McAdoo finding his way at small forward

North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo finds himself in the same position, figuratively speaking, as he was toward the end of last season. He was asked to play center, a position he had little comfort in playing, last season when the Tar Heels decided a four-guard lineup put their best players on the floor at once.

As long as North Carolina has limited depth on the wing with its current personnel, McAdoo will be asked to play small forward. That another position in which he's not as comfortable, but he is forced to be the Tar Heels’ second option there behind J.P. Tokoto.

“We don’t have enough wing players right now to play,” coach Roy Williams said. “We have to get James Michael to spend quite a bit of time at 3.”

McAdoo has clearly shown he’s best when playing power forward operating beside a center that can score in the post. That’s why the lineup with Brice Johnson at center and McAdoo at power forward has been so successful this season. An opponent’s frontcourt can’t focus on stopping McAdoo with Johnson also a proven scorer.

It almost seems the opposite when McAdoo is playing small forward, as opponents can largely ignore him because he’s not as likely to hurt them scoring.

McAdoo’s skill set, particularly in the half-court offense, hasn’t translated to much success at small forward. He's not great at creating his own shot off the dribble. One NBA scout attending UNC’s win over Louisville said McAdoo was “in no-man’s land” when playing small forward.

On one hand, McAdoo has done a much better job taking care of the ball this season. He’s had just seven turnovers through five games. Last season he averaged 2.6 turnovers per game and led the team with 96 overall.

But turnovers aren’t the only numbers that are dropping. If last weekend’s games were any indication, McAdoo’s scoring and rebounding might decline as well when he’s forced to play major minutes at small forward.

McAdoo entered the Hall of Fame Tournament leading the team with 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. Against Richmond and Louisville, he combined to just score 18 points and grabbed six total rebounds.

So far, Williams isn’t deterred by using McAdoo at small forward, as it would allow the Heels to go bigger.

“A pretty good lineup for us could be J.P. at the 2 with Marcus [Paige] at 1 and James Michael at 3,” Williams said.

As long as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are out, McAdoo will have plenty more chances to play small forward. He just has to find a better way to adapt to it.