McAdoo looked like an All-American in UNC’s season-opening 84-61 win over Oakland, scoring 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. That efficient performance, however, remains the highlight on the junior forward’s resume seven games later.
It’s true that McAdoo scored more points (27) and grabbed more rebounds (13) in UNC’s loss to Belmont, but he missed 17 shots, including eight free throws. To his credit, McAdoo played the role of a volume scorer against Belmont out of necessity.
Since UNC’s season opener, McAdoo is averaging 11.9 points on 35.5 percent shooting to go along with 5.4 rebounds per game. His 13-point output against UNCG on Saturday marked the first time in five games that he had scored in double figures.
One possible explanation for his struggles is roster-induced position changes that date back to last spring. From the time he stepped into John Henson’s role due to injury during the 2011-12 postseason until UNC switched to a small lineup last February against Duke, McAdoo averaged 13.9 points on 46.4 percent shooting (163-of-351) and 7.1 rebounds per game in his natural position at the four.
Over his last 21 games, however, McAdoo has played 13 primarily at the 5-spot and has logged minutes on the wing in all eight contests this season. He’s averaging 13.3 points on 42.0 percent shooting (111-of-264) and 5.8 rebounds during that span.
There may not be enough differential in those statistics to sound an alarm, but there does seem to be a correlation.
Last week, UNC head coach Roy Williams dismissed the notion that McAdoo was playing out of position when asked what was limiting his forward’s effectiveness.
“I need to help him, he’s got to play a little better and the ball needs to go in the basket for him,” Williams said.
McAdoo has acknowledged his uneven start has been frustrating, going so far as to tell reporters that “it sucks” following UNC’s win on Saturday.
“When you’re on, you can close your eyes and throw it up,” McAdoo said. “When you’re off, it’s just how it goes.”
One topic of conversation during his sophomore season revolved around him forcing things and oftentimes playing out of control. Those issues have subsided, although Williams is still working to mold McAdoo into the player he can become.
“I just don't want James Michael to pressure himself; just be a basketball player and do the best you can do,” Williams said. “If the shots aren't going in, become a better defender. And that’s one thing I think that I’ve got to get him sold on – being a better defender and let the other things come to you.”
McAdoo indicated that even when his shots aren’t falling, he makes a point to keep attacking, both on and off the ball, while focusing on his defensive intensity and work on the glass. Those efforts can often lead to transition opportunities.
“I think it just helps me personally get in a rhythm, getting easy buckets and getting out in the passing lanes,” McAdoo said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve always been really good at and it’s something that I haven’t really been able to do a lot this year.”
While his point production and field goal percentages have sparked plenty of criticism, it’s worth noting that Williams praised McAdoo’s play during the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut three weeks ago. Despite a stat line that included nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and two rebounds in UNC’s upset over No. 3 Louisville, McAdoo was as relaxed and jovial in the postgame locker room as he’s been during his time at UNC.
Having teammates like Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks to lean on for scoring support has taken some of that aforementioned pressure off McAdoo’s broad shoulders.
“It’s huge knowing that if I don’t show up ready to play or if I just have a bad game or off game, everything doesn’t go down the toilet,” McAdoo said. “That’s definitely huge for my confidence and just knowing that it’s Carolina basketball. They don’t need me, even if the guys do play bad, to go out there and score 30 points, but just play to the best of my ability and limit turnovers and mistakes.”
A constant theme has emerged when talking to coaches and players about McAdoo’s attitude during this difficult stretch, and it’s one that highlights his desire for his team to win above all else. Assistant coach C.B. McGrath praised him as a “team first” guy on Williams’s radio show on Monday night, which fell in line with his teammates’ comments on Saturday.
“He’s such a great teammate,” Paige said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s taking a backseat role for a stretch in the game or being aggressive and trying to get to the free throw line.”
Even so, McAdoo’s early-season struggles raise questions regarding his confidence level, although the junior dismissed those inquiries on Saturday night.
“It’s fine – it’s Christmas time,” McAdoo said. “I feel great, man. I’m loving life right now.”