Friday, December 31, 2010
The X Factors
Strickland has started at shooting guard all season and over the past month seems to have really elevated his offensive game. With respect to Drew ‘s much improved defense and Henson’s penchant for shot-blocking, Stickland has been the best defender all season. He is 6th in the ACC in steals with 1.62/game. In fact, one could argue that Strickland, who switched his jersey to #1, a number worn last season by Marcus Ginyard, has been a more effective lockdown defender than Ginyard was last season. Playing out of position last season, Strickland often seemed out of control and couldn’t consistently finish in transition despite his impressive speed. This season Strickland looks much more impressive in transition, pushing the ball on fast breaks and finishing consistently. He also has done a good job at the charity stripe shooting a respectable 72.9%. While not an outside shooter, he has knocked down 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Strickland’s backup, Leslie McDonald has also shown marked improvement this season. McDonald is not the defensive pest that Strickland is on the defensive end of the ball nor is he as explosive in on the fast break. However, McDonald has done a pretty damn good Wayne Ellington impression (McDonald is now wearing #2, the number Ellington wore as a freshman) on several occasions this season. McDonald is the most assertive scorer on the team, one of the things that impressed me last season when he seemed at times the only player outside of Will Graves willing to confidently throw up a shot from beyond the arc. While not Ellington, I feel Wayne is best comparison for McDonald who some have compared to Danny Green (McDonald is shooting an impressive 43.2% from 3 point range). While McDonald has certainly disappeared at times this season, he has been an explosive scoring force off the bench who by his junior and senior seasons may be able to do an even better job of making it Wayne on a more consistent basis.
While, Strickland and McDonald’s complementary skill sets do sometimes make fans wish the two could be combined into one player (Lester StrickDonald?), the improvement of the two sophomores show just how silly it is for players to be declared busts or disappointments after their freshman season. The two will continue to improve over their four (or maybe three) years at Carolina and could be stars as upperclassmen. This year don’t be surprised if the Heels go as far as their pair of sophomore guards take them.