Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Position series: Small forwards
By C.L. Brown
This is the third installment of a position-by-position look at the Tar Heels.
It's funny to think that Reggie Bullock’s decision to turn pro turned the Heels into a team that is thin at wing. But it did just that. However, the Heels can be thankful for one of the carry-over benefits from their use of a four-guard lineup last season. P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are now both used to having to defend small forwards. Both are versatile enough to spend time at small forward, depending on the personnel coach Roy Williams uses at any given time.
J.P. Tokoto could see a much bigger role for the Tar Heels this season.
The strength of the position will probably hinge on how well sophomore J.P. Tokoto is prepared to play it. Tokoto is a natural small forward. He’s arguably the team’s best on-ball defender with more steals per minute played than anybody on the roster.
“His defensive presence and the pressure on the ball, attacking the rim and jumping over people to get rebounds is incredible,” McDonald said. “He’s that guy that you want on your team. He’s going to give it all he has.”
After averaging just 8.6 minutes per game last season, Tokoto could see the biggest increase in minutes played on the team. That is, as long as can produce in his expanded role.
“I don’t think it’s an audition, I think it’s an opportunity that coach has presented to me,” Tokoto said. “... it’s not just given to us, we have to go take it. I’m excited to get out there and show people what I can do.”
Oddly enough James Michael McAdoo will also get a chance to showcase his skills, or lack thereof, at small forward. When Williams decides to use a bigger lineup McAdoo will move to the 3-spot with Tokoto, McDonald or Hairston, when he returns from suspension, playing shooting guard.
McAdoo faces two major challenges in playing small forward: He’ll have to prove he can defend in some cases smaller and quicker opponents. He’ll have to take better care of the basketball after leading the team with 96 turnovers last season. Williams seemed confident he could handle the transition.
“He can’t do that (play small forward) if he turns the ball over, so the ball-handling part of it has to get better,” Williams said. “I have seen a more focused player than I’ve ever seen and a guy that’s having a very, very good preseason. I really hope that James Michael is my biggest worry -- that means I’ll be in good shape.”