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Month: January 2017

The Primary Break: UNC-Pitt Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-Pitt Quick Takes

A few quick statistical nuggets following Tuesday night’s Carolina-Pitt game:

  • With 58.5, this was only the sixth game of the Roy Williams era with fewer than 60 possessions. The Heels are now 6-0 in those contests:
    • UNC-Notre Dame—3-27-16 (NCAA Tournament): 88-74 in 57 possessions
    • UNC-Boston College—2-19-11: 48-46 in 58 possessions
    • UNC-Virginia—3-12-16 (ACC Tournament): 61-57 in 58 possessions
    • UNC-Pittsburgh—1-31-17: 80-78 in 58.5 possessions
    • UNC-Miami—2-12-06: 80-70 in 59 possessions
    • UNC-Boston College—3-10-07 (ACC Tournament): 71-56 in 59 possessions
  • The Heels are 3-3 in six games under Williams with exactly 60 possessions, however.
  • Obviously, the Carolina offense was really efficient and the defense was really poor. The Heels scored 1.36 PPP, but allowed 1.34.
  • After missing 10 consecutive shots at the rim (and 12 straight 2-pointers dating back to early in the Boston College game), Joel Berry completed a huge “and-1” to give UNC a 74-70 lead with 1:38 left.
  • It was a tale of two halves for Pitt’s shot selection. It attempted 18 2-pointers and 11 3-pointers in the first half, making 72.2% and 27.3%, respectively. In the second half, the Panthers shot 18 3s (making 55.6%)and only 7 2s (making 57.1%). Suffice it to say, the Heels weren’t getting a ton of stops inside or outside the arc on Tuesday.
  • With 20 points, Justin Jackson moved past Pete Brennan and Rusty Clark into 39th place in UNC history with 1344. Danny Green’s 38th with 1368 points.
  • Kennedy Meeks’ three blocks moved him into a tie with Ed Davis for 15th in Tar Heel history with 129. Tyler Zeller is 14th with 130; Serge Zwikker is 13th with 132.
  • Joel Berry’s five made 3-pointers give him 140 in his Carolina career, moving past Jeff McInnis into 17th place all-time. He’s connected on 39.5% of them, the seventh-highest mark among those in the top 17. Justin Jackson, who made three 3s, is now tied with P.J. Hairston for 19th place on that list. He’s made 34.0%, the second-lowest of those Tar Heels in the top 20 (above only Leslie McDonald’s 33.3%).
  • The Berry-Britt-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks lineup played 12:28 together, leading 27-24 in those minutes. The starting 5 logged just 8:20 together (due, in part, to Kenny Williams’ injury), trailing 18-14 in that time.
  • With three dunks, Isaiah Hicks moved into first in the ACC with 34 on the season (NC State’s Abdul-Malik Abu has 33). He has 113 in his UNC career. Tuesday’s dunks were assisted by Britt (twice) and Berry, and three Heels (Britt, Berry, and Jackson) are now tied for the team lead with 10 assisted dunks. Williams has assisted on 9.

I’ll be charting this one soon, and will be back with a game breakdown. It will probably involve UNC’s defense, as that’s the thing that really stood out to me (and not in a good way) upon the initial viewing.

Carolina’s Best Defensive Performances

Carolina’s Best Defensive Performances

Let’s break down a few of Carolina’s best (and worst) defensive performances 0f the 2016-17 season—both from a team and individual perspective.

At the team level, we’ll compare UNC’s single-game defensive efficiency to its opponent’s seasonal adjusted offensive efficiency (per The single-game numbers for Heels aren’t adjusted for venue (but should be in a proper analysis—I got a little quick and dirty here). For the sake of this piece, a positive differential means that Carolina held an opponent to a lower (i.e., better) offensive efficiency than its adjusted number for the season. That is, holding a team with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 110 to a single-game mark of 100 would rate as a +10.

Based on this simple metric, the Heels’ top and bottom defensive performances through 23 games have been:

Best Defensive Games:

  1. NC State—Opp. Adj. OE: 112.7; UNC’s Game DE: 67.5; Differential:+45.2
  2. Chattanooga—Opp. Adj. OE: 109.5; UNC’s Game DE: 73.1; Differential: +36.2
  3. Northern Iowa—Opp. Adj. OE: 98.6; UNC’s Game DE: 63.6; Differential: +35.0
  4. Radford—Opp. Adj. OE: 96.9; UNC’s Game DE: 64.9; Differential: +32.0
  5. Wisconsin—Opp. Adj. OE: 116.6; UNC’s Game DE: 86.2; Differential: +30.4
  6. Oklahoma St.—Opp. Adj. OE: 122.5; UNC’s Game DE: 96.2; Differential: +26.3

Worst Defensive Games:

  1. Kentucky—Opp. Adj. OE: 121.6; UNC’s Game DE: 133.8; Differential: -12.2
  2. Boston College—Opp. Adj. OE: 103.3; UNC’s Game DE: 109.3; Differential: -6.0
  3. Miami—Opp. Adj. OE: 109.3; UNC’s Game DE: 110.0; Differential: -0.7
  4. Virginia Tech—Opp. Adj. OE: 113.8; UNC’s Game DE: 112.5; Differential: +1.3
  5. Georgia Tech—Opp. Adj. OE: 101.4; UNC’s Game DE: 100.0; Differential: +1.4

Astute readers may have noticed that the last three games (Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami) have been among Carolina’s four worst defensive outings of the season (better only than the Malik Monk-fueled Kentucky outburst in Las Vegas). After a fairly consistent (and consistently above-average) first 20 games of the season, the Heels have been trending in the wrong direction in terms of defensive efficiency. When grouping the differentials by five-game segments, UNC’s posted the following numbers:

  • Games 1-5: +14.3
  • Games 6-10: +23.2
  • Games 11-15: +11.1
  • Games 16-20: +16.7
  • Games 21-23: -1.8

Indeed, UNC’s adjusted defensive efficiency, residing in the top 10 for most of the season, has fallen the whole way to No. 23 according to Pomeroy.

Best Individual Defensive Games:

  • Joel Berry vs. Chattanooga: 4.5 points allowed on 3.5 FGAs; 7.5 forced turnovers (3 drawn offensive fouls); 13 deflections; 4 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 2 floorburns
    • This remains (by far) the most disruptive game by a Tar Heel defender this season: the 7.5 forced turnovers, 3 drawn offensive fouls, and 13 deflections remain team season-highs. With Berry leading the way, Carolina forced turnovers on a season-best 33.3% of all possessions against Chattanooga.
  • Joel Berry vs. Chaminade: 4 points allowed on 5 FGAs; 5 forced turnovers; 8 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (1 OR allowed); 1 floorburn
    • Another example of how disruptive the early-season Berry was (albeit against an overmatched opponent here).
  • Kenny Williams vs. Oklahoma State: 0 points allowed on 1 FGA, 1 forced turnover (1 drawn offensive foul); 4 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 2 floorburns
    • Williams played 21 minutes in this one—many of them against Cowboy sharpshooter Phil Forte (arguably the most dangerous 3-point shooter in the nation)—allowing only a single shot while pitching a defensive shutout. His defensive effort was a big reason why the Heels held Oklahoma State—the nation’s second-ranked offense—to under a point per possession.
  • Kennedy Meeks vs. Wisconsin: 8.5 points allowed on 10 FGAs; 4 forced turnovers; 3 deflections; 13 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 1 floorburn
    • Meeks did a great job defending Wisconsin’s star post player Ethan Happ, while also corralling 13 defensive rebounds without allowing a single offensive board (albeit, most of them were conceded in favor of defensive floor balance/stopping transition).
  • Seventh Woods vs. Radford: 4.5 points allowed on 6.5 FGAs; 4.5 forced turnovers; 6 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 2 floorburns
    • After Berry left with an injury, Woods entered to play good minutes on both ends. Per-40 minutes this season, he’s been slightly more disruptive than Berry (7.98 deflections / 40 and 3.98 forced TOs / 40 vs. 7.37 and 3.72).
  • Nate Britt vs. Northern Iowa: 1.5 points allowed on 1 FGA; 4.5 forced turnovers (1 drawn offensive foul); 4 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed)
    • Britt’s quickness helped to fuel Carolina’s best raw defensive outing of the season (a defensive efficiency of 63.6) against the Panthers.
  • Kennedy Meeks @Clemson: 4 points allowed on 11 FGAs; 1.5 forced turnovers; 1 deflection; 6 defensive rebounds (2 ORs allowed)
    • Clemson shot just 1-of-11 on field goal attempts that Meeks defended/was responsible for.
  • Theo Pinson vs. NC State: 5 points allowed on 4 FGAs; 5 forced turnovers; 5 deflections; 4 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 2 floorburns
    • Pinson played just 14 minutes in his first game back from injury, but still made a huge defensive impact.
  • Joel Berry vs. NC State: 4.5 points allowed on 5.5 FGAs; 3 forced turnovers; 5 deflections; 5 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 1 floorburn
    • Berry was also huge against NC State, easily winning his individual battle with Dennis Smith, Jr. (11 points on 11 FGAs with 6 turnovers). Smith’s early foul trouble played a role here, and this will be a fascinating matchup to watch in the rematch in Raleigh.
  • Isaiah Hicks @Wake Forest: 4.5 points allowed on 12 FGAs; 0 forced turnovers; 1 deflection; 5 defensive rebounds (1 OR allowed)
    • Hicks wasn’t very disruptive in this game, but played active help-side defense to limit the Deacs to 2-of-12 shooting on field goals that he defended. His five defensive rebounds (to only 1 offensive rebound allowed) also represented a solid performance 0n the glass.
  • Joel Berry vs. Florida State: 4.5 points allowed on 10 FGAs; 5 forced turnovers (1 drawn offensive foul); 6 deflections; 2 defensive rebounds (0 OR allowed); 2 floorburns
    • Like against NC State, Berry easily won the point guard battle, helping to limit Xavier Rathan-Mayes (a Carolina killer in the past) to 6 points on 6 FGAs with 5 turnovers.

Worst Individual Defensive Games:

  • Isaiah Hicks @Hawaii: 13.5 points allowed on 5.5 FGAs; 0.5 forced turnovers; 0 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (2 ORs allowed); 0 floorburns
    • Noah Allen, a UCLA transfer, proved a tough inside-outside cover for Hicks, as he went for 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting.
  • Isaiah Hicks vs. Davidson: 16 points allowed on 9 FGAs; 1.5 forced turnovers; 1 deflection; 1 defensive rebound (0 ORs allowed); 0 floorburns
    • Again, Hicks struggled with an opposing 4 who possessed both perimeter shooting and post-up/driving skills. This time it was the Wildcats’ Peyton Aldridge who scored 22 points on 15 FGAs.
  • Justin Jackson vs. Tennessee: 16 points allowed on 9 FGAs; 1 forced turnover; 3 deflections; 3 defensive rebounds (1 OR allowed); 0 floorburns
    • Jackson was taken to school a bit (especially in the first half) by athletic wing Robert Hubbs III. He scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, although the second half (after a 7-7 Hubbs first half) was more typical of Jackson’s brand of positional defense to deny shot opportunities.
  • Joel Berry @Wake Forest: 18 points allowed on 6.5 FGAs; 2.5 forced turnovers; 3 deflections; 2 defensive rebounds (2 ORs allowed); 1 floorburn
    • Berry was still somewhat disruptive in this one, but struggled to defend 3s (went under a screen or 2) and limit the penetration of Wake’s Bryant Crawford.
  • Justin Jackson vs. Florida State: 16.5 points allowed on 8.5 FGAs; 0 forced turnovers; 1 deflection; 2 defensive rebounds (1 OR allowed); 0 floorburns
    • Jackson struggled a bit to contain FSU’s athletic wings, although some of this was just a result of allowing a couple tough makes over solid positional defense.
  • Luke Maye vs. Syracuse: 11 points allowed on 5.5 FGAs; 0 forced turnovers; 0 deflections; 0 defensive rebounds (3 ORs allowed); 0 floorburns
    • Maye allowed a couple of early offensive rebounds/stick-backs to Tyler Roberson, then a couple of second-half hoops to a red-hot Tyler Lydon. Other than allowing 11 points in just 13 minutes (and giving up 3 offensive rebounds), the rest of Maye’s defensive box score was goose eggs: 0 forced turnovers, 0 deflections, and 0 defensive rebounds.
  • Joel Berry @Boston College: 17 points allowed on 11 FGAs; 2 forced turnovers; 6 deflections; 0 defensive rebounds (0 ORs allowed); 1 floorburn
    • Although Berry wasn’t directly responsible (transition, ball screens, etc.) for many of Ky Bowman’s 33 points, he still had a tough time containing the freshman. When Berry is active and engaged on the defensive end, the Heels have proven to be elite. But he’s also had some lapses in concentration and sustained effort/energy (during which UNC looks mediocre on the defensive end). There’s a lot on Berry’s shoulders on both ends this season, so it’ll be instructive to continue monitoring his defensive energy.
  • Nate Britt @Miami: 21 points allowed on 6.5 FGAs; 0.5 forced turnovers; 2 deflections; 2 defensive rebounds (1 OR allowed); 2 floorburns
    • In UNC’s most recent game, Britt allowed the most points of any Tar Heel defender this season—21 on just 6.5 FGAs (including 8-of-9 from the line—albeit three of those point were in late-game, intentional foul situations). Bruce Brown, Miami’s long and athletic SG, had his way shooting mid-range jumpers over Britt. Without the services of Theo Pinson, the Heels might continue to struggle against wing length during Williams’ minutes on the bench (although Woods at the 2 looked to be an intriguing defense option in the Miami second half—he’s a couple inches taller, and significantly stronger/more physical than Britt as a wing defender).

It should be noted that the “bad” defensive lines aren’t generally equal in magnitude to a corresponding good offensive line. That is, individual defenders don’t often allow 25+ points. This is because some portion of points (usually between 5 and 20 per game) are allocated to the “team” for things like transition hoops or baskets after an unsuccessful half-court trap. Also, responsibility for many made baskets is often split between multiple defenders (e.g., for things like high screen defense or drive-and-kick 3s).

Moses Malone-ing It

Moses Malone-ing It

Note: this post originally appeared at Carolina Data Desk, a data journalism initiative in the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.

In a recent interview, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams remarked that this year’s team is “Moses Malone-ing it” on the offensive glass, suggesting that maybe the team’s offensive rebounding statistics are somewhat inflated by offensive rebounds coming off of missed easy layups. From my own experience watching games this season, this seems like a plausible phenomenon, with Kennedy Meeks the most obviously guilty party. While there is anecdotal evidence supporting this theory, what do the numbers show?1

North Carolina currently leads the nation with a rebound margin of 14.5 (which is over two rebounds per game higher than the next largest margin) and offensive rebounds per game. It also leads the nation in offensive rebounding percent, rebounding 43 percent of its missed shots, according to Inside Carolina. However, it is difficult to discern how much this is due to superior rebounding ability and how much it is due to poor finishing at the rim. In a recent News & Observer article, Williams addressed this trend:

“We’d lay it up and get it and lay it up and get it and lay it up and get, lay it up and get it – ‘Well, God, they’re a great rebounding team.’ Well, dang, we’re 1-for-4. So it’s a little bit inflated by that.”

Just over 13 percent of Carolina’s offense rebounds this year are coming from players rebounding their own missed shots (we’ll refer to this stat as OwnOR%). Compared to the rest of the ACC, this is actually quite low, ranking second to last in the league. Virginia Tech has the highest rate in the conference, with nearly 30 percent of its offensive rebounds coming from players rebounding their own missed shots. Since the 2005-06 season, only two other Carolina teams have had a lower rate of offensive rebounds coming from a player’s own missed shots.

This trend holds if we narrow our results to the percent of offensive rebounds coming from a player’s own missed layups (we’ll call this OwnLayupOR%). In this metric, Carolina ranks 12th in the ACC at about 7 percent.

Compared to past Carolina teams, this year’s team has a relatively high percent of its rebounds coming from a player’s own missed layups. Only three other years have had higher rates.


Another possible play outcome that could artificially inflate team offensive rebounding numbers is missed layups being rebounded by players other than the shooter. Calculating the portion of offensive rebounds coming off of any player’s missed layup (we’ll call this LayupOR%), Carolina falls right in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Virginia Tech also leads the league in LayupOR% (at almost 40 percent) and OwnLayupOR% (at nearly 16 percent).2


While as a team Carolina does not appear to be “Moses Malone-ing it,” what about individually? If you are a Carolina fan, you have probably yelled “Just dunk it!” at some point this season following a missed Kennedy Meeks layup. Unsurprisingly for those familiar with this year’s team, Meeks has a higher OwnOR% than his teammates, at least among those who have a significant number of offensive rebounds. (Half of Joel Berry’s offensive rebounds are off his own missed shots, but he only has six offense rebounds on the year).

The following chart provides a breakdown of Carolina’s offensive rebounds by shooter. For clarity, it is limited to only players with at least 20 offensive rebounds on the season. (After the six players with over 20 offensive rebounds this season, Brandon Robinson and Theo Pinson are next with nine). From this chart, we can see that Meeks and Tony Bradley have a comparatively large number of their offensive rebounds coming from their own missed shots, and the other top offensive rebounders have comparatively fewer. Intuitively, this makes sense, since Meeks and Bradley take more of their shots in the paint, where it is more likely that they will be able to clean up their misses.


Meeks leads the conference in offensive rebounds per game with 3.9. Of all ACC players with at least 20 offensive rebounds on the season, he ranks ninth in both OwnOR% and OwnLayupOR%. Most notable of those with a higher OwnOR% than Meeks is Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, who ranks third in the conference with 3.4 offensive rebounds per game and has an OwnOR% of just over 27 percent, compared to Meeks’s 22 percent.

Even when examining offensive rebounds coming only off of other players missed shots, Meeks is still a force on the offensive boards. Adjusting for number of games played, Meeks is second in the ACC behind only Clemson’s Sidy Djitte in offensive rebounds following teammates’ missed shots.


How does Meeks stack up historically among recent Carolina teams? Over the last 12 seasons (including this one), there have been 85 players who have collected at least 20 rebounds in a season. Of these, Meeks this season ranks 14th in terms of his OwnOR%, which is currently 22%.

Tyler Hansbrough has the highest rate among post players, posting an OwnOR% above 30 percent in both the 2007 and 2009 seasons.

On the flip side, Brice Johnson last season finished with an OwnOR% of just 12 percent. Given Johnson’s stellar 61 percent field goal shooting, it is hardly surprising that a smaller portion of his total offensive rebounds came off his own shots. Meeks, currently shooting 52 percent on the season, has more opportunities to rebound his own misses than Johnson did.

As a team, North Carolina’s offensive rebounding stats do not appear to be inflated due simply to missing layups and rebounding them. Virginia Tech actually leads the league in “Moses Malone-ing it.”

Although Kennedy Meeks does appear to be “Moses Malone-ing it” to some degree with a comparatively lower field goal shooting percentage and higher percentage of total offensive rebounds coming from his own missed shots, his stats are not out of line with those of other current ACC and past UNC players. Even if his offensive rebounding stats are slightly inflated, he is still having an outstanding year on the offensive glass. Ol’ Roy’s complaints are warranted, but he may be exaggerating somewhat in an attempt to motivate his players.

1. [All data used in this post was web scraped from play-by-plays on ESPN and For the current season, this includes only games played before January 24th. The data is available in Carolina Data Desk’s Google Drive here.]
2. [Although typical OR% stats refer to number of offensive rebounds out of total missed shots, our metrics of OwnOR%, OwnLayupOR%, and LayupOR% refer to the number of offensive rebounds of that particular type out of all offensive rebounds.]

Rock You Like a Hurricane

Rock You Like a Hurricane

After a quick 11-2 start on the road, things were looking good early on for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. But following a Jim Larranaga timeout at the 16:37 mark of the first half (after Justin Jackson’s transition finish extended UNC’s lead to nine), and Miami’s subsequent switch to a 2-3 zone, Saturday’s game turned quickly and dramatically.

Let’s take a look at the first several possessions after that timeout, and see how Hurricanes were able to completely take the game over.

UM1 (11-5): Miami’s first post-timeout possession began with a cheap hand-check foul on Joel Berry, who was applying good ball pressure on Ja’Quan Newton. I’m not sure if this played a factor in dissuading the Heels’ defensive aggression, but it certainly didn’t help. The bigger issue, though, was the complete lack of made shots after which UNC could set its defense/apply three-quarter-court ball pressure. As Williams is prone to do after a timeout, Carolina came out and applied a half-court trap. It didn’t lead to either a turnover or a Miami attack, simply an offensive reset. The ‘Canes then had Kamari Murphy set a ball screen for Bruce Brown, with Kenny Williams and Kennedy Meeks defending it for the Heels. Isaiah Hicks was (correctly) helping in the paint against the rolling Murphy, opening up Anthony Lawrence on the left wing for a 3-pointer over a late-recovering Hicks. This was simply good pick-and-roll offense/shot-making by Miami. UNC shut down the main options (Brown drive, Murphy roll), but took its chances with a Lawrence 3-pointer (he’s hit 20 in 20 games, and went 1-4 behind the arc on Saturday).

UNC1 (11-5): After allowing 11 points in six man-to-man trips, Miami’s first possession of zone ended with a missed Berry 3 from the left wing. This shot was well-defended, and occurred after a routine perimeter pass from Williams in the secondary break. There were no paint touches (either via the pass or the dribble) prior to this shot and, although Berry can hit tough ones, this qualified as poor shot selection. As they’d do on all five misses during this run, the ‘Canes controlled the defensive rebound.

SUBSTITUTION: Nate Britt in for Kenny Williams

UM2 (11-8): Davon Reed received a down screen from Netwon, then curled to accept a dribble hand-off from Murphy. Jackson, who was knocked off course by the Newton screen, was a step behind the entire time on the curl. Meeks flat-hedged the dribble hand-off, preventing Reed from turning the corner but allowing him a clean look from behind the arc (as Jackson was too late to recover). Reed knocked down the right-wing 3, as Jackson’s poor navigation of the Reed curl put Meeks in a no-win spot as the help defender.

UNC2 (13-8): With Miami showing a bit of confusion about whether it was in man or zone, Hicks rifled a high-low secondary-break entry into Meeks, who had established deep position in the middle of the paint. He immediately turned over his left shoulder to connect on a little 5-foot leaning hook.

UM3 (13-11): Miami ran big-big ball screen action with its 5 (Murphy) setting a screen for its 4 (Lawrence). Hicks and Meeks correctly switched this exchange, with Hicks blanketing the rolling Murphy. Britt, however, was caught over-helping in the paint against the (covered) roller, then bumped into Hicks a bit when starting his closeout to the wing. All of that resulted in a clean right-wing 3 for Brown. Britt was in the right (initial) spot as a pick-and-roll help defender (just like Hicks’ help in UM1 above), but lacked the situational awareness to realize that the bigs had switched the screen and snuffed out the roller. He also took a bad route on the closeout.

UNC3 (13-11): On this zone possession, UNC got a high-post touch for Meeks near the left elbow, and he immediately kicked out to Jackson near the top of the key. This type of inside-out ball movement worked great on several occasions against Virginia Tech’s zone, but Jackson’s 3-pointer was blocked by a recovering Brown. At 6’8″, Jackson’s not used to having his jumpers affected (much less blocked), and this was just a testament to Brown’s tremendous length and athleticism on the wing.

UM4 (13-13): The blocked Jackson 3 served as a type of live-ball turnover, with Newton able to get the whole way to the rim in transition for an athletic finish against a scrambled defense.

UNC4 (13-13): With Miami’s zone really over-shading to prevent perimeter looks for Berry and Jackson, the Heels overloaded the left side with both their shooters. This opened up Meeks in the left short corner for a lightly contested 10-foot catch-and-shoot jumper (Serge Zwikker would have been licking his chops!). Though Meeks can hit this shot, he missed this one. This was good zone offense by the Heels, but also probably a case of them taking what Miami was giving rather than taking what they wanted.

SUBSTITUTION: Luke Maye in for Isaiah Hicks

UM5 (13-15): Miami ran a staggered ball screen for Newton with its two bigs. Berry got over the top of the initial screen (by Maye’s man), but went underneath the second one (by Meeks’ man). By going underneath, Berry created a bad recovery angle (impeded by the flat-hedging Meeks), which allowed Newton to turn the corner and get into the paint. Once there, he ran into Maye, who had made an excellent help rotation and was setting a pretty textbook defensive wall. Newton, however, simply jumped right into Maye’s body, hanging in the air to finish at the rim. This is simply a case where a positional paint defender got scored over by a more athletic guard—a good example of where UNC’s lack of a rim protector/shot-blocker can hurt it in some lineup combos.

UNC5 (16-15): Maye’s first offensive possession worked out much better than his initial defensive one, though. After Jackson found him in the left short corner, Maye immediately attacked a gap in the Hurricanes’ zone. By taking a single dribble towards the middle of the paint, Maye was able to collapse the zone and free up a kick-out opportunity to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson knocked down the 3, and this was one of UNC’s better zone possessions of the game.

UM6 (16-18): Miami ran the identical staggered screen for Newton that it used on the previous possession. This time, Berry and Meeks did a much better job of the hedge-and-recovery choreography (although Berry again went over the first and under the second screen) which resulted in an offensive reset. Late in the clock, the ‘Canes ran a ball screen for Reed with Jackson defending the ball and Meeks hedging. Britt, again, was helping in the paint against the roller. This time, Britt did a much better job with his recovery timing/route, closing out to Brown in good position. With five seconds left on the shot clock, however, and Brown launching a deep 23-footer from the left wing, Britt made a silly foul to give Miami three foul shots (Brown made them all). This was actually one of UNC’s better defensive possessions of the half, and it resulted in a deep, contested 3 against an expiring clock. It was only a freshman mistake by one of Carolina’s seniors that turned an empty trip into a(nother) 3-point one.

SUBSTITUTIONS: Brandon Robinson and Tony Bradley in for Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks

UNC6 (16-18): In another possession against the Miami zone, the Heels were unable to get any paint, high post, or short corner touches. They did lightly probe gaps with the dribble a bit, including Berry’s drive-and-kick to set up a right-wing 3 for Britt. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Britt missed his 3 (he’s now 2-of-13 this year in seconds 25-30 of the clock—though most of those are contested mid-rangers off the dribble rather than clean catch-and-shoots behind the arc) and the ‘Canes again forced a one-and-done by corralling the defensive board.

UM7 (16-20): Berry played pretty good transition defense to stop Newton’s advance with the ball, leading to a dribble hand-off exchange with Brown. Robinson was bumped slightly off course by Newton following the hand-off, allowing Brown to get into the heart of the paint. When Maye stepped up to help against the drive, it set up a drive-and-dish opening with Murphy receiving the pass. Tony Bradley actually made a strong help-the-helper rotation to contest Murphy’s layup at the rim; the 5th-year senior just overpowered the Carolina freshman in the air to finish through contact.

UNC7 (16-20): Robinson threw a nifty little bounce pass against the zone to locate Maye in the high post. Maye immediately faced up and launched a 17-footer from the left elbow, which missed short. The front-rim miss resulted in a long rebound, which Britt casually pursued from the right wing. Britt’s lackadaisical effort allowed Newton to win a 50-50 ball, and immediately trigger Miami’s transition game (since Britt was out of position after unsuccessfully crashing for the offensive board). Berry, who had retreated as a safety in transition, was forced to pick up Dewan Huell to prevent a hit-ahead dunk. This led to a Newton vs. Maye mismatch on the ball, one in which Newton was easily able to exploit by getting all the way to the rim for a left-hand finish. Berry immediately pushed the ball back the other way after the make, but his layup attempt was altered at the rim. It would be knocked out of bounds to the Heels, setting up the under-12 timeout with 11:49 left in the first half.

As documented above, Miami scored on eight consecutive possessions as part of its 20-5 run. Moreover, half of those scores were worth three points (three 3s and a 3-shot foul), as the ‘Canes put up a gaudy PPP of 2.50 over their run. Defense wasn’t the only issue (or even the biggest issue) for the Heels, though. The two empty trips to end this run (UNC6 and UNC7) began a 19-possession span in which UNC would score only two points (allowing Miami to open up a 35-18 lead). After scoring 16 points in its first 11 possessions (PPP of 1.45), Carolina would score just six over the final 23 of the opening half (PPP of 0.26).

This is game in which UNC missed Pinson’s presence on both ends, but most notably as a taller wing defender. Williams did a solid job on the athletic, 6’5″ Brown, but UNC really struggled defensively in its 2-PG lineups in the first half (i.e., with Britt at the 2). I’m still wrapping up the defensive charting, so might have more (or revised) thoughts on that once I’m finished.


Carolina’s 3-Point Barrage

Carolina’s 3-Point Barrage

The Heels had season-highs in both made (14) and attempted (30) 3s on Thursday night against Virginia Tech, as the perimeter explosion fueled a PPP of 1.42—another season-best. Let’s give a quick rundown of those 30 attempts:

By location:

  • Left corner: 1-3 (Berry: 0-0, Jackson: 0-1, Others: 1-2)
  • Left wing: 6-11 (Berry: 1-3, Jackson: 3-6, Others: 2-2)
  • Top of key: 4-7 (Berry: 2-4, Jackson: 1-1, Others: 1-2)
  • Right wing: 2-7 (Berry: 2-3, Jackson: 0-3, Others: 0-1)
  • Right corner: 1-2 (Berry: 0-0, Jackson: 1-1, Others: 0-1)

Jackson continues to sizzle from the left wing this season, as he’s now converting 52.8% of 3s (28-53) from that part of the court. Similarly, he continues to struggle on right-wing 3s, falling to 27.9% (12-43) on the season from that spot.

Berry’s numbers against Virginia Tech were also consistent with his season-to-date shooting trends. He’s now making 51.4% (19-37) of right-wing 3s and 48.1% (13-27) from the top of the key. From the left wing, however, Berry’s converting just 33.3% (11-33) from behind the arc.

By possession type:

  • Half-court: 11-24
  • Primary break: 2-3
  • Secondary break: 1-2
  • BLOB: 0-1
  • Zone: 9-18 (Berry: 4-6, Jackson: 4-9, Others: 1-3)

The Heels got most of their 3s in the half-court, as Virginia Tech basically conceded defensive rebounds to UNC in order to focus on floor balance. Between that and their zone defense, the Hokies did effectively slow down Carolina’s pace (a season-low 64 possessions). They didn’t, of course, slow down Carolina’s offense. Led by Berry and Jackson, the Heels were able to shoot Buzz Williams right out of his match-up zone. Jackson, who entered the game just 4-of-19 (21.1%) on 3s against the zone this season, hit four zone 3s in this one alone.

By potential assister (actual 3-point assists-potential 3-point assists):

  • Berry: 3-4
  • Pinson: 2-4
  • Unassisted/off-the-dribble: 1-4 (Berry: 1-2, Jackson: 0-1, Williams: 0-1)
  • Williams: 0-4
  • Maye: 2-2
  • Woods: 2-2
  • Meeks: 1-2
  • Hicks: 1-2
  • Jackson: 1-2
  • Britt: 0-2
  • Bradley: 1-1
  • Robinson: 0-1

As noted here, Carolina continues to be a very deep team in terms of assist distribution. All 11 of its rotation members had at least one potential 3-point assist against Virginia Tech; eight of the 11 had at least one 3-point assist (Kenny Williams was a bit unlucky to not be the ninth). In just 5:03 of court time, Theo Pinson set up four 3-pointers for his teammates—a pair of which they knocked down (Britt and Jackson). In his nine offensive possessions against the Hokies, Pinson scored on two of them and had potential assists on another five.

After missing its first three 3s, Carolina went on a tear that included seven made 3s (on nine attempts) in a 13-possession span. That red-hot shooting turned an 8-2 deficit into a 29-19 Tar Heel lead. The only two missed 3s in that stretch were both rebounded by UNC—one leading to a Pinson put-back, and the other a missed Jackson second-chance. Carolina then hit 3s on its first three possessions of the second half to extend an 11-point halftime lead to 17, and effectively TKO the Hokies’ hopes for a comeback.

Let’s chronologically recount how the Heels created their 14 made 3s (I have detail on all 30, but will focus on only makes for the sake of brevity):

  1. After UNC fell behind 8-2 just three possessions (two VT 3s and a layup after Berry-Meeks botched a ball screen) into the game, Berry hit one of his trademark big shots to wake up the Dean Dome. This one was in the secondary break, and involved a simple kick-back pass from trailing big Meeks at the top of the key. This one was from the deep (about 25 feet) left wing.
  2. Against Virginia Tech’s zone, Justin Jackson entered the ball to Luke Maye in the right short corner. With the Hokies consistently trapping the corners out their zone, Maye made a really nice escape dribble to the right corner before skipping a pass to Berry at the top of the key. This was a really good zone offense possession—hockey assist to Jackson, primary assist to Maye.
  3. On the very next possession, Maye and Berry teamed up again. This time, Williams entered the ball to Maye on the left block. After shot-faking, he again used an escape dribble to avoid the trap and set up an inside-out, right-wing 3 for Berry. More really good zone offense.
  4. Seventh Woods attacked a gap in VT’s zone defense, setting up a (long) dribble hand-off to Pinson who was stepping right into the shot at the top of the key.
  5. After collecting a live-ball steal, Pinson pushed the ball hard in transition, setting up a left-corner 3 for Nate Britt in the primary break.
  6. This time, it was Berry who attacked a gap in the Hokies’ match-up zone off the dribble. That drive from the right wing set up a nifty bounce pass to the right corner for a Jackson 3.
  7. Jackson received a routine perimeter pass against the zone from Pinson, knocking down a deep 24-footer from the top of the key (and taking advantage of some slight VT confusion/miscommunication). Unlike some earlier possessions, this wasn’t great zone offense execution (no paint/high post/short corner touches, or attacking of gaps with the dribble). It was simply great shot-making from Jackson. While the zone execution was significantly better/cleaner than against Georgia Tech, the shot-making/shot luck was much better, too. As Ol’ Roy likes to say, “It looks a lot better when the ball goes through the net.”
  8. Following a missed Berry 3, Britt grabbed a long offensive rebound, took a dribble back to reset the offense, then immediately entered the ball to Tony Bradley on the left block (VT was out of its zone by this point, and the Heels were looking to get the bigs involved in the post). After feeding the post, Britt instantly set a screen for/exchanged with Brandon Robinson, who received an inside-out pass from Bradley to hit a left-wing 3. Well-earned hockey assist for Britt.
  9. On the first possession of the second half, Virginia Tech came out in an extended 1-3-1 zone. UNC found Hicks in the right corner and, following a skip pass, found Williams in the left corner. Williams again reversed the ball to Jackson, who found Berry spotted up in his favorite right-wing location for the 3. More good zone offense, as the Heels made several side-to-side reversals to stretch the defense.
  10. Berry pushed the ball in secondary to get Meeks a high-post touch as the trailing big (a deeper initial touch than the usual top-of-the-key one). Meeks collapsed the defense with a single dribble into the paint, then kicked it out for a Williams-to-Berry-to-Jackson perimeter passing exchange that ended with a Jackson 3 from the left wing. I credited Meeks with the hockey assist here (on Berry’s primary assist).
  11. On the defensive end, Meeks got switched on to Seth Allen following a ball screen and easily drove him to the rim. Jackson’s strong help defense allowed him to block a shot (after an Allen drive-and-dish), which Meeks recovered to rebound. A quick Meeks outlet to Berry allowed the Heels to get out in transition, with Berry hitting Williams with a diagonal pass to set up an open left-wing 3 in the primary break.
  12. Britt threw a post entry to Hicks on the left block, with Jackson relocating to an open spot in the zone as defensive eyes focused on the paint. Hicks kicked out for a left-wing Jackson 3, another good example of UNC’s inside-out offensive system.
  13. The only unassisted 3 of the evening, Berry pulled up at the top of the key in transition and confidently stroked one off the dribble.
  14. UNC’s final 3 of the game (incidentally, UNC’s record for made 3s in a game is 17 by the great-shooting ’95 team vs. FSU (17-25); perhaps more impressively, the ’09 champs went 16-25 on the road at Maryland) occurred following late-clock Woods-Hicks ball screen action. Unable to create in isolation, Woods kicked it to Jackson (in a bad spot) with only a couple seconds left on the shot clock. Jackson bailed him out by drilling a deep 28-footer from his preferred left wing. A play nearly identical to this happened against Davidson, with Jackson bailing out Britt with a deep one from the same location.


The Primary Break: UNC-VT Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-VT Quick Takes

Here are some quick statistical nuggets from Thursday night’s 91-72 victory over Virginia Tech. I’ll be back with a more thorough breakdown after I have a chance to chart this one.

  • Both UNC’s 14 made 3s and 30 attempted 3s were season highs, topping the 12 and 27 against NC State.
  • Carolina shot 19 first-half 3s, more than it’s shot in 10 full games this year (and almost as many as its average of 19.5 entering the game).
  • Justin Jackson and Joel Berry combined to make 10 3s, and have now made 117 in 22 games (5.32 / game). The UNC record for a pair of teammates belongs to P.J. Hairston (89) and Reggie Bullock (88) in 2013, who combined to make 177 (4.92 / game).
  • At 64 possessions, this was UNC’s slowest game of the season. Northern Iowa (66), Wisconsin (67), and Syracuse (68) were the only other games under 70 possessions.
  • The Heels allowed 17 points on their first nine possessions, and 23 in their final 15. In between, they gave up just 32 points in 40 possessions (PPP of 0.80).
  • Carolina led 16-4 in Pinson’s 5:03 on the court prior to his ankle injury.
  • UNC drew three charges against the Hokies: two by Kenny Williams and one by Joel Berry. Williams leads the team with 12 offensive fouls drawn on the season, while Berry’s next with seven.

UNC Career Leaderboard Updates

  • In his 100th game as a Heel, Justin Jackson’s 26 points pushed him past 1300 in his career. He moved by York Larese, Joe Forte, George Karl, and Kevin Madden, and now ranks 42nd on UNC’s career leaderboard with 1303.
  • Kennedy Meeks moved past some big names—including Felton, Cota, Jones, and Carter—into 47th on Carolina’s scoring list. With 15 points against Virginia Tech, he now has 1269 in his career. Meeks’ 14 rebounds also moved him past John Henson and into a tie with Ademola Okulaja for 11th place in UNC history with 890. He’s looking like a safer and safer bet to reach 1000 in his career (he’d be the ninth Tar Heel to join that club; Brice Johnson became the eighth last season).
  • Nate Britt scored career point 700 when he knocked down a first-half 3. He’s got 702 as a Tar Heel.

Check back soon for some more content related to this big win. I’ll probably do something about Carolina’s 3-point shooting.


Ellington ’09 vs. Jackson ’17

Ellington ’09 vs. Jackson ’17

Last week, I ran a piece conducting a statistical comparison between Ty Lawson in 2009 and Joel Berry in 2017. This time around, let’s compare an ’09 wing to a ’17 one: Wayne Ellington and Justin Jackson. Although one (Ellington) was primarily a SG and the other (Jackson) mainly a SF, there’s not much difference in those wing roles offensively in Roy Williams’ system (other than the side they generally start on in the secondary break or box sets).

Like last time, let’s break it down with a series of side-by-side comparisons for: I.) Shooting/Scoring; II.) Passing/Turnovers; III.) Defense; and IV.) On-Court Impact.

I. Shooting/Scoring Comparison

  • The most obvious difference is that Jackson’s scoring a few more points per 40 minutes while using a higher fraction of the team’s shots when on the floor. The 2017 Heels, not as deep in offensive options as the 2009 edition, need Jackson to be more of an alpha scorer than Ellington was. Ellington (as measured by True Shooting %) was a slightly more efficient shooter than Jackson, although, considering their roles, there is probably some usage-efficiency trade-off going on (i.e., Ellington’s TS% would have dropped a bit that he needed to assume a larger offensive role; guess we could have tested this hypothesis if he would have returned in 2010).
  • The clear difference between how the two players score occurs in the mid-range. The two have nearly identical FTA Rates (and FT%), and similar profiles from at the rim and behind the arc (Ellington was slightly more efficient from both spots, while Jackson was a little more prolific). But their 5-10′ and 10-20′ profiles are essentially flipped. Ellington, who preferred the mid-range jumper off the dribble, shot 4.18 times / 40 from between 5-20′, with 74% of those occurring from outside of 10 feet. Jackson, on the other hand, attempted 72% of his 4.45 / 40 5-to-20-footers from inside of 10 feet (using his preferred floater).
    • Jackson made 41.1% of his floaters, while Ellington made only 31.0% of his.
    • Conversely, Ellington made 41.8% of his mid-range jumpers off the dribble, while Jackson has yet to make one this season (he’s 0-13 on the year). Jackson’s only made 5% (1-20) of his total attempts from between 10-20 feet. Ellington was a more complete four-level (at the rim, 5-10′, 10-20′, 3-pointers) scorer than Jackson, but each was essentially just a three-level scorer.
  • Ellington was a 3-point assassin from both wings (50.8% from the right, 46.2% from the left), whereas Jackson’s had a clear preference from the left wing (53.2% vs. 30.0% from the right).Ellington shot more frequently and efficiently from the deep corners.
  • Likewise, Ellington was a deadly 3-point shooter in transition (45.6% vs. 38.6% in the half-court), while Jackson has clearly been more effective as a half-court 3-point shooter (45.9% vs. 32.1% in transition—which includes secondary break attempts).

II. Passing/Turnover Comparison

  • The two wings had strikingly similar passing and turnover statistics. Jackson’s created more potential close assists / 40 than Ellington did, with most of them coming on entry passes or secondary break sets (slipped screens, lobs following backscreens, etc.). He’s a better, more prolific entry passer than Ellington was (making 7.5 entries / 40 with a Success:Failure of 1.30 vs. Ellington’s respective marks of 6.1 and 1.01).
  • Ellington also had over double the rate of ball-handling turnovers as Jackson. Jackson had slightly more traveling violations, offensive fouls, and passing turnovers. Overall, his turnover rate and A:TO were slightly better than Ellington’s (although both were excellent in these categories).

III. Defensive Comparison

  • Both would be considered “positional wing defenders,” as they had an emphasis on limiting opponents’ shot opportunities rather than causing defensive disruption. This is seen by the relatively low FGA / 40 and defensive usage (%DefPoss) numbers, as well as the low forced turnover/deflection ones.
  • Jackson’s been a slightly better defensive rebounder than Ellington, although, when looking at only Jackson’s wing minutes, that gap is shrunk. He has a DR% of 11.9 as a 3, and 16.3% as a 4.
  • Perhaps most interestingly, the team was significantly better on the defensive end with both players on the bench. In Ellington’s case, that generally meant Bobby Frasor at the 2. In Jackson’s case, it’s been a combination of Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams, and Theo Pinson at the 3. The usual caveats related to +/- apply here (very noisy, dependent on a bunch of other uncontrolled factors, etc.). It should be noted that each player’s Stop% was the lowest among rotation players on their respective rosters.
  • From an eye-test perspective, both players were fundamentally sound and didn’t make many glaring mistakes. They used sound defensive positioning (both on the ball and when navigating screens/chasing shooters) to generally discourage shot attempts against them. But they weren’t very disruptive (especially in Jackson’s case), and didn’t force many turnovers or much chaos/offensive discomfort. I’m still re-examining how to evaluate positional wing defenders like this. Clearly it’s important to minimize mistakes and prevent opposing FGAs. But is it more important to create defensive disruption (even if the trade-off is more open shots/clean looks for the opponent)?

IV. Plus/Minus/On-Court Impact Comparison

  • As mentioned above, each player had a below-average on-court/off-court defensive component (i.e., UNC posted a better defensive efficiency with them on the bench than on the floor). Jackson’s has been especially bad so far this season (the Heels have a defensive efficiency of 97.3 with him on the court, improving to 79.1 when he’s off the court).
  • On the offensive end, however, each player has been critically important to his team’s success. Ellington’s offensive on-court/off-court was especially pronounced: Carolina had an offensive efficiency of 124.6 with him on the floor in 2009, which dropped to 101.5 when he rested. The Heels also score dramatically better in 2017 with Jackson (121.0) than without him (109.1).
  • In Ellington’s case, the team’s vastly better offense outweighed its worse defense. In Jackson’s case, that hasn’t been true. Nobody’s calling for Jackson to play fewer minutes, of course—I can’t stress the caveats/limitations of +/- data enough. One might question, however, if Jackson should be on the floor if UNC needed one big stop to secure a victory.
Theo Pinson: All-Time Stat-Sheet Stuffer?

Theo Pinson: All-Time Stat-Sheet Stuffer?

Granted, he’s only played five games (and less than 100 minutes) in his junior campaign so far. But Theo Pinson is threatening to have the greatest stat-stuffing season in Carolina history (at least since 1979-80 when pace-adjusted data is available). In terms of pace-adjusted, per-40-minute stats, he’s currently averaging 13.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 2.5 steals. Only three other Tar Heels (including Derrick Phelps twice) have posted even 10-5-5-2 pace-adjusted, per-40 marks in those four categories (or substituting blocks for steals).

If you throw out the two steals (or blocks) criterion, an additional four Tar Heels (and five player-seasons) join the group: Matt Doherty in 1984, Steve Bucknall in 1988 and 1989, Brian Reese in 1994, and Dante Calabria in 1996. None of the 10-5-5 seasons has even reached the 10-6-6 club (with Phelps’ 10.8-5.8-7.3 in ’93 getting the closest), much less the 10-7-7 that Pinson is currently posting. Again, Pinson’s sample size is quite small (certainly many Heels have posted 10-7-7’s across a handful of games). He’ll be hard-pressed to match his numbers so far—especially in rebounds / 40 (and possibly assists / 40).  Putting up solid numbers across the board is nothing new to Pinson, however: as a freshman, his pace-adjusted, per-40 splits were 9.1-9.7-5.0-1.9; as a sophomore, they were 9.6-6.7-6.1-1.3.

It’s nice to see a couple of championship point guards (Phelps ’93 and Felton ’05) among the very exclusive list of 10-5-5-2 Heels. If Pinson continues to make this kind of across-the-board impact, it’s possible that the 2017 Carolina squad can also cut down the nets (albeit not with Pinson as a true point guard; it should be noted that Joel Berry’s per-40 statline of 20.0-4.3-5.1-1.9 is also on the list of “near-misses” at this point in the season).

Although steals weren’t officially tracked until the 1975-76 season (and minutes weren’t officially recorded either), Walter Davis’ sophomore season in 1974-75 warrants mentioning. His per-game (not per-40) averages were 16.1-6.3-4.4 that season. And, in each of the next two seasons, he’d average 2.4 steals (so it’s a safe bet that he would have exceeded 2.0 in 1975, too, had they been an acknowledged stat then). From the pre-steals/pre-minutes era, Charles Scott (22.3-7.1-3.4 in 1969) and Bobby Jones (15.0-10.5-3.9 in 1973) also deserve some love for their stuffed statlines. Danny Green’s 2008 campaign also warrants a special mention, as he had pace-adjusted, per-40 numbers of 19.0-8.2-3.3-2.0. While he lacked the assist numbers to qualify for the list, he did add 2.0 blocks / 40—making him pehaps the premiere 5-category stat-sheet filler in Tar Heel history.

While this isn’t a list of Carolina’s best seasons (although a few of the top ones can be found on it), it does do a good job of highlighting some of the most versatile Heels in the history of the program. By the time Pinson’s done in Chapel Hill, he might be fondly remembered as one of the best do-it-all Heels to ever play for UNC.

Stat-Sheet Stuffers: Carolina 10-5-5-2 Seasons Since 1979-80
Player Season MPG Pts/40 Reb/40 Asst/40 St/40
Theo Pinson 2017 18.1 13.1 11.5 7.4 2.5
Derrick Phelps 1993 28.1 10.8 5.8 7.3 3.0
Derrick Phelps 1994 27.5 12.5 5.2 7.2 2.5
Raymond Felton 2005 31.7 14.8 5.0 8.0 2.3
J.P. Tokoto 2015 29.1 11.5 7.8 5.9 2.0
Near Misses
Mike O’Koren 1980 34.7 17.6 9.0 4.3 1.8
Matt Doherty 1984 31.9 12.2 5.0 5.0 1.2
Steve Hale 1985 35.2 12.6 4.4 6.1 2.1
Steve Hale 1986 29.0 14.4 4.2 6.3 2.3
Steve Bucknall 1988 29.1 12.5 5.5 5.0 1.3
Steve Bucknall 1989 28.7 16.0 5.0 6.5 1.3
Rick Fox 1991 28.5 21.2 8.3 4.7 2.5
Derrick Phelps 1992 31.1 11.1 4.2 7.6 2.9
George Lynch 1992 29.2 17.9 11.4 3.4 2.6
Jerry Stackhouse 1994 21.0 21.7 8.9 3.5 2.1
Brian Reese 1994 21.1 13.8 6.9 5.0 1.1
Dante Calabria 1994 20.4 14.7 5.4 4.4 1.9
Jeff McInnis 1995 34.3 14.2 4.7 6.1 1.5
Dante Calabria 1996 35.1 15.0 5.1 5.0 1.2
Vince Carter 1997 27.6 18.9 6.5 3.5 2.1
Ed Cota 1998 33.0 10.0 4.5 9.2 2.0
Ed Cota 1999 36.3 12.1 4.9 8.5 1.3
Ed Cota 2000 36.5 11.1 4.8 8.9 1.3
Joe Forte 2001 34.7 22.6 6.6 3.8 2.2
Raymond Felton 2003 35.4 14.3 4.6 7.5 1.8
Raymond Felton 2004 34.6 12.5 4.3 7.7 2.3
David Noel 2006 33.7 14.8 7.8 4.0 1.3
Ty Lawson 2007 25.7 15.0 4.3 8.2 2.2
Ty Lawson 2008 25.3 18.5 4.0 7.5 2.3
Danny Green 2009 27.4 17.6 6.3 3.7 2.4
Reggie Bullock 2013 31.4 18.7 8.6 3.9 1.7
J.P. Tokoto 2014 28.7 12.9 8.1 4.2 2.3
Marcus Paige 2015 33.2 17.0 3.5 5.4 2.1
Joel Berry 2016 30.7 16.6 4.3 4.9 1.9
Joel Berry 2017 28.8 20.0 4.3 5.1 1.9
All per-40 stats are pace-adjusted
Best-Passing Teams in Carolina History

Best-Passing Teams in Carolina History

A couple caveats here regarding my potentially misleading title:

  • By “Carolina history,” I mean “Carolina history since the 1979-80 season”—the first year for which I have pace adjustments in my ACC dataset (I’m sure some earlier teams, notably the 1976-77 runners-up with Ford, Kuester, Davis, O’Koren, et al. would stake a claim to “best-passing team)
  • When measuring “best-passing team,” I’m actually measuring “passing depth”

Through 21 games, this year’s Carolina team has seven rotation players (defined as those playing at least 8 minutes/game) averaging at least 3 pace-adjusted assists per 40 minutes:

  1. Pinson: 7.36
  2. Woods: 5.59
  3. Berry: 5.09
  4. Britt: 4.92
  5. Robinson: 3.60
  6. Williams: 3.55
  7. Jackson: 3.26

An eighth, Luke Maye, is averaging 2.98 / 40. Now it’s certainly debatable whether this group can maintain that terrific assist distribution. Pinson, UNC’s leading per-minute assister, has only been back five games, so will continue to poach some assists from others. Correspondingly, Robinson (and possibly Woods) may be cut out of the rotation/fail to meet the threshold of 8 MPG by season’s end.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that all seven (excluding Maye) end of the season above 3 pace-adjusted assists per 40 minutes. How would that stack up against historical Tar Heel teams? As seen in the table below, it would actually be the first time that UNC has had that much passing depth on a single (post-1979) roster.

Is it the greatest passing team in Carolina history? No, probably not. But it is one of the deepest in terms of willing and able distributors.

Some notes related to the table/data:

  • Not surprisingly, the Carolina teams with the least amount of passing depth are those led by a transcendent passing talent (Kendall Marshall, Ed Cota, or Raymond Felton). When one guy’s gobbling up a bunch of them, there simply aren’t that many to go around. The beauty of the Carolina offensive system (both the free-lance passing game and the secondary break) is that it can operate at peak efficiency with a single great distributor dominating the assists, or a bunch of above-average ones sharing them.
    • Once Strickland went down after 19 games, the 2012 Heels only had one passer with 3+ assists / 40 (Marshall). Stilman White recorded 6.22 assists / 40 in limited minutes (and filled in, of course, after Marshall’s wrist injury in the NCAA Tournament). That team was especially dependent on a single play-maker.
  • The percentage of total field goals that were assisted on (the final column in the table) is just about the same for the top-nine (61.2%) and bottom-four (61.0%) teams. Again, this gets back to the UNC system (under Coaches Smith and Williams), which will always rank well in this category by prioritizing ball movement over isolation offense (for better or worse). This year’s Heels are assisting on 57.4% of their made shots—a little lower than the historical average due to this team’s penchant for put-backs/dominance of the offensive glass.
  • While UNC’s generally in a pretty tight (and higher-than-average) range for assisted field goal percentage (between about 55 and 65%), higher does not necessarily mean better in this metric. This is best exemplified by the 8-20 Heels of 2001-02, who posted the highest mark in the 1979-current timeframe at 67.5%.  That, of course, wasn’t an otherworldly passing team (with a Adam Boone and a freshman Melvin Scott platooning at the point). But since it had such a hard time scoring off of the dribble/creating offense or getting second-chance opportunities, most of the buckets that season were aided by an assist. There was simply no Ty Lawson (or Joel Berry) on that roster who was getting 60-70% of his hoops off the bounce.
  • As seen, the 2015 and 2016 Carolina teams are also on the list of teams with the most passing depth (with Britt and the junior-class trio of Pinson/Berry/Jackson showing up in all three seasons). This has been a good, unselfish core of Tar Heels (along with the departed Marcus Paige, of course).
  • This current team could also be the rare Carolina (and ACC) team with four players averaging at least 5 pace-adjusted assists per 40. Pinson, Woods, and Berry and currently, and Britt’s at 4.92 (although Berry’s been trending in the wrong direction since Theo’s return). It would join only the 1986 Heels (K. Smith (7.05), Hale (6.29), Lebo (5.71), Hunter (5.08)) on that list, although a couple other UNC teams were close:
    • 1984: Hale (7.05), K. Smith (6.78), Peterson (6.37), Doherty (4.97)
    • 1991: Rice (7.56), Phelps (7.11), Rodl (5.17), Fox (4.71)
    • 2015: Tokoto (5.93), Paige (5.42), Pinson (4.96), Berry (4.66)
  • Of the teams with six 3+ A/40 players, the 2007 Heels came the closest to adding a seventh, as Reyshawn Terry registered 2.91 / 40.

If I had to choose a single squad for the title of best-passing Carolina team (since 1979-80), I’d probably go with the 1986 roster. In addition to the six players shown in the table, it also had a senior Brad Daugherty (2.09 assists / 40) who would go on to become one of the best-passing centers in NBA history (but was too busy scoring 20.2 PPG on 64.8% shooting to rack up a ton of assists in ’86). Steve Bucknall and Ranzino Smith were also capable passing options off the bench in their limited roles as underclassmen.