The University of North Carolina has a complicated history of NBA prospects. For every Michael Jordan, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter that has come out of Chapel Hill, there has been a Hubert Davis, Rashad McCants or Sean May. It is a program overrun with talent that simply does not always translate to the professional game.
Enter 6’ 9” Junior forward, James Michael McAdoo. Born to two professional basketball-playing parents, McAdoo has been in the public eye since his days at Norfolk Christian High School in Virginia. When he committed to the Tar Heels, he was considered a blue chip prospect, ranked just behind the likes of Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal.
Since then, the basketball community seems to have cooled on McAdoo. This explains why, while his fellow top recruits from the Class of 2011 (Davis, Beal, Austin Rivers, Andre Drummond, etc.) are currently in the NBA, McAdoo is still in school. A shaky start to his Freshman year saw him fail to establish himself as a star on an otherwise stacked UNC team. During the regular season, he played 15.6 minutes per game off the bench, averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds.
That all changed after starting forward John Henson went down with an arm injury during the Quarterfinals of the 2012 ACC Tournament. With a season of college ball under his belt, McAdoo began to flourish, establishing himself as not only a solid rebounder and defender, but a scoring threat too. While UNC failed to win any hardware that year (falling to Florida State in the ACC title game, and Kansas in the Elite 8), McAdoo showed enough (coupled with Henson’s declaring for the NBA Draft) to win a starting place in Roy William’s 2012-2013 squad.
His sophomore season was much closer to what was expected of McAdoo, with 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in just under 30 minutes of action per night. With a defensive rating of 95.1 and a win share of 2.7, he was finally beginning to show the flashes of the two-sided, unselfish player that scouts were salivating over in high school. Unfortunately, many aspects of his game still left much to be desired. McAdoo posted a mediocre PER of 16.9 on the season, down from 17.2 his freshman year. He also saw a significant rise in his usage percentage (28.2 % up from 20.6%), but his offensive rating plummeted from 104.7 to a paltry 93.6.
So, why is James Michael McAdoo still projected as a mid-first round pick?
For one, McAdoo has always had an intrinsic hype bubble surrounding him. From his pedigree to his height to his natural athleticism, he is the prototypical, AAU-groomed player bound for bigger things. Now, that is not to say he has gotten this far on name alone. McAdoo is athletic enough to guard wings out on the perimeter, yet big enough to fight with bigs for boards under the basket. An already very good UNC team improves remarkably when he is on the floor from his defense alone (last season, his defensive win share was 2). He can also provide a scoring threat on the other end of the floor, especially when he uses his size to attack the basket rather than settle for his inconsistent mid-range jumper.
Ultimately, James Michael McAdoo’s future in the NBA is almost as big of a question mark today as it was before he took the floor at the Dean Dome. All of the length, athleticism, and talent that has drawn the basketball world’s attention to him is still there, but coaches, scouts, and fans alike are justifiably wary. Will he ever make the concerted effort to live in the weight room and gain the muscle needed to battle in the post? Can he learn to abandon his mid-range game for the more efficient, above-the-rim style he has shown he is capable of? These are questions that largely boil down to the individual, and his willingness to improve his game.
The best-case scenario for McAdoo is he becomes everything fellow Tar Heels Ed Davis and John Henson have not; a forward capable of playing the 3 or 4, with a high-energy, athletic game. The worst-case is that he continues doing his impression of a poor-man’s Kevin Garnett, living 15 feet from the basket, while grabbing a handful of rebounds per game.
In the end, it is unlikely that McAdoo’s draft-stock will improve much above his current projection of mid-to-late first round. The good news is that this means he will most likely wind up on a team that can properly cultivate his talent, such as San Antonio or Memphis. The bad news is, much like John Henson, he will not have an immediate impact. He will be buried deep on the bench, and might even spend a significant chunk of his first year in the D-League.