Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
That doesn't mean we will quit looking inside first, or that McAdoo won't be our biggest producer. It just means we no longer have guys pinned to specific skill sets that, under optimal conditions, churn out predictable results. We don't have Barnes and Bullock hitting all our threes, Bullock and Henson playing all our defense, Henson and Zeller grabbing all our boards, Zeller and Barnes doing all our scoring, and Kendall Marshall dishing all our assists. Success for this year's team will come from a much broader and more communal effort. Our best games will be those where we end up with five guys in double figures scoring, a fifth guy with five rebounds, a fourth guy with four assists, and three or four guys with multiple threes. When we're dangerous, we'll be dangerous because anyone can score, anyone can pass, anyone can rebound, and anyone can defend--not because one or two guys always will.
To me, the real criticism of this team thus far should be their inability to sustain the level of play they expect from themselves for an entire game (and often not even an entire half of a game). When this team is at its best and all pistons are firing as they should, there is no single player that stands out. They are more a shapeless, but concerted, force with a multi-headed and amorphous attack and a breakneck pace--a frenetic amoeba that seems to ebb and flow together rather than rely on one guy to lead or carry them. The problem for us isn't the absence of that one guy; it's that there's been a whole lot more ebbing than flowing with this group so far.
But forgoing the more conventional approach of static roles in favor of a more dynamic and fluid one comes with risks. When things go well, your unpredictability becomes a weapon; when they go south, you lose yourself in unreliability.
That can (and will) be pretty frustrating at times. But for anyone whose claustrophobia sensors were piqued watching our players conform to well-defined roles last year, it can also be a great joy--a liberation, even--to watch. And when things are clicking, like they were this past Saturday, it can be pretty lethal. Let's not pretend McNeese State is anything other than McNeese State, but the game exemplified the type of team Carolina will be this year when they're at their best:
We had ten guys see double-digit minutes. We had two starters (McAdoo, Bullock) and three players off the bench (McDonald, Hairston, Johnson) in double figures scoring, including 20 from Hairston in a well-rounded offensive performance that finally included as many free throw attempts as 3-pointers (8), and 17 from Bullock on 6-for-10 shooting (5-for-8 behind the line). We had seven players (Hubert, McAdoo, Bullock, Hairston, Simmons, James, Johnson) with 5 or more rebounds, led by Hairston's 8. We had three guys (Strickland, Bullock, Paige) with 4 or more assists, led by Paige's 9 to zero turnovers (McAdoo and McDonald added 3 assists each). And we had four guys (Bullock, McDonald, Hairston, Paige) hit multiple threes for a combined long-range effort of 13-for-28 (46.4%).
Perhaps lacking a superstar is a bad thing for a team with Final Four or Championship ambitions, I don't know. But I don't think anyone's expecting that from Carolina this year. Tell any Heels fan they'll have at least one victory over Duke and a Sweet Sixteen appearance come March, and they will be tremendously satisfied.
The great question isn't when Carolina's stars will show up; it's whether the Heels can build on what happened this past Saturday. And the great answer will probably come with what happens against UNLV this coming Saturday. The better they're able to gel as a unified and relentless corps of very good players, the less it will matter that they don't have a great one.