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North Carolina Basketball: P.J. Hairston, Brice Johnson Deserve More Minutes

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  P.J. Hairston #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after he make a 3-point basket in the second half against the Florida State Seminoles during the Final Game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conference Tournament at Philips Arena on March 11, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2012

I envy Roy Williams for the amount of talent he has at his disposal. I don't envy him for having to decide where all the minutes go, however.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are stacked with guards who can light it up in any given game. The center position is a different animal, as Roy is having to rotate two freshman and an inexperienced sophomore at that spot.

After eight games, one thing is for sure: P.J. Hairston and Brice Johnson need more minutes.

Concerning Hairston, that isn't an easy thing to say after Leslie McDonald dropped his second 20-point game this season in UNC's 102-84 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There is no doubt McDonald needs his minutes, too.

Coach WIlliams did a pretty good job spreading out the guard minutes with the absence of Marcus Paige, who suffered a jammed shoulder shoulder on Friday. Reggie Bullock had 37 minutes, McDonald had 26, and Hairston finished with 23.

That is the least amount of minutes I'd like to see from Hairston in any game from here on out. His first half was a little rough last night, as he couldn't get a shot to drop. In the second half, he started to penetrate, and that's when he really got in the flow.

All 16 of Hairston's points came in the second half, where he went 5-of-7 from the floor and 2-of-3 beyond the arc.

But Hairston's greatest impact can't be seen in the stat lines, though they are always pretty impressive. What I have noticed is when Carolina goes on a run and becomes efficient in the half court, Hairston is usually a major factor in that.

That's because nobody on the team is more willing to penetrate and draw contact than P.J. Hairston. Twice he went to the line and completed the and-one. What's more impressive is that he was doing this just six days after spraining his knee.

And penetration is what Carolina desperately needs without having major threats in the paint.

James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson both seem to be at their best when they have a little space in the 10-to-15-foot range. Joel James could be a beast, but he hasn't learned how to get nasty on the inside.

Dexter Strickland is great at getting in the paint, but he can't take the same contact and finish like Hairston. He also isn't an outside threat. McDonald and Bullock will occasionally take it to the hole, but not with the authority that Hairston has.

This team needs to show toughness, and there doesn't appear to be anyone tougher than P.J. Hairston. That toughness seems to flow to everyone else when Hairston gets going. It becomes an "if he can do it, I can too" attitude.

That works for this team. Perhaps P.J. Hairston is the leader the Tar Heels have been missing. Now he just needs to start leading vocally.

As for Brice Johnson, it's a matter of efficiency.

In just 14 minutes against UAB, Johnson was 5-of-7—and one of those two misses came off a foul. He also snatched up six rebounds and blocked two shots in that time. Those are ridiculous numbers for 14 minutes of action.

Speaking of "ridiculous," his turnaround jumper seems to drop at will. It has become his money shot like Tyler Zeller's hook—once Zeller would release the ball, you knew it'd splash the net.

That's the way I'm beginning to feel when Johnson spins around and releases.

Even with his 187-pound frame, he has shown willingness to work the inside, too. He will fight for rebounds and doesn't appear to be afraid of dunking in traffic.

Don't be surprised when he becomes the featured guy on the back end of alley-oops a la John Henson.

I also like that he's willing to get off the floor for rebounds and blocks. No block this season was more impressive than when he pinned Fahro Alihodzic's dunk against the rim on Saturday night.

To give an idea of efficiency, in my last article, I adjusted all the Tar Heels' stats to the full 40 minutes per game. That seemed to serve as a pretty good visual, so here are the updated stats for Brice Johnson and P.J. Hairston:

 

Player       PTS    REB   AST  STL  BLK

Hairston     27.8     9.3     4.1    2.4    1.4

Johnson     26.0    13.7    0.9    1.4     2.9

 

Though I love numbers to support a claim, sometimes the real proof can only be seen in the game.

This team is loaded with talent, but the offense just doesn't seem to flow as well without Hairston and Johnson in the game. We can compare stats all day long, but—at least to me—it's obvious they bring the Tar Heels to a different level.

This team desperately needs intensity and efficiency. In order to get that, P.J. Hairston and Brice Johnson need their minutes—period.

 

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