North Carolina was most effective with Paige playing off the ball and scoring more. It’s no coincidence that all of its major victories came with Paige forced to be more of a scorer and less of a distributor.
With Paige playing point guard more and scoring less in the last seven games since McDonald’s return from suspension, it seems no coincidence that the Heels have struggled.
Once McDonald came back, it bumped Davis from the lineup and meant Paige would play point guard whenever McDonald entered games. That’s effectively taken Paige out of a scoring role.
Carolina also stopped using its big lineup after McDonald returned, one that included Paige at point guard, J.P. Tokoto at shooting guard and James Michael McAdoo at small forward. That lineup didn’t make Paige score any more, but offset it by creating matchup problems for opponents.
That’s why North Carolina coach Roy Williams doesn’t fully believe that simply moving back to point guard is the reason for Paige’s mini-slump.
“Well, the numbers would say ‘yes,’ but I happen to think that it’s not that,” Williams said. “Marcus and I have talked about it and share the same opinions.”
The numbers make a compelling argument.
Paige averaged 19.2 points through the first nine games before McDonald gained his eligibility. He shot 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 13.2 field goal attempts and 5.4 free throw attempts per game.
In the seven games since McDonald returned, Paige’s scoring averaged dropped to 14.1 points, and his shooting percentage declined to 35 percent from the field, including 32 percent from 3-point range. His shot attempts dropped slightly to 12.1 per game, and his free throw attempts dipped to 3.5 per game.
“He’s a tough-minded kid; I don’t think that [more time at point guard] is the issue,” Williams said. “We’ve looked at the numbers. You can make a case for that; there’s no question about that.”
Paige just believes he’s had some bad games. And that’s certainly part of it. He combined to shoot just 5 of 27 from the field in losses to Wake Forest and Miami, and that can’t all be attributed to tough defense.
But even when he scored 17 in the Heels’ loss to Syracuse, he didn’t really have a good game.
“He didn’t play well at Syracuse,” Williams said. “He scored in the second half some, but he didn’t play very well.”
Williams experimented with a lineup that included Britt, Paige and McDonald against the Orange, which kept Paige off the ball and, in theory, still in scoring mode.
The Heels have to do something, because as long as Paige is struggling individually, they’ll continue to struggle as a team.