April 3, 2014

James Michael McAdoo entering the NBA draft: questions and answers

James Michael McAdoo has decided to leave UNC. How surprising was his decision? How do the Tar Heels fill his void? That and more in this Q-and-A.

James Michael McAdoo has played his final game at North Carolina. The junior forward will skip his senior season and will enter the NBA draft, the school announced earlier today. Here’s a story about it.

This news undoubtedly comes as a surprise to many, me included. McAdoo turned down big NBA money once, after his freshman season when he could have been a lottery pick, and during a recent conversation we shared he spoke of how much he loved being in college. McAdoo showed no signs that he was considering leaving.

In some ways, though, it’s not that big of a surprise. I’ll get to that later.

McAdoo’s decision has created plenty of questions. Here are some of them, and their answers, in a little one-on-one interview with yours truly.

Andrew Carter: This McAdoo news seems surprising but how big of a surprise is it, really?

AC: It’s surprising, indeed, but on second thought it might not be. McAdoo isn’t a guy who has necessarily done things by the book. He has always done things his way. Remember after that successful run at the end of his freshman season, when his draft stock soared and he was projected as a lottery pick?

A lot of pundits and analysts thought it would have been wise for him to leave school then but he stayed. Now, two years later, he’s not projected as a first-round pick and he decides to leave. The point is: McAdoo has never focused too much on what others thought of him. He was going to leave school when he felt he was ready and, evidently, he feels ready right now.

So on one hand, it’s surprising that he’d leave school with his draft stock what it is. On the other, it’s not surprising because he’s shown that he’s an independent thinker whose actions aren’t dictated by the masses.

Then there’s this reality, too: McAdoo’s draft stock took a fall when he came back, and it never really recovered. No one would argue that. With a great senior season McAdoo could have, in theory, raised his stock. The other side is he could have damaged it even more by coming back.

AC: What about his draft stock? And if he’s not projected in the first round, why go?

AC: That’s a question only McAdoo can answer but, evidently, he feels as though he can overcome his shaky prospects. And for right now, at least, they do appear shaky.

DraftExpress.com projects McAdoo as a late-second round pick. In that website’s latest mock draft, it has McAdoo going to the Philadelphia 76ers with the 25th pick in the second round. Chad Ford, ESPN’s draft analyst, recently ranked McAdoo the 60th-best prospect among those who could make themselves eligible for the draft.

Those aren’t great prospects, of course, and only first-round draft picks are guaranteed NBA paychecks. Even so, McAdoo will have plenty of opportunities to raise his stock. There will be no shortage of pre-draft workouts with individual teams, and he’ll also have some opportunities in pre-draft camps against other prospects.

Reggie Bullock, who left UNC after his junior season last year, wasn’t viewed as a rock-solid lock to be picked in the first round, either, and he worked his way there. McAdoo can do the same thing. He also has another thing going for him. His physical skills have never been a question. There’s no shortage of teams that will be interested in drafting someone with McAdoo’s size, strength and quickness.

AC: How big of a loss is this for the Tar Heels?

AC: It’s a big loss. Some UNC fans will minimize McAdoo’s departure. To some, he never lived up to the enormous expectations that came during his junior year of high school, when he became the youngest player ever to win the USA Basketball Male Player of the Year Award.

And yes, McAdoo was never the most consistent of players. At his best, he was one of the top five players in the ACC. At his worst, though, he could disappear offensively for long stretches. And finishing plays at the basket was a challenge throughout his three seasons at UNC.

McAdoo was never going to be a Kevin Durant-type, take-over-a-game player. And on one extreme, that seemed to be the kind of standard some people held him to. Still, he was a very good college player. He was second-team All-ACC the past two seasons and would have had a great chance to be first-team All-ACC next season.

Had McAdoo stayed, he would have been a rare commodity in college basketball: A senior with no shortage of physical talent and experience. Those players have grown almost extinct in the sport in recent years, and McAdoo and Marcus Paige, a rising junior guard, would have created one of the most formidable tandems in the nation.

Without McAdoo, UNC should still be among the favorites in the ACC next season. But his absence leaves a significant void in the Tar Heels’ frontcourt.

AC: How does UNC go about filling that void?

AC: It seems like a no-brainer that Brice Johnson, the rising junior forward, will enter the starting lineup. Johnson is perhaps UNC’s most skilled offensive post player – and that probably would have been true had McAdoo stayed in school. Even so, Johnson isn’t a good defensive player.

He can block some shots, and he showed improvement on defense during his sophomore season. But Johnson’s defensive deficiencies limited his playing time. McAdoo wasn’t necessarily known for his defense, either, but he was an imposing presence on the interior – certainly more imposing than Johnson, who was still pushed around during his sophomore season.

Replacing McAdoo will be a group effort. Johnson will be most responsible for filling the void, but UNC will need Isaiah Hicks, the rising sophomore forward, to accelerate his development. Hicks arrived at UNC as the top prospect in the state but he never really found his place during his freshman season.

Hicks will go from seldom-used role player to one of the first guys off the bench. That transition will undoubtedly take some time.

The Tar Heels will now be more reliant, too, on Desmond Hubert and Joel James. Of course, UNC will have a different look next season, too – and that was going to be true even if McAdoo came back. The arrival of Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, a pair of touted wing forwards, gives the Tar Heels some depth in an area where they lacked it last season.

AC: With McAdoo off to the NBA, what’s your best guess for UNC’s starting five next season?

AC: I think it has a good chance to look like this:

PG: Joel Berry, freshman

SG: Marcus Paige, junior

SF: J.P. Tokoto, junior

PF: Brice Johnson, junior

C: Kennedy Meeks, sophomore

That’s still a very strong starting five, and one that would be the envy of a lot of teams in the ACC.

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