GREENSBORO – When Marcus Paige left college two years ago, his education was just beginning. Now, after nearly two seasons as a professional basketball player, Paige is still learning.
Paige, the former University of North Carolina star, has spent his second season as a pro shuttling between the G-League’s Greensboro Swarm and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Paige, a 6-2 guard, and center Mangok Mathiang are designated as the Hornets' two-way players, meaning they can move between the G-League and NBA without restriction.
For Paige, being a two-way player has led to a season in which he can concentrate on refining the skills he hopes will make him an NBA regular.
“Everyone knows Marcus is an elite shooter,” said Swarm coach Noel Gillespie. “But he has improved a great deal at seeing what the defense is giving him and making the proper decisions. He’s always making the right plays. He gets a lot of what I call hockey assists. It’s the easy play that leads to the play.”
Improving his decision-making was at the top of Paige’s to-do list when he joined the Swarm from the Hornets before the G-League season. It was an area in which the Hornets asked him to work.
With his long-range three-pointers and his ability to drive to the basket, not to mention his UNC ties, Paige has been a crowd-pleaser at Swarm home games. But what the fans see is only a small part of what the Hornets and other NBA teams want.
“My parents might text me and say great game, but I’m thinking I didn’t really play that well,” said Paige. “Every game, I want to shoot over 50 percent from the floor, over 40 percent from three-point range and have a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
“But what the stat sheet doesn’t show is if I was being physical on defense, was I getting over screens, did I play at a fast pace? Those are the things that separate a G-League player from an NBA player.”
Almost by default, Paige and Mathiang are leaders with the Swarm. The time they spend around Hornets veterans is an opportunity other Swarm players don’t have. Paige leads through his personality.
“There a lot of different ways to lead,” he said. “I’ll never be the type of guy who is screaming at someone. The way I engage with my teammates and the way that I carry myself, I hope is infectious. I hope my demeanor is positive.”
Gillespie, who started the season with nine rookies and still has eight, has learned to rely on it.
“He always stays even-keeled, and that helps me,” he said. “With such a young team, it’s all about teaching and reinforcing. He’s always a calming voice in the huddle and in the locker room. For me, that’s huge.”
After the Swarm season, Paige will join the Hornets and continue his education.
“The Hornets have been happy with the way I’ve progressed,” he said. “I’m hoping to get a shot at the end of the year depending on how things go.”