottery pick. Now he has a chance to elevate his draft stock in a central frontcourt role. UNC’s lack of complementary scorers will make McAdoo’s scoring responsibilities a significant component of their offensive calculus. Freshman power forward Brice Johnson should provide help on the glass, and senior Reggie Bullock is more than capable of raising his scoring output, but it will be incumbent upon McAdoo’s promising but somewhat unproven offensive game to keep the Tar Heels in the hunt for the ACC crown.