ACC Basketball

What are the Tar Heels without P.J. Hairston?

j.P. Tokoto

With news that North Carolina P.J. Hairston was in a second rented vehicle that is loosely connected to Haydn Thomas just days after the convicted felon claimed their was zero connection between he and the Tar Heels shooting guard, it is becoming clear that Thomas is lying.

Why lie unless you’re trying to cover up something. Now that “something” may be a minor issue. It’s also possible that UNC and the NCAA will not be able to unscramble the mess. However, the idea that P.J. Hairston could end up being suspended for a significant amount of time, if not the whole season, now seems slightly plausible. Just ask Carolina fans.


I can answer that one, Brian. No one in Carolina blue. Yet, it’s a fair question to ask. If Hairston does end up being suspended, the Tar Heels would take a big hit. Yes, there is still a ton of highly rated talent on this ball club, but Hairston was projected to be the best player on a team competing for an ACC crown.

Without him, I just don’t see this team competing with Duke for the top spot.

Assuming Hairston is gone, sophomore J.P. Tokoto would slide into the small forward spot. As a freshmen, Tokoto’s time on the court was limited, averaging just over eight minutes per contest. He scored 2.6 per game, grabbing 1.7 rebounds. A good athlete with length, the 20th rated SF in the 2012 class likes to attack the rim and play way above the rim. The talent is there, but he’s still all about potential.

Yet, Tokoto being ready isn’t the only problem. Currently he’s projected to be the number one option off the bench at both the two and three spots. With him starting, head coach Roy Williams has no small forward on his bench, leaving just incoming freshman Natt Britt as the backup to both point guard Marcus Paige and shooting guard Leslie McDonald.

That’s some serious depth issues. It’s also leaves a big scoring hole from deep.

Between Paige, McDonald and Tokoto, none are considered great three point shooters, at least not like P.J. Hairston was. Combined, the three of them hit just 88 of their 259 three-point shots last year (34-percent). Britt won’t be much of a help either. He’s a true pass-first point guard, who is limited with his outside shot.

Now both McDonald and Paige should improve. McDonald has never been a 40-percent shooter from deep, but with two full years removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, his numbers should improve.

For a suspect outside shooter, Paige took too many jumpers last year. However, the problem was he lacked the size to truly attack the inside. With some added time in the weight room, he should have more bulk, which should make it easier to attack the inside and open up some shooting space from deep.

As for Tokoto, don’t expect much of an improvement. Coming into college, we knew he lacked outside touch and he didn’t disappoint as he hit just 1-11 from deep. One summer of work is not going to change those kind of numbers. If he can take 35 shots and hit 35% his sophomore season, be very happy.

Why are all these three-point numbers important?

They’re important because you can’t just remove outside shooters like Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston (178-427 from deep, 42%), replace them with no one and expect better results.

If this Tar Heels team can’t land from deep, then teams are going to just collapse defensively. While North Carolina has a ton of bodies in the paint, some still with plenty of potential, if they have less room to maneuver, then it’s going to hinder their development.

So what can the coaching staff do?

If Hairston is gone and the roster is set, then they could go super big. Players like Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks are officially power forwards, but they’re both extremely skinny face-up fours. They’re both athletes who like to attack the rim. If either of them can spend some time at the three-spot (or even Jackson Simmons), then that would certainly give UNC the tallest front court in the league.

Of course the problem with both these guys is, not only can they not hit shots from deep, neither has any kind of range away from the basket, so neither is a great option away from the rim.

The second option is still go out and find a transferring guard or wing who can play right away. It’s the “play right away” that makes this tricky.

There’s Demetrius Walker, the former New Mexico and former Arizona State shooting guard. He was suspended by the Lobos at the end of last season and left the team. Word is, he can play right away, but right now, he has disappeared from this earth.

Paris Bennett is a small forward transferring from George Mason where he never topped more than 10 minutes per game. I guess if he can’t crack the starting lineup for the Patriots, can he really help the Tar Heels?

There are names like Lonnie WatsonKevin Berardini, Dadrian Collins, Reggie Groves and Josh Mason still out there. All are guards, but all played at small schools and have never looked like ACC talent.

The only legit guy I hear about is Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall.

He’s graduated so he can play right away. While he’s not a lights out shooter (below 40% from the field, 33% from three for his career), he did manage to average 15.3 points per game last year as the only true scoring threat on a bad Nittany Lions team. However, if Carolina wants him, get in line. A ton of teams want him, including Florida State.


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