James Michael McAdoo is building a strong case for ACC Player of the Year. That’s quite a statement considering the stretch in December when the Tar Heels junior forward seemed like the third-best player on his team.
During North Carolina’s six-game winning streak, there has been no question who makes the team tick. That’s not to take away from what guard Marcus Paige has contributed to the Tar Heels' success, but he’s more like the brains of the team. McAdoo is the heart.
“He started off these last however many games strong, and then we kind of feed off him,” Paige said. “If he keeps playing at the level he’s been playing at, this is the James Michael McAdoo that we need. He’s one of the best players in the country when he does this.
“He’s playing outstanding right now, and we’re going to keep riding his production all the way through.”
For the season, McAdoo is second behind Paige on the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and is first on the team in rebounding (7.0). He has increased his production in both categories in ACC play, but he said there wasn’t a dramatic change that led to his turnaround.
“Just like y’all saw it, I saw it, they saw it -- I wasn’t playing to my capabilities,” McAdoo said. “So it’s not like I sat down and was like, ‘I’m going to do this, this and this.’ It just came [down] to stepping up.”
McAdoo ranks seventh in scoring (16.1) and third in rebounding (8.4) in conference games. Duke’s Jabari Parker (17.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels (17.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) are the only other players who rank in the top 10 in both categories. (If McAdoo shot 70 percent from the free throw line, instead of 46.4 percent in conference play, his scoring average would be 17.9 points per game.)
McAdoo takes, on average, one fewer shot per game than Parker and McDaniels and is shooting a higher percentage. McAdoo ranks third in field goal percentage (51.5) in conference play, with McDaniels seventh at 45.4 percent. Parker is shooting 41.7 percent.
What can’t be measured, but is clearly visible, is McAdoo’s leadership, which has driven North Carolina’s turnaround.
“He’s just more being a leader, not vocally, just doing the things we’re supposed to be doing and leading everybody into it,” J.P. Tokoto said. “He’s just kind of leading the charge. We look to him to score and create offense. He did it ]against Pittsburgh] and he’s done it in other games. It’s not a surprise to us.”
There are plenty of worthy candidates for the league's player of the year, starting with Parker, who has been more consistent the entire season. NC State’s T.J. Warren has done more to carry a team with less support than arguably anyone else in the league. The best team, best player argument always works, too, and Syracuse can tout two players who fit the criteria in Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair.
But now, those guys on the short list have to make room for McAdoo, too.