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Month: November 2016

Winning Fast, Winning Slow

Winning Fast, Winning Slow

En route to a Maui Invitational championship, Carolina faced opponents at either end of the tempo spectrum. Oklahoma State, who the Heels blew out in the semifinals, ranks 10th in the nation with an adjusted pace of 75.4 possessions / 40. Conversely, UNC’s victim in the title game, Wisconsin, plods along at the 3rd-slowest tempo in the country (62.5 possessions / 40). Not surprisingly, there were 78 possessions in the OSU game and only 65.5 against the Badgers.

Perhaps more surprisingly in how ruthlessly efficient the Heels’ halfcourt offense was in both victories. Under Roy Williams, UNC has been consistently lethal in transition– both in its primary and secondary breaks. As possession length creeps above 10 seconds, however, Williams’s teams have not always maintained their effectiveness. In many years, this “transition premium” (the early-offense efficiency gain) has been dramatic.

For example, the 2009 championship Heels, while efficient in all shot-clock segments, had the following splits:

1st 10 seconds of the clock: 121.9 oRtg, 62.2 %Poss.

Final 25 seconds of the clock: 111.4 oRtg, 37.8 % Poss.

for a transition premium of 9.4%.

The 2012 Heels, also a vintage Roy Williams edition, had these splits:

1st 10 seconds of the clock: 119.1 oRtg, 64.8 %Poss.

Final 25 seconds of the clock: 102.5 oRtg, 35.2 % Poss.

for a transition premium of 16.2%.

Scoring early was (relatively) more important to the ’12 team than the ’09 one (primarily because it lacked a Ty Lawson to create in late-clock/halfcourt situations). As a methodological aside, it’s important to note that “scoring early” also means put-back/2nd-chance opportunities. If the original possession lasts 28 seconds, but leads to an offensive rebound/quick follow-up score, that is categorized in the “early offense” bucket (although it’s not a transition score, per se). Likewise, some secondary break actions bleed past the first 10 seconds of a possession (such that not all “transition” offense is perfectly captured in seconds 1-10). So, “transition premium” is  bit of a misnomer; it’s more aptly named “early-offense premium.”

So, getting back to this piece’s premise, let’s investigate UNC’s scoring efficiency by possession length for its final two games in Maui. As seen in the tables that follow, Carolina’s halfcourt efficiency (i.e., oRtg on possessions lasting 11-30 seconds) was actually higher than its early-offense efficiency in both game. Against Oklahoma State, the distribution of possessions was more typical of a Roy Williams-coached team, with more than half of all possessions ending in the first 10 seconds (although this is still significantly lower than the season-long marks in the low-to-mid 60s for 2009 and 2012). And, again, the Heels were predictably efficient during these frequent quick possessions. The trademark of any Williams offense has always been its ability to create a high volume of high-efficiency early-offense possessions.

Moving to the Wisconsin game, however, it’s evident that the Badgers were able to successfully limit both the frequency (%Poss of 34.8%) and effectiveness (oRtg of 87.0) of Carolina’s early offense. They did this by a.) prioritizing transition defense at the expense of their own 2nd-chance opportunities, and b.) doing a fantastic job of keeping the Heels off the offensive glass. In fact, the glacial Badgers actually outscored the jackrabbit Tar Heels 23-20 in early offense (seconds 1-10 of the possession) in the Maui final. Had you told me prior to the game that that would occur, I would have been bracing for a defeat instead of a comfortable 15-point win (that wasn’t even nearly that close in reality).

So, given that fact, how did UNC get past Wisconsin so easily? Obviously a big part of it was due to a terrific defensive. But, perhaps even more importantly, it was due to a clinically effective halfcourt offense. Nearly two-thirds of the Heels’ possessions vs. UW ended in the final 20 seconds of the clock. And, on those 43 possessions, Carolina scored 51 points (oRtg of 118.6). It was the typical Williams halfcourt fare: freelance passing game (albeit with a little more 4-out motion to take advantage of Isaiah Hicks’ skill set), some box sets, and some late-clock pick-and-roll. While UNC’s spacing, screening, and ball/player movement looks crisper so far this year, that’s more a testament to a veteran, well-oiled machine than to a dramatic re-envisioning of the scheme.

And, oh yeah, having a point guard playing at the level of Joel Berry helps, too. Against Wisconsin, Berry got to the rim for a couple late-clock “and-1s.” He also hit several halfcourt jumpers off the dribble, both from mid-range and behind the arc. And he does all his scoring without being a ball-stopper. Although he’s certainly not in the Kendall Marshall/Ed Cota class as a post-entry passer, his ability to feed the post has improved each year. And, just as importantly, his ability to quickly move the ball (rather than over-dribbling) has facilitated the post-entry passing skills of UNC’s wings (most notably Justin Jackson and Kenny Williams).

While some of UNC’s inflated halfcourt efficiency was due to pure shot-making (that tends to have lots of game-to-game volatility), much of it was due to creating easy opportunities with crisp offensive execution. That the Heels were able to dominate a game in which they (inefficiently) scored just 20 points in the early offense bodes well for the remainder of the season. There seem to be very few teams that are equipped to stop both UNC’s early offense (primary, secondary, and put-backs) and its halfcourt attack. When you slow down neither (like Oklahoma State), it’s biscuit time. When you slow down one or the other (like Wisconsin), you at least have a fighting chance (Wisconsin’s inability to knock down perimeter jumpers ultimately doomed their “fighting chance”).

I’ll update these metrics all year, and post them periodically on the blog or in the weekly newsletter.

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Career Leaderboard Updates

Career Leaderboard Updates

Just sent out the inaugural weekly(ish) newsletter for The Secondary Break. So be sure to subscribe to the mailing list (see the bottom right of the site) if you’re interested in having updates and Carolina/ACC basketball datasets delivered to your inbox.

In this edition, I included a link to my UNC Lineups spreadsheet that includes +/- and 4 Factors data for every Carolina combination and player this season. Future newsletters will contain additional data links– things like defensive charting, historical UNC lineups, historical ACC player stats, etc.

I also included some Carolina all-time leaderboard updates in the newsletter. I’ll share those here, but the weekly email will probably become the go-to place for that information going forward.

Career Leaderboard Updates:

  • With 12 points against Wisconsin, Justin Jackson became the 74th member of UNC’s 1,000-point club. He has 1,003 career points.
  • Kennedy Meeks moved to 65th place on the career scoring list with 1,077 points. He’ll soon pass Jerry Stackhouse, who’s 64th with 1,080.
  • Joel Berry (98th with 758) and Isaiah Hicks (T99 with 753) both moved into UNC’s top 100 all-time scoring list vs. Wisconsin.
  • Berry also hit his 100th career 3-pointer against the Badgers. He’s moved from 29th to 25th so far this season on the career made 3s list.
  • Meeks has likewise moved up from 29th to 24th on the all-time rebounding leaderboard with 749 (including 75 in 7 games this year).
  • Berry, Jackson, and Britt are all in Carolina’s top 50 for career assists. The 3 are currently bunched very tightly with Berry in 44th with 227, and Jackson/Britt tied for 45th with 223.
  • Berry, who’s 28-30 from the line this season including hitting his last 26, has moved into first place on UNC’s all-time FT% list. His career mark of 85.5% tops Shammond Williams’s 84.9%– at least for now.
Defensive Charting vs. Oklahoma State

Defensive Charting vs. Oklahoma State

Some quick thoughts on the defense against Oklahoma State– first here’s the defensive boxscore:

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  • Guarding Juwan Evans: Evans is a really talented lead guard, who’s especially adept at utilizing the high-ball screen. While the comparisons to Chris Paul may be a bit overstated, Evans did consistently make good decisions following a ball screen (and the Cowboys set one for him on nearly every possession he was on the court). Luckily for the Heels, his teammates (a mediocre group in general) missed almost all the opportunities he created for them. That said, UNC did a great job of forcing Oklahoma State into suboptimal shot attempts out of its PNR offense– no open 3s for Forte or Carroll, lots of mid-range shots for OSU bigs, no easy shots at the rim, etc.
  • I charted 39 OSU ball screens, most for Evans (and most defended by Berry), with the following results: 8 made field goals (1 3-pointer), 19 missed field goals (7 3-pointers), 3 turnovers, and 9 offensive resets. Shockingly, UNC did not commit a single foul when defending a ball screen. Even accounting for some good fortune (missed clean looks), 17 points allowed on 39 ball screens is a really, really good number.
  • Evans scored his 30 points in the following ways:
    • Berry-Bradley ball screen: 6 points
    • Britt iso: 5 points
    • Berry-Hicks ball screen: 4 points
    • Berry iso: 4 points
    • Berry-Meeks ball screen: 3 points
    • Woods iso: 3 points
    • Woods-Bradley ball screen: 2 points
    • Hicks iso: 2 points
    • Transition: 1 point
  • As seen in the %Poss numbers in the defensive box, both Berry and Woods had busy defensive games. Berry gave up some points, but played a really effective defensive game. I credited Evans with 5 “contested” makes– he’s a great scorer who made some well-defended shots. Woods wasn’t as effective, but that’s to be expected in his first matchup against an elite collegian. The defensive boxscore probably overvalues his performance on that end (his On-Court DRtg is probably a more accurate reflection).
  • Kenny Williams pitched a shutout (he did opt to box out an OSU big following a defensive rotation, allowing a tip-in, but I assigned that hoop to the “team” since Williams made a good decision to help out Meeks following his rotation). Phil Forte, a lights-out shooter who’s had some huge games at OSU, was unable to get any clean looks thanks many to the defense of Williams and Britt. While Williams didn’t get credited with many defensive stops, preventing scoring opportunities in the first place is often just as valuable.
  • Meeks defended the ball screen well, and generally played hard and smart. He altered several shots as a help defender. I assigned 7 of OSU’s 19 offensive rebounds to Meeks, so that’s obviously a concern. He was boxing out consistently, but struggled to win contested defensive rebound opportunities (although he got a hand on just about all of them– enough to prevent easy put-backs in most cases).
  • This was easily Bradley’s most active/disruptive game as a Heel in terms of deflections, forced TOs, etc. He figures to get better and better as a help-side shot-blocker, too, as the season progresses.
The Kenny Williams Effect

The Kenny Williams Effect

Through six games (and 240 minutes) this season, North Carolina’s minutes at the 2-guard spot have been divided roughly evenly between senior Nate Britt and sophomore Kenny Williams. Each has started a trio of games, with Britt logging 122 minutes at shooting guard (along with a handful at the point) compared to Williams’s 101 (plus about 25 minutes at the 3). So how has the team performed with the two platooning shooting guards on the floor? Let’s dig into the +/- numbers for some answers.

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As seen in the above tables, the Heels have been significantly more effective on both ends during Williams’s minutes at the 2. UNC scores about 14 more points per 100 possessions in those minutes, and also allows about 22 points / 100 fewer. Diving into the “4 Factors” numbers, it can be concluded that Carolina is much better at forcing turnovers with Williams on the court. It’s also a little better at avoiding them on the offensive end. Likewise, UNC is also much better at avoiding fouls (and a bit better at drawing them) during Williams’s minutes. The Heels, though great on the offensive glass with either 2-guard, are absolutely dominant in that facet with Williams on the court. It’s debatable how much of the credit he deserves for that, although he’s undisputedly a better offensive rebounder than Britt. But possibly the biggest difference between the Williams vs. Britt minutes has been UNC’s ability to force missed shots with Williams on the court. Again, it’s unlikely that Williams is solely responsible for the eFG% allowed delta seen in the table. But his length and defensive presence are clearly a better fit at the 2 than Britt’s, in my opinion.

UNC’s two most-used lineups this season (by far: the 3rd-most used– Berry-Williams-Jackson-Hicks-Bradley– has just 15.7 minutes as a unit) have been the two platooning 2s alongside the other 4 starters. As mentioned above, each of those quintets has started three games this season. Here’s a +/- comparison of how those two units stack up:

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As in the earlier tables, the starters + Williams combo is significantly superior to the starters + Britt one. In fact, the efficiency margin is even more pronounced when isolating just these minutes. When Williams joins the other starters, Carolina leads 111-57 in 40 minutes (i.e., about one full game). Against Oklahoma State, that 5-man unit led 39-11 in 11 minutes. In the two games in Maui, it’s +41 in about 21 minutes. So, yeah, that’s been a pretty dominant unit.

Of course, +/- data is notoriously noisy– especially for something as small as a 6-game sample. So I’d caution reading too much into this data too soon. That said, at least in my case, the numbers are supporting what I’m seeing via the eye test (and defensive charting data). They also support my preconceived bias of having more length at the 2 (vs. the 2-PG lineups that we’ve seen so frequently in the last couple seasons). Assuming Pinson can return later in the season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him and Williams split the vast majority of the minutes at the 2 while Britt slides over to back up the Berry at the point. That depends on things like (most importantly) Theo’s health, Woods’s development, and how well Britt is playing. It’s also situational: Britt is a very valuable piece against pressure, overplaying defenses like Oklahoma State used on Tuesday night. He’s one of UNC’s best penetrators, finishers, and drive-and-dish guys, preferring to enter the paint via the dribble rather than the pass. Since there’s a team in Durham that traditionally defends the Heels this way (daring them to drive while cutting off post entry passing opportunities), Britt will have his moments to shine as a senior. But, if the early +/- numbers are to be believed, the best version of Carolina might end up being one that includes heavy doses of Kenny Williams at shooting guard.

Early-Season Defensive Charting Insights

Early-Season Defensive Charting Insights

While the last post dumped a bunch of defensive charting data, it didn’t do much in explaining a.) what the numbers mean, or b.) what else I’ve observed beyond the numbers based on careful re-watching/charting. So, without further ado:

  • Ball-screen defense: there are many ways to defend a ball screen, but Roy Williams’s preferred technique has alway been for the on-ball defender to fight over top of the pick, while the help defender hedges then recovers to his rolling/popping man. Over the past couple of seasons (dictated partially by personnel), the Heels have used more “soft” hedges (where the help defender plays a sort of one-man zone rather than aggressively “showing” to disrupt the dribbler) against the high ball screen. This year Carolina is switching ball screens more frequently than ever before, especially a.) late in shot clocks, or b.) when Justin Jackson is at the 4. Still, UNC’s hedging (either hard or soft versions) about 75% of the time.
    • The Hawaii game showed why Roy Williams has had lifelong reservations about switching ball screens. The Rainbow Warriors attacked the UNC switches in a variety of ways, including: 1.) with a guard beating Kennedy Meeks off the dribble, 2.) with a wing hitting a step-back 3-pointer over Isaiah Hicks, and 3.) with a center hitting a jump hook over Jackson after receiving a post entry. Meeks and Hicks have never been especially strong hedge defenders (although the early returns on Tony Bradley have been promising here). But the way that Hawaii exploited mismatches following switches confirmed Williams’s preferred help-and-recover strategy.
  • In general, UNC’s backcourt has defended much better than its frontcourt. Both Hicks and Jackson have been consistently beaten for baskets this season. Jackson, while not disruptive, has shown the ability to be a very good, steady positional wing defender. While sliding down to the 4, though, he has been overmatched on several occasions by more physical opponents. Hicks still seems to be adjusting to his new role, both in terms of logging big minutes and avoiding fouls while providing aggressive, high-energy minutes. Meeks, though he struggled a bit defensively against Hawaii, was very energetic and effective in the first three games of the season. The Heels haven’t faced many high-level bigs yet (although Chattanooga’s Justin Tuoyo is very good), but Meeks’s defense has been a pleasant surprise. Bradley’s still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the college game, but it’s obvious that he’ll be a fantastic defensive big at the collegiate level. For now, though, he’s still a step slow on many rotations– as that improves with more reps, his blocked shot numbers should increase dramatically.
  • As for the backcourt, it all starts with Joel Berry. He’s been fantastically disruptive as an on-ball defender, and has really set the tone for the entire defense. His defensive energy was down a bit against Hawaii, and it made a noticeable difference on the entire unit. Seventh Woods has made his share of freshman mistakes (e.g., taking bad angles fighting through screens, allowing penetration to the middle of the floor, etc.), but has shown glimpses of being a great on-ball pressure defender. Kenny Williams and Nate Britt has been a really good defensive platoon at the 2. Britt’s strengths are ball pressure, wing denial, and defensive disruption (he led the Heels with 8 deflections and 4.5 forced turnovers vs. Hawaii). Williams is a more prototypically-sized defensive 2, and his length, physicality, ability to curtail penetration, and crisp help-side rotations make him my preferred option at that position. Once Theo Pinson returns from his injury, UNC’s backcourt defense will become even more potent and flexible. The Heels were beaten by a few backdoors against Hawaii, but that’s the cost of denying the wings/disrupting offensive flow.
  • Defensive rebounding continues to be a relative weakness for Carolina. While the Heels rank 3rd in the nation in OR%, grabbing nearly half their misses (49.3%), they’re just average on the defensive glass (170th in the country at 70.3%). Somewhat surprisingly, UNC’s rebounded well in its small-ball lineups (DR% of 77.8 with Jackson at the 4)– albeit in a limited sample. Likewise, the Hicks-Meeks starting frontcourt has been solid on the defensive glass (DR% of 74.2). Hicks-Bradley has been just an average frontcourt in terms of defensive rebounding (71.4%), and Maye frontcourts have really struggled (58.6%– although, again, sample size caveats apply). Individually, both Hicks (DR% of 11.5) and Jackson (8.5%) need to step it up. At center, Meeks has been excellent (22.7%) and Bradley serviceable (15.9%). Berry, Woods, and Williams are aggressive, athletic rebounders who can grab traffic rebounds or help clean up long misses. Again, the return of Pinson figures to really help out on the defensive backboards.
Intro to Defensive Charting

Intro to Defensive Charting

Defensive charting is a concept formalized by basketball analytics pioneer Dean Oliver in his seminal work, Basketball on Paper. More recently, it’s been used by basketball writers/analysts like Luke Winn at Sports Illustrated and David Hess at TeamRankings.com. As Hess explains here, defensive charting consists of rigorous review of a game tape (the 8-second rewind button is a charter’s best friend!) to allocate credit and blame to individual defenders.

Compared to traditional methods like boxscore stats (steals and blocks) and the “eye test,” defensive charting is a vastly superior way to assess individual defenders. That said, it’s not a perfect method. A couple notable shortcomings are:

  1. It’s (generally, and in this case) done independently of the coaching staff. Without perfect knowledge of players’ responsibilities during a given play, it’s possible that blame can be inaccurately assigned. While I’m broadly familiar with Carolina’s defensive schemes (like how the Heels fan penetration to the baseline to set up the help defense/rotations, or how Roy Williams prefers a hedge-and-recover style of defense against ball screens), there are certainly nuances/in-game adjustments that I’m not aware of.
  2. There’s an element of subjectivity involved. Two knowledgeable observers could watch the same play and disagree about which defender (or defenders– credit/blame is often split in this system) to assign the result to.

Despite those limitations, the insights derived from defensive charting data are far more illuminating than those that can be gleaned in a non-charting environment.

Hess’s article (linked above), borrowing from Basketball on Paper, does a great job of explaining the metrics used for defensive charting. The primary ones are Stop% (the fraction of a player’s total individual defensive possessions in which he’s contributing to a stop) and %Possession (a defensive usage rate). These combine to estimate an individual Defensive Rating for a player that is anchored by the team’s DRtg. While my presentation of the boxscore differs a bit from Hess’s, the key concepts are the same. In addition to DRtg, I’ve also included On-Court DRtg in my tables. This is the team’s actual defensive efficiency during a given player’s minutes (rather than the one estimated from the charting metrics)

Below you’ll find three tables:

  1. The defensive charting boxscore for UNC’s latest game (@ Hawaii).
  2. The season-to-date boxscore for UNC with cumulative totals.
  3. The season-to-date boxscore for UNC with summary statistics and per-40 numbers.

As the season progresses, I’ll probably post frequent single-game charting boxscores along with some discussion of interesting defensive insights (like how Carolina switched more ball screens against Hawaii, and with pretty poor results). I’ll also occasionally do an updated post that includes season-to-date charting numbers. Finally, for newsletter subscribers, I plan to make available via a weekly email the game-by-game defensive charting data (along with the lineup combination (+/-) data).

Let me know if there are any questions about what’s going on with these metrics (or general questions about how credit/blame is assigned during the defensive charting process, etc.). Sorry for the pure data dump below; I promise that the next charting-related post will include more actual discussion about Carolina’s defense/individual defenders.

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The Friday Clipboard

The Friday Clipboard

Get out your clipboards, Carolina fans, it’s time for some notes and statistical nuggets related to Tar Heels hoops.

Soon, the plan for this Friday feature will combine this blog post with a subscriber-only weekly newsletter that goes into even deeper detail on some of these charting metrics (including leaderboards/tables). So, if you’re interested in receiving that weekly email (the first one is scheduled to go out next Friday), please sign up via the web form. I’m also experimenting with the idea of using Automated Insights’ Wordsmith technology to automate parts of the newsletter.

But enough with the logistics, let’s get to the numbers:

POINTS APLENTY 

Most Points Scored by a Williams-Coached UNC Team in First 3 Games of Season:

  1. 2008: 289
  2. 2017: 285
  3. 2007: 279
  4. 2006: 278
  5. 2015: 269

As seen, the current team ranks second among Roy Williams’s 14 Carolina teams in terms of total points through three games. And, while that’s partially a function of early-season SOS, it should be noted that the other teams on that list all finished the season in the KenPom top 10 (including a couple of top 3 teams in 2007 and 2008).

DEFENSIVE DISRUPTION

Since Roy’s return to Chapel Hill, the Heels have finished in the national top 100 in forced TO% only three times: twice with Raymond Felton spearheading the defense (2004: 45th at 23.6%, 2005: 56th at 23.1%), and once with the 2013 small-ball frontcourt of P.J. Hairston/James Michael McAdoo (87th at 21.5%). Through three games, led by the disruptive ball pressure of Berry, UNC ranks 61st in the country with a TOF% of 22.6%. It will be interesting to keep an eye on that number as the season progresses (and the quality of opposing point guard improves).

SWATLESS PATROL

While Carolina has been forcing turnovers at a better-than-average rate, it has been blocking shots at a historically poor one. Though it’s unwise to draw strong conclusions three games into a season, UNC’s current Block% of 5.1 would easily be the worst the the Roy Williams era (264th in the nation, compared to a national average of 9.5%). In fact, only twice have Williams’s Heels fallen out the top 100 in this metric: 2013 (231st at 7.9%) and 2005 (104th at 9.9%). And only in 2013 (with the aforementioned small-ball lineup) did UNC slip below the national average for Block%.

Kennedy Meeks is slightly off his career mark in Block% at 4.6% (down from 5.2% as a FR, 5.8% as a SO, and 5.2% as a JR). And, while Isaiah Hicks is more significantly below his historical numbers at 1.3% (5.1%/2.9%/3.3%), those frontcourt seniors figure to return to near their established level of shot-blocking. The bigger question involves freshman Tony Bradley. Though based on his size, wingspan, and pedigree, he seems like UNC’s best candidate to develop into a game-changing defensive post presence, Bradley has yet to block a shot through three games (although he’s contested/altered several). It will be interesting to watch his evolution as a shot-blocker as the season progresses. On the other end of the spectrum, Luke Maye, who boasts a healthy Block% of 9.2%, is almost certain to regress to a level closer to his freshman-year mark of 1.8%.

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  • Not a surprising result here so early in the season: UNC is more efficient when it has fewer freshmen on the floor. If it were March, I doubt RoyW would be playing the 3-FR lineups together for over 7 minutes per game. But it’s November, and all those early minutes are going to pay big dividends by March (and in the seasons to come).

 

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  •  Likewise, no shocking news here: UNC has been great when it has at least one of Joel Berry or Justin Jackson on the court (although, perhaps surprisingly, not significantly better when both are sharing the court: I’d expect that to change as the level of competition ramps up). When that pair of juniors is simultaneously resting, Carolina’s efficiency margin plummets. It will be interesting to see how Theo Pinson’s return affects these numbers: last year’s 3-SO (Berry/Pinson/Jackson) were off-the-charts effective.

 

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  • On-court/Off-Court measures the difference in the team’s efficiency margin during a player’s minutes on the floor and his minutes on the bench. The above table breaks it into its offensive and defensive components (where positive numbers mean “better” and negative numbers mean “worse”). For example, UNC has an offensive efficiency (ORtg) of 132.0 with Berry on the court and 108.7 with him on the bench– an Off. On-C/Off-C number of +23.3.
  • Berry’s been very impactful (from a +/- perspective) on both ends; most of Jackson’s impact has been on the offensive end, most of Meeks’s and Kenny Williams’s on the defensive end. The Heels have been significantly better on offense with Hicks on the floor, but slightly worse defensively during his minutes.
Joel Berry’s Quest for the Rafters

Joel Berry’s Quest for the Rafters

Based simply on Joel Berry’s basic boxscore stats, it’s clear that he’s off to a ridiculously strong start to his junior campaign. He’s parlayed a 62.1%/53.3%/90.9% shooting line into 21.3 points per game, while maintaining a Lawson-like 4.33:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also drawing fouls at an elite level (FTA Rate of 75.9) to elevate his obscene eFG% of 75.9 to an even more ungodly TS% of 81.8. After a 2-for-4 start from the charity stripe, he’s knocked down his last 18 free throws. And, helping to fortify one of the Heels’ true (relative) weaknesses, Berry trails only Kennedy Meeks in DR% (17.1).

Despite how gaudy those numbers are, Berry’s impact looks even more dramatic when considering things like +/- and defensive charting data. The below table shows his on-court/off-court splits through three games:

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With Berry on the floor, the Heels are outscoring their opponents by 50 points per 100 possessions (at UNC’s pace, the equivalent of a per-40 win of 100-63). While he rests, that efficiency margin drops to +15.4. Berry’s on-court/off-court differential of +34.3 easily leads the team; Justin Jackson (+24.6) and Meeks (+21.0) are next on the list. Carolina is 23 points / 100 better on the offensive end, and 11 points / 100 better defensively during his minutes.

Berry’s defensive charting statistics also paint a dominating picture. In his 79 minutes this year, he’s been responsible for just 16 points allowed on an eFG% of 41.4. More impressively, Berry’s consistently disruptive ball pressure has set the tone for UNC’s defense. He easily leads the Heels in both forced turnovers / 40 (7.1; Isaiah Hicks is next with 4.9) and deflections / 40 (13.7; Seventh Woods follows with 8.3). In 28 minutes vs. Chattanooga, Berry accounted for 7.5 forced turnovers (including drawing three offensive fouls) with 13 deflections. Not surprisingly, Carolina is forcing turnovers on 25.2% of its possessions with Berry spearheading the defense. With Berry on the bench, that TOF% plummets to 17.4. Not since Raymond Felton in 2005 has a UNC point guard displayed such consistently pesky on-ball defense (Ty Lawson, when motivated, was also capable of dominating a game defensively).

While Berry’s traditional stats should place him squarely in the (early) All-American conversation, his case is further fortified by his beyond-the-boxscore numbers. If he can continue his dominant level of play (although the combination of tougher competition and regression to the mean will obviously bring down his numbers some), Berry’s No. 2 jersey may be headed to the rafters alongside other Tar Heel legends.

 

 

The Potential +/- Impact of Theo Pinson’s Injury

The Potential +/- Impact of Theo Pinson’s Injury

With the late-October announcement that Theo Pinson is out indefinitely with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot, Roy Williams loses his most versatile rotational piece. Last season, Pinson was the only Heel to log 100+ minutes at each of three positions: 182 at shooting guard, 403 at small forward, and 171 as a small-ball power forward. Overall in 2015-16, UNC’s minutes were split nearly equally between Pinson on the floor and him on the bench. As seen in the table below, Carolina was significantly better during his on-court minutes– particularly when those minutes were logged at either the 2 or the 4.

pinson-table

Pinson played most of his minutes at the 2 early in the season while Marcus Paige recovered from his fractured hand. And, for the majority of that time, he shared the court with classmates Joel Berry and Justin Jackson. Likewise, most of Pinson’s minutes as a small-ball 4 in 2016 were also alongside his fellow sophomores. In total, the 3-SO lineups played 236 minutes together for UNC last year, putting up an elite efficiency margin of +36.9 (ORtg: 134.5, DRtg: 97.6). With Berry at PG, flanked by Pinson and Jackson at the 2 and 3 spots– the likely starting lineup pre-injury– that number was even higher at +39.5 in 115 minutes (ORtg: 131.7, DRtg: 92.2).

And, while Jackson is still an option to slide to the 4 in a small line-up, Pinson’s loss eliminates a key weapon from the Heels’ postseason run last March. In the table that follows, UNC’s 2016 small-ball usage and effectiveness is summarized. In the vast majority of those single-post minutes (nearly 95%), Jackson and Pinson were on the court at the 3/4 spots. As seen, Williams usage of the small lineups nearly doubled during Carolina’s 9-game postseason run (ACC + NCAA Tournaments). While playing nearly a fifth of total minutes, those lineups posted a dominating net efficiency of +52.9. They were especially devastating on the offensive end, racking up a ridiculous 1.49 points per possession (and scoring 97 points / 40 minutes).

pinson-2

Though the 2016-17 Tar Heels have plenty of depth of rotational flexibility, Roy Williams will be hard-pressed to replace the versatility of Theo Pinson. The good news is that guys like Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson, and Luke Maye will get more early-season minutes to gain valuable experience. And, optimistically, Pinson will return in plenty of time for the stretch run– the period when his small-ball contributions will be most necessary. But, if Carolina does struggle a bit early in the season, the absence of Pinson shouldn’t be overlooked as an important factor.