Out of necessity, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has used junior James Michael McAdoo and freshman Isaiah Hicks for stretches at small forward. Out of necessity, Williams has to tweak their responsibilities when they play the position.
Power forward and center are interchangeable in Williams’ system. So are shooting guard and small forward. But McAdoo and Hicks are in uncharted territory trying to play both small and power forward.
“I’m asking James Michael to cross over and play some 3 and some 4. It’s even harder right now for Isaiah because Isaiah’s a freshman trying to cross over 3 and 4,” Williams said on his radio show Monday. “Part of this is my fault; I thought James Michael would be able to handle it better. We talked [Monday]. I’m going to talk again [today].”
J.P. Tokoto continues to show flashes that give Williams hope he can develop into a consistent contributor. (His steal after an in-bounds pass and dunk against UAB reminded me of when Maryland’s Len Bias did the same against Carolina in 1986.)
He’s the only natural small forward on the roster, and he scored a game-high 16 against the Blazers. But when Tokoto is in foul trouble, Williams plays with a big lineup that moves Tokoto to shooting guard, or when he simply needs a breather, McAdoo or Hicks has to be able to fill in.
So far, watching McAdoo and Hicks play the 3 looks a lot of John Henson’s freshman year in 2009-10 when he played some at small forward. That experiment only proved that he was woefully out of position. (Henson recently cracked the Milwaukee Bucks' starting lineup at center.)
McAdoo’s overall game is suffering. Sunday’s loss at UAB marked the third straight game that he hasn’t reached double digits in scoring – this after scoring more than 20 in two of the Heels' first three games.
Six games into the season, I still don’t feel like we’ve really seen what Hicks can do. He’s averaged 8.3 minutes per game and scored a total of nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and totaled five blocks. Part of that is a direct result of having to play small forward.
“I’ve got to simplify – particular for Isaiah – to get him to be in the game and understand what’s going on a little more,” Williams said. “And James Michael is just trying to do too much right now. We’ve got to limit some of the things he’s doing. If we do that, I think he’s going to bounce back and do some good things.”