It seems like just yesterday when North Carolina guard Marcus Paige expressed an uneasiness over making the transition to shooting guard. He was so conditioned to creating for others that the mentality to look for his own shots didn’t come naturally.
Five games later, Paige has thrust himself into a different stratosphere -- both nationally and among Tar Heels historically.
He’s currently leading the team with 22.4 ppg. That's comparable to others mentioned as national-player-of-the-year candidates like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart (21.0), Louisville’s Russ Smith (20.2), Kentucky’s Julius Randle (19.8), Arizona State’s Jahii Carson (23.0) and Duke’s Jabari Parker (23.0).
That also would put Paige on a short list of Tar Heels who have averaged 20 or more points a game since 1970:
Phil Ford (20.8 ppg in 1977-78); Michael Jordan (20.0 ppg in 1982-83); Brad Daugherty (20.2 ppg in 1985-86); Hubert Davis (21.4 ppg in 1991-92); Antawn Jamison (22.2 ppg in 1997-98); Joseph Forte (20.9 ppg in 2000-01), Rashad McCants (20.0 ppg 2003-04) and Tyler Hansbrough (22.6 ppg in 2007-08 and 20.7 in 2008-09).
Paige is shooting 53.1 percent from 3-point range, which ranked him 29th nationally as of Monday's NCAA statistics. The next closest national-player-of-the-year candidate is Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who is tied for 38th at 50 percent.
If Paige continues at this rate, he would shatter the Carolina single-season record of 49.6 percent set by Dante Calabria in 1994-95. The difference is Calabria was a spot-up shooter who benefited from Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace drawing most of the defense's attention.
Paige is shooting 93.1 percent from the free-throw line, which was tied for 40th nationally entering the week. Again, he’d set a new school standard if he keeps it up, besting Shammond Williams’ single-season record of 91.1 percent during the 1997-98 season.
Paige is also shooting 53.1 percent from the field, which for a guard is great, but it doesn’t compare with post players.
Of course some, if not all, of Paige’s current averages will decrease once teams make him the focal point of their game plans.
But the irony here is if Carolina had its full roster, and Paige were strictly playing point guard, he wouldn’t be posting anywhere near his scoring average. That’s what makes his transformation in such a short amount of time so impressive.
Paige has played at such a high level that it would be hard to argue that he’s not the best player on the team even when P.J. Hairston came back.