This is our third in a series of previews where our UNC contingent (Zeke & Will) looks ahead to next year's Tar Heel squad. Read our first two installments on next year's point guards here and next year's shooting guards here.
Will: Whether he plays the two or three for us next year, P. J. Hairston will be our most important player, especially in the absence of Bullock. His offense is unquestioned, leading the team in scoring last season (14.6 ppg) while starting only 14 of 34 games and getting only the fifth-most minutes on the team (23.6 mpg). Even more impressive was the defense he showcased against some very good power forwards once we went small, which is an illustration of the most valuable asset he brings to the floor: toughness. His teammates feed off his energy, and when Hairston's on, the rest of us are on as well.
The three-ball continues to comprise the bulk of Hairston's field goal attempts (61%), and nobody wants him to stop shooting (he hit 40% of those attempts during conference play). But Hairston also showed a great ability to finish when taking it to the rack, even over and around bigger defenders. It would be great to see him emerge as our go-to guy when we really need a bucket or in end-clock situations (where the ball too often wound up with Strickland last year). As one of our best free throw shooters (78%, third to Paige and McDonald), we're likely to benefit whenever Hairston's in attack mode.
Before Bullock left I would have said we'd look for J. P. Tokoto to make a couple of baskets a game, grab a couple rebounds and loose balls, and play solid defense while giving Hairston and Bullock a breather. A line like 4 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, 1 stl and 0 tos in 10 mins would have been wonderful. In Bullock's absence (and especially in the absence of a Wiggins gift), Tokoto will need to do a lot more than that. Along with Nate Britt, he'll be our only real relief on the perimeter. So, just how productive can he be? Despite Roy's praise for his defensive potential, I don't think he's in the realm of Jackie Manuel or David Noel, but (despite his Globetrotter athleticism) I don't think he's just another Orlando Melendez either. Marcus Ginyard?
Zeke: I'll agree he's not a Noel or Manuel type (doesn't have the same long arms that allowed both of those guys to poke away steals or corral guys in the paint) but Ginyard never displayed the kind of eye-popping athleticism that Tokoto has. I think his ceiling is higher than that - he feels a little bit like a (very) poor man's George Lynch, a stat-stuffing do-it-all kind of player who even my Duke-alumni brother loved. I love that he rebounds really well as a 3 and can get you some second-chance points in the paint along with a couple of highlight-reel dunks, but if he really wants to earn more than 8-10 minutes a game he has got to, I repeat, GOT TO become a more consistent shooter. (Paging Hubert Davis: please go to work.) If you look at that second unit, one of the major things that jumps out at you - besides the lack of depth at the wings - is that there isn't a lot of offense there. If Tokoto gives the bench even 5-8 points a game, that's a good lift.
I'll also second most everything you wrote about Hairston. You need at least one guy like him on every team - someone opposing fan bases absolutely despise but would love if he played for them. Roy really seems to be accruing a lot of silent types on his teams these days for whatever reason (Paige, Bullock, McAdoo, James and Johnson all seemed to fit that bill) and Carolina absolutely needed a vocal leader who sets the tone - UNC will be better next year for having Hairston step into a much bigger role. One thing I would like to see a little more from him is feeling out matchup advantages and adjusting his game accordingly - like you said, he got a little glued to the three-point line at times, and while he may not be the quickest guy, he's good enough to beat most bigger players off the dribble and strong enough to take smaller defenders in the post. He's got to show a little more mental toughness than he did this year, where if one or two drives don't work out, keep taking it to the rim instead of settling for long jumpers. But his huge step forward this year showed me plenty to make me believe his game will continue to grow and flourish.
One last question on the Wiggins front as we close this down: is there any part of you that thinks UNC will be just as well off if he doesn't come to Chapel Hill? I'm of two minds about this and slightly skeptical after watching Harrison Barnes' career unfold at Carolina: of course I want a guy who will make our team an instant national contender. But does that throw off the rotations too much when Roy now has an alpha dog and a senior leader stepping into those wing spots? Maybe I'm just rationalizing to make myself feel better when he eventually decides to go to FSU, but curious to hear what you think.
Will: If Bullock had stayed, yes. When the year ended, part of me started wondering if we really needed Wiggins and how we were going to find room on the perimeter for him and two of our best players. But, unfortunately, I think we need Bullock or Wiggins to really contend. Even if McDonald turns into a title-contending two-guard (which I'm not expecting), we still don't have a solid sixth man off the bench (where McDonald has great value). I think, if Bullock came back, we'd be contending for an ACC title and potentially a Final Four. With Wiggins, we're in national championship territory. (He's like Barnes, but meaner and tougher.) With both, perhaps we're something less. With neither, I don't see us having a much better year than the last one.
There's an enormous difference between a Paige/6-6 Hairston/6-8 Wiggins perimeter with 6-5 McDonald off the bench, and a Paige/McDonald/Hairston perimeter with 6-0 Britt or Tokoto as your next guy. But you never know how things will unfold. It's not a bad starting five, and if someone can step into a solid post role, who knows?