Thought of the Week: Bench play

With regards to Dean Smith’s old practice plans and the “thought of the day,” a tradition that has carried on under coach Roy Williams, here’s a thought of the week after North Carolina opened the season with an 84-61 win over Oakland:

The Tar Heels’ bench could be the difference-maker this season.

Carolina outscored the Grizzlies 28-11 off the bench. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks were especially effective with identical 10-point, 5-rebound performances in reserve.

“We need to have that kind of performance from our bench every night, too," Williams said.

The frontcourt figured to make the biggest improvement over last season and nothing from its performance Friday disproved the theory. Johnson, Meeks and forward Jackson Simmons even added an element not many saw coming with their ability to pass from the post.

Meeks connected with Marcus Paige with cross-court passes from the post for his first two 3-pointers. Johnson, who had a career-high four assists, always seemed to make the right pass against the Grizzlies' zone defense. Simmons found James Michael McAdoo cutting through the lane for a highlight reel dunk in the first half.

“The big guys did a nice job moving the ball,” Williams said.

They also did a god job rebounding as freshman forward Isaiah Hicks added five boards in just 11 minutes.

If and when P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald get cleared to play, the bench only figures to improve. Imagine bringing point guard Nate Britt off the bench to push tempo as he clearly has shown he’s capable of doing. And McDonald would add another perimeter shooting threat.

As long as Hairston and McDonald are out of the lineup, the play of guard Luke Davis will be crucial. Davis, who had two points, two rebounds and two assists, doesn’t have to do anything special. He just needs to be reliable enough to relieve Paige.

For a game that was out of hand early, Paige still logged a team-high 32 minutes. Williams plans to monitor Paige’s minutes to ensure he doesn’t get worn down too early in the season.

“I can’t play him that much, 32 minutes, I don’t want to play him any more than that because it’s a long, long season,” Williams said. “Luke struggled at times but I think late in the second half Luke got better himself and that’s going to be important for us, too.”