This is our second in a series of previews where our UNC contingent (Zeke & Will) looks ahead to next year's Tar Heel squad. To read the first installment on next year's point guards, click here.
Editor's note: This first entry was written by Will before it became public knowledge that Reggie Bullock was leaving for the NBA.
Will: Andrew Wiggins aside, it's hard to distinguish between the Heels "shooting guards" and the Heels "small forwards" (except, perhaps, for Tokoto), and we're probably better off speaking of Bullock, Hairston, McDonald and Tokoto collectively as "wings," since all are fairly interchangeable and each will probably see some time at both spots. But for the sake of argument and discussion, I view Bullock and McDonald as our shooting guards.
Bullock played two as a sophomore for the injured Strickland, and started at three this past season without his job description changing all that much. He'll be asked to defend the opponent's best non-point perimeter player on one end (at 6-7, 205, he is surprisingly quick and has a size advantage over almost any guard he faces), and continue to be a lights-out shooter at the other--things he did very well last year and that I expect him to be just as reliable with next year.
What I'd love to see from Bullock is more of the slasher/scorer/get-to-the-free-throw-line side of his game. He had his moments with that last year, but he got a little too "Scott Wood" on me at times, never showing a great propensity for creating his own shot or being the go-to guy as the clock ticked down. But he's been one of the best rebounding wings that I can remember, and a 13.9 ppg/6.5 rpg/2.9 apg average isn't a bad line for your starting shooting guard to take into his senior season--especially when it comes with a 2.35 A/T ratio (could have used that from Barnes last year).
I expect McDonald to resume the post he filled at the end of last season as Roy's instant-offense sixth man. (Should Wiggins magically appear on our roster, this role could very well be Hairston's again.) I felt the knee injury still seemed to be holding McDonald back this year, in terms of explosiveness and by making his jumper's already-slow release even slower. So, it'll be interesting to see if he can get back on the track he'd embarked on with his stellar 2011 summer before the injury derailed him. Even so, McDonald proved to be a better defender this season than I've ever credited him for being. Still not the best or the quickest, but effective. I'm guessing his value will continue to be primarily on the offensive end, but any further improvements he can make on D would be icing.
(aaaaaand here's where we found out Bullock was leaving)
Zeke: Well, things have changed a bit now that Reggie Bullock is officially entering the NBA draft. I had selfishly hoped Bullock could stay around for another year since, in a reversal of this year, we'll have an excess of low-post talent and a few less options on the perimeter, but I wish him the best. However, him leaving does leave UNC without a lot of options at this particular spot. I do agree with your assertion that it's better to classify both the 2 and 3 universally as "wings" in Roy's system than break them apart, but looking at it position-by-position, this now becomes the spot on the floor with the least amount of depth for the Heels. Without a recruiting coups of landing Wiggins, McDonald becomes the de facto starter and backing him up we have.... well, no one, really.
A two-guard needs to do at least one of two things well (and ideally both): be a long-distance threat or lock down a dangerous perimeter guy on the other team. This is where I feel like Tokoto can actually earn himself some serious minutes next year if he commits to using his athleticism on the defensive end. I saw nothing from Tokoto last year that indicates he has consistent 3-point range (or even consistency in his shot, period) but I'm hoping he'll make some progress there. Between the two wing spots there are pretty much just three guys now (McDonald, Hairston, Tokoto) so playing time is there for the taking.
As far as McDonald goes, he's not a bad guy to have as your team's starting two-guard when you know you'll be bringing back three top offensive options in Hairston, McAdoo and Paige. He has shown that he can get hot at times, with the caveat being that he has yet to do so against any kind of meaningful competition, and is a capable defensive player. My hope is that we'll see a different Leslie McDonald next year than the exclusively spot-up shooter he was this past season - one of the things I loved seeing from him in footage from the NC Pro-Am two summers ago before he hurt his knee was his aggressiveness in getting to the hoop. ACL tears are often a two-year injury in terms of taking that long to get back to full playing strength, so here's hoping some of the tentativeness this year was a result of multiple injuries sustained and that the Carolina coaching staff will work with him on that for next year.
Will: Yeah, losing Bullock is a huge blow, and kind of surprising. Of the three, I think we could have least afforded to lose Hairston and could have most easily absorbed losing McAdoo, but Bullock was the last one I expected to go. Can't we keep multiple seniors around anymore? Hairston's probably our most valuable player and McAdoo is probably our most talented, but Bullock was our best all-around player, offensively and defensively, and we'll feel his loss everywhere from three-point shooting to rebounding to assists to turnover margin.
Needless to say, it makes the Wiggins decision HUGE -- probably the difference between possible league champs and a 4th- to 6th-place finish in the conference (which doesn't bode so well for us next season). On the positive side, I continue to eagerly anticipate the day this team becomes Paige and Hairston's, and Bullock's departure puts us one step closer to that actuality.
I agree regarding McDonald. He wasn't at a McCants-like level two summers ago, but that was the direction he seemed to be heading. I don't think he's in the same league as McCants on the offensive end, but he could very well end up being a better defender (though, in all fairness, so could we). Regardless, I thought McDonald was a nice surprise defensively last season, and having even a semblance of McCants with defensive capabilities is a nice asset for your starting five.
I can't reconcile Tokoto as a shooting guard, primarily because of the word "shooting," and I don't expect to see him that much without Hairston or McDonald beside him (not that we have many other options). One option that we do have, and one that we'll undoubtedly see more often after losing two shooting guards from last season, is one that Roy has floated a couple pf times now: Paige and Britt at the same time. Two six-foot, lefty scoring point guards would be interesting to watch, but I can't even begin to predict how effective it might be. It could be dangerous, in either sense of the word. We could get abused on the boards and manhandled by opposing defenses, but if Britt has a Nate Robinson streak to him, Roy may have found the instant-offense sixth-man he now loses by starting McDonald.
Zeke: The Paige and Britt combo could be really interesting, and really is just a microcosm of what is going to make both Duke and UNC really fascinating next year - both teams should be really deep and have the option to throw a lot of different looks at you, so who knows what's going to actually happen? If they want to go offense-heavy and uptempo, throw Britt, Paige, Hairston, McAdoo and Brice Johnson out there. If they want to go absolutely giant, they could potentially put Paige, Hairston, McAdoo and freshman Isaiah Hicks on the floor with Johnson, Joel James or Kennedy Meeks. I'm sure we'll get into that more as we look at the forwards, but regardless I think it's safe to say the place we can least afford an injury or suspension is here, at the 2. Like you said, with the influx of power in the ACC next year, it could be a relatively small margin between finishing first in the conference and finishing sixth. So, Mr. Wiggins, don't you want to come somewhere where you can fill a need, play major minutes and make a team a title contender?