There's going to be plenty of talk about the 14 shots Leslie McDonald has made in the last two games. His 9-for-12 performance against Duke on Thursday was essential to that victory, and he followed it with 5-for-9 and 19 points in a 105-72 rout of Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon.
It's only the second time in his Carolina career that he's posted back-to-back performances of at least 15 points (the other was at Georgia Tech and against NC State earlier this year). But it's the first of the senior's five 15-plus point performances this season in which he's taken fewer than ten shots, and it's just the second time he's been that efficient--out of eight games with at least 15 points--since a torn ACL forced him to miss the 2011-12 season.
And right now, that's the story with McDonald. As recently as a week or two ago, he looked like a player who was sometimes trying to play a starring role on a team that didn't really need him to play a starring role.
In the last two games, he has looked much more comfortable in the Carolina offense and his role inside of that offense. Watch his first two three-pointers from Saturday (the first comes at 0:23 in the below video, the second at 1:25).
On the first one, he had a look at a three-pointer from the top of the key very early in the possession, a shot he's taken on multiple occasions this year. But he chose to keep the offense moving, and once the ball changed sides of the court and James Michael McAdoo set a solid screen, McDonald got an even more open look at a three-pointer that he drained.
He did it again eight minutes later, declining a contested three-pointer from a step beyond the top of the key. Once again, the ball kept moving. This time it was James Michael McAdoo who set the screen, and the result was the exact same--McDonald was wide open, and McDonald swished the open shot.
"If it's a shot off one pass, I don't look at that as a good shot," said the senior, who has admittedly taken a couple of those types of shots earlier this year. "You want to get the ball flowing from one side of the court to the other and get us moving around. Then, when I'm open again, I can decide if I want to take a good shot."
The way he phrased it might be a window into how McDonald is feeling about his role--"when" I'm open, he said, not "if." Earlier this season, he sometimes looked like he wanted to score all his points on one possession. Now, he's comfortable enough to feel if he doesn't take one shot, he'll simply keep working and get open later in that same sequence. He also took a charge on Saturday, which always endears a player to his teammates.
He's even added a little flexibility to his offensive game. He attempted eight two-point shots against Duke, by far a season high and the most in his career since his seemingly long-ago freshman year (to put it in perspective, Kendall Marshall had not yet played a game for Carolina when McDonald was a freshman). Over the last two games, he's shown a newfound willingness to drive to the rim, a facet of his game he's been working on with assistant coach Hubert Davis.
"I've been trying to be patient," he said. "A couple of interviews ago, Coach Williams was talking about how I was looking for my shot. These last couple games, I've been patient and taken good shots when I'm open. When I try to force shots, those shots are not as high percentage."
That often turns into good offense for everyone. Early in the second half, now that Wake Forest was concerned about McDonald's shooting, he passed up a third three-pointer from the top of the key, and instead fed Kennedy Meeks for an easy score in the post. Four minutes later, he worked with McAdoo--who had already freed him for two three-pointers with solid screens--to run an apparent pick and roll that turned into McAdoo slipping the screen.
McDonald fed McAdoo at just the right instant, leading to an easy dunk.
"Right now, Leslie is taking shots that all five guys on the court love," McAdoo said. "He's not taking shots that take anyone by surprise. They're all good shots."
Even the one three-point shot McDonald missed on Saturday shows how much more integrated he is into the Tar Heel offense; Brice Johnson snagged an offensive rebound and immediately knew where to find McDonald for an open three-point attempt.
"Today he took one shot I didn't like," Roy Williams said. "On Thursday night he took one. So he's only taken two shots (I didn't like) in the last two games."
And the shots McDonald hasn't taken? It goes without saying that Williams likes those, too.
Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.