Position series: Shooting guard

This is the second installment of a position-by-position look at the Tar Heels.

With the length of P.J. Hairston's pending suspension still up in the air, the shooting guard position is a bit of an unknown . Hairston, the Heels’ leading scorer last season, is clearly the best suited to start. He led the team in made 3-pointers (89) and shot the highest percentage (39.6 percent) from behind the arc of any returning player.

Once he returns to the lineup, Hairston will likely reclaim the status as the team’s most gifted scorer. In the meantime, Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto will be among those who will be relied upon the most to fill the void.

McDonald, the lone scholarship senior on the roster, has played in 100 games during his career – the most of any player on the roster. But he’s just started once during that span. Last season against UAB he responded with a career-high 24 points in his lone start.

While coach Roy Williams doesn’t expect McDonald to produce career-highs every time he starts, he believes McDonald is poised for a career season.

“I expect him to play his best basketball,” Williams said. “He’s a shooter, but yet he’s been a streak shooter. I need him to be a consistent shooter. I need him to make it in multiple games. He understands that. I think this will be his biggest year.”

Tokoto provided most of his value as a tough defender last season. He’ll look to score more this year, especially with a renewed confidence in his mid-range jumper. Tokoto made 1 of 11 attempts from 3-point range as a freshman. He made most observers cringe when he stepped to the free-throw line as well, shooting a horrid 10-for-26 (38.5 percent).

Assistant coach Hubert Davis spent the offseason working with Tokoto on his shot and he’ll likely be much more of an offensive threat now.

“J.P. is more confident, and he should be because he’s shooting it better,” Williams said. “But I also want him to understand great players understand their strengths and their weaknesses. I don’t want him going out thinking that he’s going to shoot five or six 3s every game and never go to the offensive rebounds, 'cause that’s not very intelligent and I think he’ll understand that, too.”

Tokoto could be used at shooting guard if Williams decides to go with a bigger lineup that wold use James Michael McAdoo at small forward and Brice Johnson or Isaiah Hicks at power forward.

It’s all experimental right now, but Williams indicated he’ll show that look in the season opener as well as a lineup that moves Marcus Paige to shooting guard with freshman Nate Britt running point guard.

“I would say that I’m convinced that the first game when we play Oakland that you’ll see two little point guards out there together,” Williams said. “I’m convinced in the first game against Oakland you’ll see James Michael as a small forward. It is something that will be a continual process throughout the season.”

Paige playing off the ball would force him to become a little more selfish and look to score more. It’s something he was reluctant to do last season while running the point, but Williams believes he could be effective at shooting guard.

“Last year you heard me say 50 times Marcus is really a big-time shooter and the numbers didn’t show that,” Williams said. “I think Marcus’ numbers will show this year.”

Shooting guards

  • P.J. Hairston: 6-6, 220, Jr., 14.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 39.6 percent 3-pt FG

  • Leslie McDonald: 6-5, 215, Sr., 7.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 35.9 percent 3-pt FG

  • J.P. Tokoto: 6-5, 200, So., 2.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 9.1 percent 3-pt FG

  • Marcus Paige: 6-1, 175, So., 8.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 34.4 percent 3-pt FG