G Marcus Paige, Sophomore, 6-1, 175 lbs
It is only fitting that the last player profiled for the upcoming season is Marcus Paige. While Paige may not be the name that comes to mind first when people talk about the "best" player on the team, a very strong argument can be made that no player will be more important in determining what type of season this ultimately becomes. Looking back on Roy's entire career, it is easy to spot a very simple pattern: when he gets elite-level play from his point guards, his teams are at worst very good, and often they are great. When he doesn't get that caliber of play from his point guards, his teams are mediocre. Obviously, given the importance of guard play in college basketball, this statement probably applies to a lot of coaches and teams, but with Roy the relationship is almost exactly 1:1, which is why it is hard to understate the importance of of Marcus Paige to this team's season.
So can Marcus Paige become the type of of point guard that leads an "elite" Roy Williams' team? Well, of all the numbers that can be thrown around to either review Paige's freshman year, or project his sophomore, perhaps the most important is: 18, as in the number of pounds he has gained since the start of last season. Obviously, Paige is still no threat to Phil Heath's reign as Mr. Olympia, but those 18 pounds certainly get him much closer to what would be considered a normal weight for a 6'1" college point guard, and should have a significant impact on his production this coming season. Last season, while Paige showed flashes of high-level talent, his biggest negatives were an abysmally low field goal percentage (35.6%) and a fairly high turnover percentage (25.5). With his newly added bulk, Paige should be much better suited to absorb contact, thus allowing him to protect the ball better, create better space for shots, and finish better when contact does occur. Combining this, with the experience he gained last season (perhaps the one benefit to Kendall Marshall's early departure) and improvement that generally occurs as players mature, should result in Paige improving his shooting (ideally to a mid-40s FG%) and get to the line more often to take advantage of his excellent free-throw shooting (83.6% last season). Paige will also benefit from spending some time on the court with Nate Britt, thus allowing him to play off the ball and providing him the opportunity to take more catch-and-shoot jumpers, which should allow him to improve upon a 3-point field goal percentage (34.4) that was somewhat lower than his mechanics and reputation would have predicted. All things considered, it would not be all that surprising to see Paige's PPG average jump 3-4 points, which would give Carolina the dual-threat point guard it has been missing since Ty Lawson left Chapel Hill.
For much the same reasons as mentioned above, ESPN has already named Paige as one of the top "breakout candidates" (subscription required) for the 2014 season, noting that, "Paige could wind up being the Tar Heels' top player this season, and also one of the elite point guards in the nation." While that may be a lot to ask, anything close to that will have the Tar Heels in a very good place come March.
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