When the NBA introduced its new two-way player contracts this past offseason, Marcus Paige was one of the beneficiaries.
Paige, a former All-America guard at North Carolina, signed one of those two-way contracts with the Charlotte Hornets in August 2017 to keep him in North Carolina. Those contracts allow Paige to bounce seamlessly between the Hornets and the Greensboro Swarm, Charlotte’s G-League affiliate.
Paige has only played in one Hornets game this season (recording two rebounds and no points in a handful of minutes), but he has excelled for the Swarm. He is averaging 15 points and 4.5 assists with Greensboro.
A recent injury to Hornets guard Michael Carter-Williams may be season-ending, so the Hornets recalled Paige on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Observer spoke to Paige about his NBA future, the current Tar Heels team and more.
Q. What does North Carolina need to do to have success the rest of the ACC tournament?
A. Well this is usually when we start playing our best basketball. They lost a couple to end the regular season, a couple tough ones on senior night and then at Cameron (Indoor Stadium). If they rebound, and they’ve been rebounding great for being small – one of the smallest teams coach (Roy Williams) has ever had – and they defend, the way they share the ball and the way they shoot, the only thing that can really hurt them is an off shooting night by multiple guys.
The great thing is that Theo Pinson, probably the worst shooter in the lineup, makes the most plays, so he takes some of the pressure off the shooters. He’s been so great at probing the defense, igniting the break, and just being Theo. He’s terrific. He’s Kendall Marshall-esque, but from a different position.
Q. How many UNC games do you get to watch with your schedule, and how often do you get back to Chapel Hill?
A. I haven’t made it back this year. I made it back to one last year. I should have made it back to a few this year, but it’s tough. I do watch basically every one that’s within reason.
Q. Who has surprised you the most on the current UNC team?
A. I think Cam Johnson. I remember him at Pitt, he was a good spot-up shooter and stuff, but he’s shown a lot of ability to make plays and score from inside the arc and rebound. Once he started rebounding, he was the biggest difference.
But let me backtrack and say that as much as I knew Luke Maye was going to be good, obviously the surprise is All-American play from Luke. He works so hard and it’s so cool to see him play like that. He and Kenny (Williams) are the last of the ones I played with, the last of the 2016 era. It’s cool.
Q. What was your reaction when you heard of the passing of longtime UNC announcer Woody Durham on Wednesday morning? Did you have any interactions with him when you were in school?
A. I don’t think I ever truly understood the scope or importance or impact that he had until this week. I’m going to take it upon myself to learn more, because after seeing the reaction from everybody and how loved he was and how important he was to the whole ACC was special. It’s obviously a sad day, but everyone will remember him in a great light.
Q. What is the ceiling for this UNC team in the NCAA tournament?
A. The roof? (Laughs.) It’s hard to gauge because there’s not a team that jumps out as a favorite in my opinion. Villanova is definitely good, but I think we’re as good as any team when we’re playing our best. You just kind of have to see how it all falls out. I’m not going to bet against us with the veteran leadership we have.
Joel (Berry) has had a couple of tough nights, but I’m not worried about him at all. I think they could be right back in the Final Four very easily as long as they shoot well and continue to rebound and defend.
Q. How do you feel you have developed as a player this season?
A. I’ve gotten a lot better, especially in the pick and roll. I’ve spent a lot of time watching film and breaking down my game from November and December compared to this past month in February, and it’s been night and day difference in terms of playing on the second level of the defense and making the right reads. My assist numbers have gone up (4.5 per game this season), so I think I’ve improved a lot on that end and that’s going to help me a lot going forward.
Q. How similar are the offenses of the Swarm and the Hornets? When you are called up to the Hornets, how seamless is that transiton?
A. It’s close. There are some similar elements, but Charlotte’s a little more sophisticated. At the end of the day, it’s still a pick-and-roll league and pick-and-roll game. As a point guard and a primary ball handler, that’s what is going to help. The past month and a half, I’ve shot the ball really well. I’m up to like 38 percent from 3 the last month, 45 percent (from the floor), so I’m cool with that. That’s what I need to show. The other stuff is what’s going to separate me and allow me to get a spot in this league.
Q. Have the Hornets given you any indication they will bring you to summer league this offseason, or any other conversations about your future with the organization?
A. Honestly there’s been no discussion about after this season. We’ve got 17 games left up here and there’s nine left with the Swarm, so there’s still a window to make things happen. I’ll probably be up and back at least until the Swarm season is over. So we’ll see. I have to do what’s best for me at the end of the day, but I’d love to play for this organization.
Q. What are your NBA goals at this point in your career?
A. I’m really just enjoying it. My biggest thing was the first couple of years, just improve as much as you can. A lot of times, the traditional thing about point guards is you can’t judge them until they’re 25. So it’s about just continuing to get better. Keep putting myself in front of people, decision-makers, and just show improvement. Obviously I would love to be on a roster full-time next year. That’s the goal.
Q. How has married life (Paige wed his longtime girlfriend in the summer of 2017) been treating you?
A. It’s good. It’s great. It really is. I’ve enjoyed it so much the past few months. Since August, the past several months have been great and we’ve grown really close. It’s fun. We lived together before, so it’s been pretty seamless. Nothing is ever perfect, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the ride.