(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
North Carolina was an underrated team last season. They didn’t look as good as Virginia, Syracuse and Duke but still won a very respectable 13 games in the ACC, ranking 21st in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and 48th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. Their performance on offense was particularly surprising considering Leslie McDonald was suspended for a quarter of the season and PJ Hairston was eventually dismissed from the program. The reason for their success was the emergence of second-year guard Marcus Paige.
The six-foot-one combo guard accounted for almost 60 percent of North Carolina’s three-pointers. His shooting was very important not just because the Tar Heels had only one other deep threat to provide spacing but because he shared so many of his minutes with Nate Britt — a volume ball handler, which pushed him off the ball some. As a result, he took 90 more three-pointers in comparison to his freshman season in just 190 more minutes.
Paige has a quick trigger off the catch and gets great elevation with his feet set. Like most lefties, he doesn’t angle his body straight towards the basket but rather on a 45 degree angle. The arc in his shot isn’t particularly high but steady. Three-point attempts accounted for 51 percent of his shots and he hit his 221 tries at a 39 percent clip, with two thirds of them assisted, according to hoop-math.com.
Paige does not possess an explosive first step to attack closeouts or generate separation in isolation against top competition. He flashed a nifty crossover at times but generally lacked quickness off the bounce, particularly when forced right. Paige struggled to maintain his balance through contact due to his thin 175-pound frame, but that in part led to his productive 4.8 free throw attempts per 40 minutes.
What he did very well on the ball was utilize screens to create space for his pull-ups, hitting his 167 two-point jump-shots at a 45 percent clip, with only 20 percent of them assisted. Paige elevates for his step-back jumpers off the dribble with good balance and also possesses a floater to finish against length, which he converted with good success last season – as the shot chart courtesy of Austin Clemens attests.
He showed decent instincts passing out of dribble penetration, assisting on 22 percent of North Carolina’s possessions when he was on the floor, and has the underrated skill of passing the ball ahead in transition. His floater and his passing are particularly important because Paige struggles to finish against quality rim protection due to his lack of explosion. He took 21 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket and made them a borderline average 59 percent clip.
But the biggest skepticism about his transition to the next level regards his defense. Paige plays with a good deal of effort but doesn’t have the athletic ability to be an impactful defender. He showed good lateral quickness to stay in front of similarly built athletes in isolation but lacks the strength to contain bulkier players in dribble penetration by not being able to navigate through screens and contact. Paige was active crashing inside to help, closed out on shooters with urgency and was active playing the passing lanes, ranking eighth in the conference in steals. But overall North Carolina still defended significantly better the few minutes he sat, allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in comparison to 98.9 overall.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.