UNC Basketball: Quality Depth Gives Tar Heels More Options, Less Predictability

North Carolina’s relatively stress-free 76-60 win over North Carolina Central isn’t one of those games that’s going to get much mention in the season review. It could, however, be looked back on months from now as the place where the Tar Heels first showed signs of what they were capable of.

While both the box score and highlight reel might show that UNC appears deeper than it has been in years, it takes a much closer look to understand just how important that depth is. And, more importantly, how that depth appears to be interchangeable and can allow coach Roy Williams to mix and match to find the perfect player groupings.

“We did share the bulk around quite a bit,” Williams said during his postgame press conference. “I think we’ll have five or six guys that, throughout the course of the season, will have 20 points. I’ve always liked to balance teams; it’s harder to prepare for.”

In other words, the 2014-15 Tar Heels are not going to be Marcus Paige and four other guys in Carolina blue. You’ll become well acquainted with the names and numbers on those other jerseys.

On a night when Paige scored single digits (eight in 31 minutes) for only the sixth time since the start of last season, his lack of production was far down on the list of developments. Paige, like every player, is capable of having an off night, but unlike last season, when such a situation almost guaranteed a loss, it won’t always be cause for concern anymore.

Not when UNC is getting valuable input from fellow guards J.P. Tokoto, Nate Britt and Joel Berry and tremendous efforts from all of its frontcourt players. In Friday’s game, Brice Johnson led all scorers with 12 points, while Kennedy Meeks had 10, Justin Jackson had nine, Isaiah Hicks had eight and Joel James had seven.

Numbers don’t really tell the story, though, because the opener wasn’t a numbers-driven game.

Instead, it was one where Williams got to see how comfortable different players were with each other, such as when he brought out a three-point guard lineup with Paige, Berry and Britt or how he opted to go with four forwards to start. That meant starting not only Jackson at the 3 but fellow freshman Theo Pinson, thus having Tokoto come off the bench.

Tokoto had started the two exhibition games at the 2, but Williams said that he was benched because “he made a mistake in practice, did something I didn’t like.” Whatever disappointment he might have had about the lineup snub came forth in a very spirited effort. Tokoto had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists and one of UNC’s 10 blocked shots. 

“He’s had a great preseason, he’s done some nice things for us,” Williams said.

This was also the chance to see how well Johnson’s and Meeks‘ new bodies looked in real action. The beefed-up Johnson showed more strength and power, while Meeks showed a greater agility and better stamina in putting up 10 points with nine rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. His time on the court wasn’t a matter of fatigue as much as Williams’ desire to give James and Hicks their shots in there, and they both impressed as well.

Hicks had eight points and six boards in 14 minutes. James, hardly used last season, looks vastly improved, as he made both of his field-goal attempts (including a sweet turnaround on the baseline while getting fouled) and all three foul shots for seven points in seven minutes.

It’s a work in progress, noted Andrew Carter of The News & Observer, writing that “it won’t always be as smooth as they’re capable of making it looking. Sometimes, it will rarely be that smooth.”

Williams spoke to this at length in the postgame, referring to the poor shooting from inside players and the higher-than-expected number of turnovers. Such things will occur with players who are not used to working together, who when put together will take time to adapt to each other’s strengths and tendencies.

A very different starting lineup is likely on Sunday night against Robert Morris—which lost by 27 at home on Friday to Lafayette—as Williams continues to tinker ahead of the litmus test at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in less than two weeks. And as that next game progresses, you’ll probably see several more unique quintets.

This could lead to some rough stretches of play during Atlantis as well as in tough nonconference games against Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio State. But by the time ACC play begins, UNC should have a firm handle on which lineups work best in which situations and be playing with confidence and momentum at that point.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.


Read mohere: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/14/4322092/unc-opens-season-with-sloppy-but.html?sp=/99/103/#storylink=cp

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Rose ‘could care less’ about criticism over health comments

Derrick Rose arguably caused some trouble for himself on Tuesday with some comments he made regarding how he takes the long-view when it comes to taking care of his body and health. And by “long-view,” the Chicago Bulls superstar is looking 10, 20 years down the road, well after he’s done playing basketball. “I feel…Read More
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Derrick Rose ‘could care less’ about criticism over ‘long-term’ health comments

Derrick Rose arguably caused some trouble for himself on Tuesday with some comments he made regarding how he takes the long-view when it comes to taking care of his body and health. And by “long-view,” the Chicago Bulls superstar is looking 10, 20 years down the road, well after he’s done playing basketball. “I feel…Read More
The post Derrick Rose ‘could care less’ about criticism over ‘long-term’ health comments appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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For UNC’s Kennedy Meeks, less is more

The Tar Heels’ center is seeing great benefits of being 50 pounds lighter for 2014-15.

      
 

 

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For North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, less is more

The Tar Heels’ center is seeing great benefits of being 50 pounds lighter for 2014-15.

      
 

 

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Is Business Making Basketball Less of a Priority for NBA Stars?

Money matters to NBA superstars, but what if it matters too much?

As endorsement deals explode, dwarfing actual on-court earnings for many of the game’s biggest names, you wonder whether basketball might soon take a back seat.

You wonder because when Carmelo Anthony listed the reasons he stayed with the New York Knicks as a free agent this past summer, he discussed his business interests alongside his basketball concerns:

You wonder because the sheer volume of endorsement dollars boggles the mind. Derrick Rose signed a pact with Adidas in 2012 that guaranteed him $185 million over 13 years, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. His current contract with the Chicago Bulls, a so-called max deal, will pay him just over $60 million before it expires.

Damian Lillard will earn a salary of $3.3 million from the Portland Trail Blazers in 2014-15, but Adidas will pay him as much as $100 million on a 10-year deal, according to Brian Windhorst and Darren Rovell of ESPN.com.

Kevin Durant just emerged from a bidding war between Nike and Under Armour with a contract that could net him as much as $300 million if he reaches incentives, as reported by Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. The Oklahoma City Thunder have him on the hook for just $39 million over the next two seasons.

When a player’s biggest checks aren’t coming from an NBA team, you wonder if his loyalties might shift a little. You wonder if his focus might waver on the court or while training during the offseason when he’s got far larger sources of income available.

If there’s a decision between one more workout and a shoe-release party, which will Rose, Lillard and Durant choose?

To hear Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com tell it, Durant’s late-stage withdrawal from Team USA may have already provided us with an answer:

What Kevin Durant did was shameful.

And what I have discovered in talking to members of the U.S. federation over the past two days is this: Durant and his agency, Roc Nation, are more interested in cashing in on his MVP award and his expiring Nike deal than they are in having Durant keep his word to the people who were with him in 2010 in Turkey at the World Championship and in 2012 in London at the Olympics.

What if this is the start of a trend in which NBA players only care about basketball until basketball gets them to a point where they can care more about something else?

That’s a logical concern in the alternate reality of sports fandom, which if we’re honest isn’t a logical world at all.

But if we step back a bit, we should confront ourselves with a couple of questions.

Why do we care if Durant, just as an example, may have reached a point in his life where his first job got him a better second one?

And why do we worry his value as a player might be compromised by an allegiance to another boss?

Maybe the answer has something to do with the strange lens through which we view athletes. Employing equal parts wish fulfillment and paternalism, we want NBA players to be gladiators who only care about winning (and if we’re honest, entertaining us). At the same time, we ask them to embrace unrealistic values—like prioritizing a silly game over a lifetime of financial security.

Basketball is supposed to mean the most to them because it means the most to us.

If we imagine NBA players as employees, businessmen or whatever other real-world example makes them easier to relate to, the unfairness of our expectations becomes clearer. Why should they forgo lucrative opportunities or focus on a sport when more sustainable sources of income are available?

Basketball careers are short, and even if they’re highly lucrative, a player’s not being greedy or losing focus if he’s looking to make money in other ways while he’s still relevant. We’d all be chasing endorsements like mad if we were in their shoes.

Even if we can’t (or don’t want to) put this conversation in a broader perspective—the perspective that reveals our concerns to be selfish and controlling—there’s still an answer to the headline’s question that should soothe all the myopic diehards out there fretting about athletes’ priorities.

 

Designed to Focus

Based on what we’ve seen, massive endorsements and other obligations haven’t derailed top-tier NBA stars.

Michael Jordan made a mint away from the court and never lost his edge. He now stands as the ultimate example for today’s athletes. Dominate on the floor, build a brand that endures and cash in for years to come.

LeBron James has made more money as a pitch man than a basketball player, according to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes, and it doesn’t seem to have hindered his work on the court.

Kobe Bryant spends weeks every year hawking his brand in China, but nobody would ever accuse him of losing focus on basketball.

The guys who work the hardest and possess the single-mindedness necessary to excel in sports are precisely the ones who enjoy enough success to attract endorsements. And they’re also precisely the ones who don’t allow outside concerns to distract them. Players who have the most endorsements and off-court earning opportunities are the ones for whom on-court competition will always matter most.

It’s a self-selecting group.

Durant just won the MVP award while becoming a ubiquitous commercial presence. He showed up in commercials for everything from Gatorade to Sprint. He knew his Nike deal was up for renegotiation this summer. Despite that, he put together the most focused, brilliant season of his career.

We shouldn’t expect anything to change now that he’s secured his hefty shoe deal.

When we worry about money and non-basketall issues distracting players, we’re projecting—assuming our own weaker constitutions are shared by athletes who’ve scratched and clawed and sacrificed to excel at one specific trade. Players who make it to the top in the NBA, to a point where shoe companies and soft drink manufacturers want to pay them millions, have a built-in ability to focus that exceeds our own.

We should also give guys like Durant credit for understanding a very simple truth: Basketball dominance is what made those endorsements possible in the first place. Slippage on the court is bad for business—just ask guys like Shawn Kemp and Stephon Marbury, two examples of former endorsement darlings who lost their edges. 

In that sense, players like Durant, James, Rose and Bryant are who we want them to be: They put basketball first, even when their other financial pursuits should probably matter more. If those players wanted to prioritize something else over basketball, like, say, a $100 million shoe contract, we’d be crazy to fault them for it.

Fortunately for fans everywhere, we’re not going to see any of the game’s biggest stars reach that point.

They’re just not wired that way.

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Andrew Wiggins’ HS coach: ‘Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him’

Andrew Wiggins might as well have been handed his walking papers by the Cavaliers the day LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland. Like the rest of us, the No. 1 overall pick knew the Cavs were looking to deal him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. But was he concerned about it? It […]

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Report: LeBron James wants no less than max contract

LeBron James has never been the highest paid player on his team during the 11 seasons he has been in the NBA. He now has the chance to finally do so, being that he is the best player in the NBA as he can get a max deal in this year’s free agency. James will be entering this year’s free agency period with a very different mindset and plan than 2010, and according to ESPN, he will be seeking no less than the maximum contract salary. Team who contact James when free agency begins on midnight will be informed about his intentions. The max number is projected to be a little over $22 million. James took a pay cut back in 2010 to join the Heat, but after seeing his play over the past four years, the four-time MVP is definitely deserving of a max contract. Only seven teams (Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic) have enough cap space to offer James the $22.2 million salary he is seeking. The Lakers and Suns are expected to be serious bidders. Other

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Coach K makes less, stays among top-paid

The four-time national champion remains college sports’ highest paid coach.

     
 

 

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Report: Dwyane Wade likely to opt out, take less money

Dwyane Wade is the highest paid member of the Miami Heat’s “Big 3″, but he’s not about to let his personal gain break up the team that’s helped him reach four consecutive NBA Finals. The New York Daily News is reporting that Wade will opt-out of the final two years of his contract and accept a new deal with Miami for less money. Dwyane Wade is likely to opt out of his final two seasons, at $41.5 million, and probably accept a deal from the Heat worth $50 million-$55 million over four years to help the team open up cap space. The Heat were exposed by the Spurs in the NBA Finals this year and Pat Riley needs to bring in some help in order to capitalize on LeBron’s prime years. Wade has been the face of the Heat for a decade now, and this is certainly a team-oriented move. The post Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade reportedly to Opt-Out & Re-Sign for Less appeared first on Standing O Sports and was written by Mike Lucas.

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