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Author: Adrian

UNC’s Early Offense

UNC’s Early Offense

Yesterday, we looked at Carolina’s efficiency in the early offense (first 10 seconds of the shot clock) versus the half-court (seconds 11-30 of the clock). Against Virginia, true transition (i.e, primary break) opportunities are always at a premium, but that doesn’t mean that a team can’t create plenty of “early offense” chances against Tony Bennett’s team (through things like the secondary break, put-backs, and BLOBs/special situations). And, as seen in the piece from yesterday, the Heels have been more dominant in the half-court this season than in their (generally) preferred early offense.

A big storyline going into yesterday’s game was: who would win the battle of tempo? Since it’s much easier to slow down a game than speed it up, a better way to phrase the question might be: which team would win the early-offense battle, and which would win the half-court battle? Of course, if the same team won both of these facets, that team would obviously win the game (and possibly even dominate it). Yesterday, that team was North Carolina.

Let’s start by breaking down each team’s offensive efficiency by shot-clock segment:

Not surprisingly, Carolina had the clear advantage in early-offense opportunities. The Heels used 44% of their possessions within the first 10 seconds, nearly double the rate of Virginia (23%). In conjunction with UNC’s efficiency advantage in the half-court (a +29.7 margin in seconds 1-10), that gave the Heels a huge +18 (30-12) advantage in early-offense points. Despite having significantly fewer half-court opportunities than the Cavaliers, Carolina compensated by being dramatically more efficient with those chances (a half-court efficiency margin of +43.1). That resulted in a +6 in half-court scoring for North Carolina on Saturday night (35-29). When combining those two UNC advantages, it’s no surprise that the game was a blowout.

The one shot-clock segment that Virginia did control on both ends was late-clock situations. Carolina has held scoreless in its seven possessions in the final six seconds of the clock (0-4, with misses by Berry, Jackson, Britt, and Meeks with 3 TOs (by Berry, Jackson, and Woods (although it was erroneously charged to Britt in the box-score)). Seconds 25-30 of the clock was actually UVa’s most efficient segment, as it scored seven points in eight such possessions. Carolina, as it’s been all season, was especially lethal in seconds 18-24 of the shot clock. That’s generally a sweet spot that occurs after the offense has made the defense shift/probed for openings, but before it’s constrained by an expiring shot clock. In ACC games, the Heels have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.8 in that segment (in 132 possessions). Against the ‘Hoos, it was an even more impressive 177.8. This has also been UNC’s ACC opponents’ most-efficient half-court segment (as it generally is, perhaps for the “sweet spot” hypothesis I postulated above), but the Heels held UVa. to just 0.69 points per possession in seconds 18-24 (on a healthy 16 possessions).

Let’s quickly recap how the Heels created their 26 early-offense opportunities against Virginia, leading to 30 points. As mentioned earlier, the Cavs rarely give up true fast-break points since they generally concede crashing the offensive glass in favor of floor balance/getting back in transition defense. But that’s part of the beauty of Roy Williams’ secondary break system. These are listed chronologically:

  1. Out of one of Carolina’s signature secondary-break actions, Pinson threw a lob for a Hicks dunk. Hicks received a Berry back screen after setting a ball screen for Pinson. Pinson continues to set up UNC’s big for easy hoops: his three assists against Virginia were all to post players (two to Meeks, and this one to Hicks) for a dunk, a layup, and a short hook shot.
  2. Using a secondary-break ball screen from Meeks, Pinson drove the lane but was called for a push-off/offensive foul. His five turnovers this season are three bad passes and two offensive fouls (to go along with 30 assists, plus seven FT assists).
  3. After Berry picked up a backcourt steal, he missed a floater in the lane following the live-ball turnover.
  4. This one was created by another live-ball turnover—this time it was Britt stripping a driving Perrantes with Jackson picking up the loose ball. Jackson pushed it coast-to-coast to draw a foul in a rare primary break opportunity against UVa. He split the free throws.
  5. Jackson hit a secondary break 3 after coming off a Maye screen to receive a dribble hand-off from Britt near the top of the key (shading towards Jackson’s preferred left wing). This transition opportunity was preceded by a long 3-point miss from UVa with a second left on the clock, leading to a long rebound by Bradley.
  6. Bradley tipped around an offensive rebound several times before it was eventually secured by Maye. Maye immediately shoveled it back to Bradley for a FT assist at the rim. Bradley split a pair of free throws, and this was more evidence of the chemistry that’s developed between Carolina’s back-up frontcourt duo.
  7. Berry carelessly lost his dribble out of bounds when attempting to start Carolina’s secondary break from the right wing. It was Berry’s team-high 10th ball-handling turnover of the season (although Woods’ per-40 rate of ball-handling TOs is nearly three times as high as Berry’s).
  8. In a seldom-used baseline out of bounds (BLOB) set, Roy Williams called a play to create a look for the red-hot Jackson. He curled off a staggered double screen from Hicks and Robinson to receive a Woods pass from his left-wing hot spot (Jackson’s made 34-of-65 3s (52.3%) from the left wing, including 2-of-4 vs. Virginia). Although he missed this one, I thought it was a great call by Williams to get his leading scorer a shot.
  9. Woods waved the trailing Hicks out of his usual secondary spot at the top of the key in order to set up a quick hitter out of UNC’s 1-4 alignment. Jackson curled off of a Hicks screen to receive a pass from Woods and hit a floater in the paint while drawing an “and-1.” He’s convert the old-fashioned 3-point play to give UNC a 25-12 lead.
  10. In another secondary break staple, Hicks slipped a screen to receive a pass from Jackson for a dunk. I’m sure the staff worked on this one in practice, as Virginia’s ball screen defense makes it susceptible for the secondary slip. Jackson had a downright Pinsonian game passing the basketball. His six assists resulted in two dunks (to Hicks), three layups (two to Meeks, including an “and-1” and one to Berry), and Pinson corner 3.
  11. After a Pinson steal, he pushed the ball in the primary break to Jackson on the left wing. As Jackson looked to pull the ball back rather than attack the hoop, he was called for a travel.
  12. Bradley blocked a driving layup by Darius Thompson to launch a primary break opportunity. Jackson corralled the defensive board and immediately pushed it himself, hitting Berry for an easy layup as he filled the right wing in transition.
  13. Jackson fed Bradley with a secondary break post entry pass to the left block. Bradley, who had established deep position, wasn’t doubled by Virginia, and missed a good look at a short jump hook over his left shoulder (his go-to post move/location).
  14. After a Meeks block, Pinson grabbed the defensive board and went coast to coast for a primary-break “and-1.” Another example of great Carolina defense fueling its transition game (like the Bradley block above).
  15. Once again a Meeks blocked shot got the Heels out in transition. This time, Berry missed a layup from the right side after making a nifty behind-the-back, hesitation-dribble drive (the quintessential “everything but the finish” play).
  16. Meeks controlled another second-half defensive rebound, throwing an outlet to Jackson who missed a transition 3-pointer. This was a tough, contested 3 off the dribble, and immediately led to a Virginia run-out/open Shayok layup. Jackson didn’t do much wrong on Saturday night, but this shot selection qualifies as one of his poor decisions.
  17. In another secondary break action, Pinson curled off a Meeks screen, then hit the rolling big for a lefty layup. A great pass by Pinson, and another example of the secondary break creating a quick score (although not one that’s considered “fast break” points in the box score).
  18. Woods threw a secondary-break entry to Meeks on the left block, and the ‘Hoos immediately sent their big-to-big post double. Hicks, the trailing big in secondary, cut hard from his top-of-the-key position to receive a Meeks pass for an open dunk. Hockey assist to Woods, and a great job of attacking Virginia’s post-trapping scheme with a well-timed dive to to rim.
  19. After Britt missed a secondary-break corner 3 that was created by a Berry-Bradley pick-and-roll, Jackson crashed the glass to tip in the miss for his only second-half hoop.
  20. Maye picked up a 3-second violation while trying to establish deep post position against an undersized Devon Hall (playing the 4 in UVa’s small-ball formation). This is, of course, rarely called, and is the cost of doing business in the secondary break/Roy Williams system.
  21. Following a Perrantes drive and miss, Virginia’s floor balance was uncharacteristically out of sync (this too-frequently happens to UNC, too, following Berry’s drives). This enabled Jackson to push it himself following a defensive rebound and hit Hicks for a primary-break dunk. Hicks flew down the floor on this play, simply out-running the Virginia bigs. The ability of Carolina’s starting wings (Pinson/Jackson) to defensive board and push the pace themselves is turning into a huge weapon for the Heels.
  22. Running the same 1-4 quick-hitter set that resulted in his earlier “and’1,” Jackson curled off another Hicks screen, but this time missed the floater in the paint. Using this set more has been a nice adjustment that takes advantage of Jackson’s skill-set/ability as a curler.
  23. In another secondary set, Hicks, rather than receiving the reversal pass from Berry, set a screen for Pinson to curl off of. This allowed Pinson to get into the paint off the dribble and finish a contested scoop shot at the rim. Pinson’s ability to penetrate and finish at the rim has obviously given the Heels’ offense a whole new dimension lately.
  24. After throwing a secondary-break pass to Jackson from the top of the key, Meeks followed his pass to set a ball screen on the left wing. Jackson tried to split the Virginia hard hedge, resulting in a ball-handling turnover. Again, no huge issues here—just the cost of doing business in the secondary break.
  25. Pinson hit Maye on the right block with a secondary-break entry pass, then the Cavs came immediately with their big-to-big double. Maye quickly found an alertly-cutting Jackson, who missed a layup that he’ll generally finish. Meeks, however, was in perfect position for a tip-dunk—more evidence of how good offensive ball/player movement sets up Carolina’s elite offensive rebounding game.
  26. On another right-block entry from the right wing, Pinson got the ball to Meeks in deep post position (too deep to double). Meeks turned immediately and banked in a short jump hook to cap off his 13-point second-half performance.

As seen in the recap above, Carolina used a variety of secondary break sets to create early offense against Virginia. It also mixed in a couple of opportunistic primary breaks off of live-ball turnovers or defensive boards by its wings/blocked shots by its bigs. While this game was undisputedly played at Virginia’s pace (59.5 possessions—only the seventh game of the 14-year Williams era played below 60 possessions; UNC’s won all seven), the Heels were still able to create their share of early offense. In an average game, UNC uses about 55% of its possessions in the first 10 seconds (down from a Williams-era average of about 60%). That dropped to 44% on Saturday night. But, as discussed, Carolina’s impressive half-court efficiency this season (particularly in the possession-length sweet spot of 18-24 seconds) has enabled it to win both fast and slow. That combination of early-offense and half-court efficiency figures to make this Tar Heel team an especially tough out in March.

 

 

 

 

The Primary Break: UNC-UVa. Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-UVa. Quick Takes

Some quick statistical tidbits following Saturday night’s huge 65-41 win over Virginia.

  • Carolina posted a defensive efficiency of 68.3 (41 points allowed on 60 UVa. possessions), its 4th-best mark of the season (behind Northern Iowa (63.6), Radford (64.9), and the first NC State game (67.5)). When adjusting for strength of opposing offense, however, this UNC’s best defensive performance of the season.
  • After being shut out in the first half (0 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists), Kennedy Meeks had a huge 13-point, 7-rebound, 2-assist second half. He also blocked three shots in the game to move past Serge Zwikker into 13th place on UNC’s all-time list with 134.
  • Four of Isaiah Hicks’ five made field goals were dunks (two from sweet secondary break sets, one on the primary break, and one from a good Meeks pass falling a UVa big-to-big double). He leads the Heels with 38 of the team’s 84 dunks this season, one behind his total of 39 from last season. In his career, he has 117 dunks, fourth in the Roy Williams era behind Hansbrough, Johnson, and Henson. Jackson assisted on two of the dunks (part of his 6-assist night), and leads Carolina with 13 assisted dunks this year.
  •  Jackson scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. On the night, he moved past Brendan Haywood and Deon Thompson into 34th place on the all-time scoring list with 1,415 points. Shammond Williams is 33rd with 1,445.
  • Meeks drew his team-leading 13th “and-1”, but converted it (by making the free throw) for just the sixth time. Jackson also added his sixth (converted four), and Pinson his second (missed both free throws).
  • Berry drew the Heels’ only offensive foul on the night, his 10th of the season. That’s second on the team, trailing only Kenny Williams’ 16.
  • Carolina’s starting 5 was only +2 (23-21) on the night in 14:00 of court time (including -4 in the first half). In the 26:00 with at least one bench player on the court, UNC was +22 (42-20).
  • Although Seventh Woods didn’t do anything spectacular, he played solid defense without making any bad decisions/silly turnovers. He added a couple of assists and three defensive rebounds, and UNC led 16-7 in his minutes (including 10-2 in the first half, and 14-2 until his garbage-time stint).
  • While Carolina’s defense was excellent, it also had plenty of “shot luck” with UVa’s 2-of-20 shooting from behind the arc (many on lightly contested looks). UNC had been especially unlucky in terms of its ACC 3-point defense, so it’s not surprising to see this start to regress to the mean.
  • The Heels defense was consistently outstanding. They allowed 22 points on 30 1st-half possessions, and 19 on 30 2nd-half ones.
  • Carolina is now 7-0 in the Williams era in games with fewer than 60 possessions (this one had 59.5), including 2-0 this season (the Pitt game also had 59.5 possessions).

I’ll be back soon with some more on the game, including breaking down UNC’s early offense/half-court offense splits.

 

 

 

Tale of Two Tempos?

Tale of Two Tempos?

Like usual, the Carolina-Virginia game is being billed as a tale of two tempos. That’s certainly the case on paper. The Heels have the 45th-fastest pace in the country (and 15th-fastest when considering only offensive possession length). Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, on the other hand, are the second-slowest team in the nation (and the slowest in terms of average offensive possession length).

But let’s dig a little deeper. When investigating how the Heels have performed (on both ends) in early vs. half-court offense this season, a walk-it-up affair might not be the worst possible scenario for Roy Williams. The tables below break UNC and its opponents’ ACC possessions into two buckets: “early offense” (ending in the first 10 seconds of the possession) and “half-court offense” (ending in the final 20 seconds of the possession). “Early offense” possessions are generally comprised of three main types: 1.) transition, 2.) second-chance, and 3.) BLOB/special situations. The biggest of those bins is transition, however, and “early offense” is an excellent proxy for a team’s willingness to run and efficiency in the open floor.

As seen in the tables above, Carolina has actually been more efficient in seconds 11-30 (119.4) than it’s been in seconds 1-10 (116.3) during ACC play. This is quite the departure from the average Roy Williams team at UNC. Since 2008, the Heels have been about 12% more efficient in their early chances than in their half-court ones. Historically, Carolina’s opponents have also been much more efficient in early-offense opportunities, averaging about 15% more points per possession than in the half-court. That’s right in line with the 14% “early-offense premium” that UNC’s ACC opponents have posted this season (114.0 in seconds 1-10 vs. 99.8 in seconds 11-30). Because the Heels prioritize crashing the offensive glass (sometimes at the sake of defensive balance), they’ve always been somewhat susceptible in transition.

Digging even deeper into the “4 Factors” driving efficiency in each clock segment reveals few surprises. The Heels are much better at drawing fouls and grabbing offensive rebounds in early-clock situations (against scrambled/recovering defenses). Likewise, they protect the basketball better in the halfcourt. The biggest surprise—and indeed the area in which Carolina is deviating from its historical averages—is eFG%. UNC is shooting better in half-court possessions than in its early-offense ones, driven entirely by a much higher percentage from behind the arc. The Heels (not surprisingly) also shoot a significantly higher percentage of their shots from deep when confined to the halfcourt. Joel Berry and (especially) Justin Jackson—UNC’s two primary 3-point weapons—have both been much more comfortable as half-court shooters this season. How much of that is due to pure noise/randomness is certainly up for debate. It’s possible that UNC has just had really good “shot luck” in the halfcourt (and correspondingly bad luck from behind the arc in the early offense) to drive these atypical results. Regardless of how much luck is involved, this highlights the importance of UNC knocking down perimeter shots to sustain its half-court efficiency. Since it’s driven by both a high rate of 3-point attempts, and a high efficiency on those shots, the Heels will probably need to hit some half-court 3s to emerge victorious against UVa.

UNC’s opponents also have a similar (and intuitive) “4 Factors” profile: more free throws and offensive boards in the early offense, fewer turnovers in the halfcourt. The difference is that they’ve had a significantly higher eFG% in the first 10 seconds of a possession. Carolina’s opponents have been shooting much more frequently and much more efficiently from behind the arc in the early offense than the Heels have. If the Cavs are content to grind this one into a half-court battle, they might be missing some prime opportunities to create clean early-offense looks from behind the arc.

This isn’t an ACC-only phenomenon for Carolina. In all games, UNC has an offensive efficiency of 117.2 in seconds 1-10 and 122.4 in seconds 11-30. Its opponents, meanwhile, have scored 1.01 points per possession in the early offense versus just 0.83 in half-court trips. While it’s decidedly atypical of a Roy Williams-coached team, this edition of UNC basketball has actually thrived in the offensive halfcourt.

There’s no denying that Carolina is far more interested than Virginia in running/pushing the pace on Saturday night. But, if the game grinds to the halfcourt slog that Bennett and the ‘Hoos prefer, there’s ample evidence to suggest that the Heels will fare quite well under those circumstances.

Will these trends hold true against Virginia? Certainly its brand of halfcourt defense with Bennett’s famed packline principles is much better than the average ACC defense the Heels have faced. We’ll be back with some post-game analysis that breaks the game down by efficiency as a function of possession length.

 

Luke Maye Busts Out

Luke Maye Busts Out

Luke Maye set a career-high against NC State with 13 points, the continuation of a positive trend in scoring volume and efficiency. The table below shows his season splits divided into three segments: 1.) non-conference games ((Maye played in nine of the 14); 2.) the first seven ACC games; and 3.) the last six ACC games.

As seen in the table, Maye’s per-40 scoring rate, as well as his True Shooting%, have skyrocketed over the past few games. That’s been driven by a huge spike in his 2-point FG% (both at the rim and from mid-range). He’s also committed just a single turnover over  his last six games (77 minutes), while maintaining (actually slightly improving) his solid per-minute assist rate. The only bad news in Maye’s play has been a precipitous decline in rebounding rate (especially on the defensive boards), although he did grab seven against NC State (including three on the defensive end). In the early part of the ACC season, Maye was absolutely dominant on both backboards (highlighted by his 15-rebound performance vs. Florida State). Both his 3-point rate (steadily) and his free throw rate (sharply) have declined segment-to-segment. While the 3-pointer is still part of his offensive arsenal (especially of the pick-and-pop and trailing-big-in-secondary varieties), Maye—always confident—is showing more discretion from behind the arc. Against NC State, he turned down a couple of clean perimeter looks (including the one that he turned into a driving dunk after pump-faking Omer Yurtseven).

Next, let’s break down Maye’s shot attempts by type and length. These are split into non-conference and ACC buckets. As implied by the data above, Maye’s shooting percentages have been improving across the board as the conference season progresses. This is especially true of his close FG%. Maye made 5-of-7 close attempts against the Wolfpack after starting the ACC campaign just 9-of-24 (37.5%) at the rim. Although his close FG% is way down in ACC play, he’s getting dramatically more attempts at the rim (in part due to his improved offensive rebounding; Theo Pinson’s presence is also helping here, as it has with getting all UNC’s bigs easier looks).

After missing all four of his mid-range catch-and-shoot jumpers in non-conference play, Maye has converted 6-of-1o in the ACC (including three against Duke alone). From 10-20′ overall, he’s shooting 64.7% in league play, while nearly doubling his non-conference attempts from that distance. During ACC games, Maye has clearly been Carolina’s most prolific and efficient mid-range option. He’s been particularly adept at finding openings in opposing defenses within the freelance passing game. His smart cuts/relocations have resulted in several clean mid-range looks recently.

Finally, let’s break down Maye’s 11 field goal attempts in the NC State game. He knocked down five of his first six shots before slumping a bit down the stretch.

  1. Wide-open tip in after a missed Britt 3 from the corner (created by a Jackson drive-and-kick); Dorn closed out on Britt after Jackson’s drive scrambled the State defense, but Smith never switched on to/boxed out Maye
  2. After a secondary break post entry from Britt to Bradley (who beat Anya down the court) on the left block, Bradley immediately hit a cutting Maye (the trailing big in secondary) for a layup; great cut by Maye, and a beautifully-executed transition possession by the Heels
  3. Missed a pick-and-pop 3 from the left wing after setting a ball screen for Pinson
  4. Another open tip in, this one was created by running right past Kapita after setting a screen to free Berry for a (missed) 3 on a baseline out of bounds (BLOB) set; Maye’s energy/effort/activity level was just consistently higher than the Pack’s bigs all night
  5. The famous Maye dunk following his shot fake to get Yurtseven in the air (terrible close-out), then a disinterested help rotation by Smith; this was the first close shot that Maye has created off the dribble all season (in only three attempts), and only his second dunk of his career; it was a terrific move, but NC State’s defense/effort was just abysmal on this play (bad enough to get a coach fired, even)
  6. Another beautiful secondary break set resulted in a Pinson lob to Maye after he received a back screen from Jackson; this is a quintessential secondary option for the Heels, and a great delivery by Pinson to create another open, close opportunity for a UNC big
  7. After out-fighting Kapita for another offensive rebound, Maye’s stick-back attempt was blocked from behind by Henderson as Anya also heavily contested the shot; finishing in the paint over size/through contact is an area where Maye continues to struggle as an undersized post player lacking elite ACC athleticism
  8. Maye knocked down a left-wing 3 after a BLOB dribble hand-off to Berry flowed directly into a Berry/Maye pick-and-pop
  9. On another BLOB set, Maye this time faked the dribble hand-off to Berry and attacked off the dribble; he missed a little leaning hook shot (the release was somewhat Hansbroughian) after using a pump fake to get Smith in the air (and probably draw an (uncalled) foul)
  10. He got his own rebound after the above miss, failing to convert a put-back opportunity that he should have finished.
  11. Maye missed a left-wing 3 (all three of his 3s vs. NC State were from the left wing) as the trailing big in the secondary break; Pinson got the potential assist for this one; Maye’s now just 2-8 (25.0%) on left-wing 3s, and 3-13 (23.1%) on 3s from either wing; he’s 4-7 (57.1%) on top-of-key 3s, and has also made his only corner attempt from behind the arc.

Maye probably won’t continue to score nearly 22 points / 40 like he was over his past six games. But his mix of 4-level scoring (at the rim, post moves (generally either a jump hook or turnaround jumper), mid-range jumpers, and 3s) is versatile enough to make him a constant threat. Working hard/high motor is a skill, and one that Maye possesses in abundance. That will always lead to a few “garbage” opportunities for him in transition, the offensive glass, or on loose ball/scrambles situations. Those aren’t just lucky bounces/breaks, though—they’re a function of Maye playing hard and smart (timely cuts, good anticipation of missed shots, etc.). His physical limitations will always limit his upside as a go-to post scorer in the ACC (simply since he’ll (probably) never finish at the rim efficiently enough). But his overall offensive game makes him a great complementary big to pair with a back-to-the-basket scorer like Meeks or Bradley.

Speaking of Maye-Bradley combos, the +/- numbers have been very favorable to that frontcourt duo in ACC play. Though it’s no guarantee that those two will pair in the post as starters next season, Carolina fans should feel more and more comfortable if that’s what ultimately happens.

Starting Fresh

Starting Fresh

With the announcement of the sad news that Kenny Williams is likely done for the season following knee surgery, Carolina debuted its new starting 5 on Wednesday night in Raleigh. While this group hadn’t started a game together all season (and, in fact, had only logged 7:16 as a quintet), the idea of a Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks unit certainly wasn’t a novel one to Tar Heel fans. That lineup—the expected starting group going into the season—almost certainly gives UNC its best combination of talent and experience at all five spots. If Carolina is planning to make a deep run this March in a post-Williams world, it will be leaning heavily on its new starting 5.

Let’s break down how the new starting lineup performed together to begin the game. Its minutes were limited last night due to Isaiah Hicks’ rapid rate of racking up fouls. Still, the new quintet highlighted some things it does well (and also a couple areas it will need to work on).

UNC1 (2-0): In a coaching wrinkle, NC State started out small with Torin Dorn at the 4. Running its freelance motion, Carolina capitalized on this strategy right away, posting Hicks up against Maverick Rowan (who switched with Dorn on a perimeter exchange earlier in the possession). Hicks, who received the ball away from the block on the right extended mid-paint on an entry pass from Justin Jackson, took one big back-down dribble, then simply exploded over Rowan for a layup to start the scoring.

NCSU1 (2-0): With their 4-out, 1-in lineup, the ‘Pack made it clear right away what they intended to do on the offensive end. Abdul-Malik Abu set a ball screen for explosive point guard Dennis Smith, Jr., forcing a flat hedge by Meeks as Berry fought over the top. Smith’s pure speed allowed him to easily get into the middle of the paint, drawing help from Pinson. Smith kicked out to the left corner, where Rowan missed a clean 3-point look with Pinson scrambling to recover late. This was a great look for one of NC State’s best shooters, and the type of opportunity that ACC teams have been creating all season against the Heels. Luckily, Rowan missed, with Meeks corralling the defensive board.

UNC2 (2-0): Carolina ran its secondary break, flowing right into the freelance passing game. It again looked to feed the post, this time with Jackson entering the ball to Meeks on the left block. Abu did a good job of bodying up against Meeks’ two back-down dribbles, forcing a contested turnaround jumper from the left baseline. Meeks missed, and is now shooting just 23.5% (4-17) on turnaround jumpers this season. It couldn’t be said often last night, but this was a good individual defensive effort by NC State.

NCSU2 (2-2): State went right back to another Smith/Abu ball screen, allowing Smith to crossover a flat-hedging Meeks to get to the rim. Meeks played it properly, but Smith is just an elite athlete. Hicks’ help rotation/contest at the rim was also solid—Smith just made a big-time finish.

UNC3 (5-2): Out of the secondary break, Hicks set a screen for Jackson who received a pass from Berry for a top-of-the-key 3. The shot missed, but Hicks was able to out-battle the smaller Dorn to force the rebound out of bounds against State. On the ensuing BLOB, the ball went around the horn to Berry (after he inbounded and cut to the opposite wing). He then received a ball screen from Hicks, rising up for a left-wing 3 off the dribble after an NC State miscommunication on the switch.

NCSU3 (5-2): This time, Smith turned down an Abu high screen to drive the right-side of the lane against Berry. Berry did a serviceable job of staying connected to Smith on the drive, but a Pinson over-help forced a help-the-helper rotation by Jackson on Rowan in the paint. Rowan promptly kicked out to Henderson (Jackson’s man) on the left wing, who missed a clean look over a late-recovering Jackson. For the second time in three possessions, Smith penetration led to a clean kick-out 3 for one of the ‘Pack’s best shooters. They missed both shots, however. There will probably be a learning curve for the new starting 5 with Pinson, as the team learns how to best compensate for his proclivity for gambling/over-helping.

UNC4 (7-2): Secondary again flowed seamlessly into freelance motion, with Pinson crossing over to get to the left elbow. From there, he threw a David Noel-style jump shot-turned-pass to Meeks under the hoop for the layup. Pinson (easily) leads the Heels in potential close assists, and all four of his assists against NC State were for layups. He also had two FT assists that led to shooting fouls at the rim. His four assists (and two FT assists) were all to Carolina’s bigs, too. On the season, 16 of his 27 assists (plus all seven of his FT assists) are to the UNC post quartet of Meeks/Hicks/Bradley/Maye. If you’re a Tar Heel big, you’re probably quite excited to have Pinson back in the lineup.

NCSU4 (7-4): State pushed the ball in transition, and Pinson did a fantastic job of stopping Terry Henderson’s penetration in the open court. Henderson, however, did hit a tough, step-back jumper over Pinson after having his drive denied. The ‘Pack had zero offensive rebounding support on this attempt, and a long 2-pointer a few seconds into the shot clock probably didn’t qualify as great shot selection.

UNC5 (9-4): After Pinson (on the right wing) passed up a post entry to Meeks on the right block, he rotated the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson swung the ball to Berry in the left corner, allowing Meeks to cut block-to-block to receive a bounce-pass entry there. Abu gambled for a steal, leaving Meeks open to finish a reverse layup against half-hearted help-side defense. This wasn’t a great entry by Berry, and it probably would have been stolen by a better/quicker post defender (Amile Jefferson, for example). It was a good job by the Heels to reverse the ball, however, and Meeks worked hard to create post position on each block.

NCSU5 (9-5): Smith again turned down an Abu ball screen (the fourth time in State’s first five possessions that Abu was used as a high screener for Smith), blowing past Berry on the bounce. This time, Pinson did not help, electing to stick close to Henderson in the right corner (as Smith drove the right-side of the paint again). Hicks, then, was forced to help late at the rim, fouling Smith to prevent a thunderous dunk. He split a pair of free throws.

UNC6 (12-5): After Berry drew a secondary break (non-shooting) foul on Smith with a drive, his ensuing BLOB entry was nearly stolen by Rowan. Carolina was able to recover the loose ball, with the chaos creating a drive-and-kick opportunity for Hicks. He found Jackson open on his preferred left wing location, but the shot was missed. Hicks, however, crashed to grab another offensive rebound against the overmatched Dorn, drop-stepping to the rim to draw an “and-1” opportunity on the put-back. It was Hicks’ 10th “and-1” of the season (second only to Meeks’ 11) and, upon making the free throw, he’s completed eight of them.

NCSU6 (12-5): Another ‘Pack possession, another Abu ball screen for Smith. He again turned this one down, driving on Berry to force a Pinson help rotation. Smith kicked to the right corner to Henderson, but Pinson’s well-timed recovery ran him off the 3-point line. Pinson took a great close-out angle to force Henderson’s drive to the baseline, allowing Berry to help out and strip the ball (which he saved to an alert Meeks). This was a great help-and-recovery by Pinson, and a good job of Berry helping on the baseline drive (after the dribble was correctly fanned in that direction by Pinson). Really good defensive possession; UNC will need more like this against the steady diet of drive-and-kick/ball-screen offense that it figures to see the rest of the way.

UNC7 (12-5): Pushing the ball after the live-ball turnover, Berry hit it ahead to Jackson on the right wing, who immediately found Hicks filling the middle of the lane. Henderson basically shoved Hicks coming through the paint (uncalled), knocking him off balance to force a missed transition layup. Even with the contact, this is the type of play that Hicks (an elite close finisher) generally completes.

NCSU7 (12-7): State pushed it right back following the Hicks miss in transition, with Smith attempting a right-wing 3. Pinson did an excellent job of locating the ball and closing out on the shooter in the open court, helping to force the Smith miss. Abu out-battled Meeks for the long rebound, then kicked it out for an offensive reset. Smith, after using s0me slick shake-and-bake dribbling at the top of the key to freeze Berry, was able to blow by to draw a helping Meeks. Smith dished to Abu, who was able to pick up the second foul on Hicks who had rotated to help the helper. Abu made both free throws. Both of Hicks’ early fouls were as a result of Smith blow-bys on Berry (not involving ball screens). He needs to do a better job of contesting without fouling (walling without dropping his arms), but Carolina also needs to contain penetration better (easier said than done against the lightning-quick Smith). Maye would check in for Hicks at the 16:01 mark.

Following the 12-7 start documented above, the Heels would force turnovers on NC State’s next three possessions, and the Berry-Britt-Jackson-Maye-Bradley combo would go on an 11-3 run to push the lead out to 23-10. That lineup also had a 10-3 second-half run, and led 23-8 in its 6:53 of action as Maye-Bradley (possibly next year’s starting frontcourt) continues to impress from a +/- perspective.

As for the starting 5, it led 14-9 in its 6:12 of court time (Hicks would pick up his fourth foul 2:13 into the second half and not return). On the season, that group is now +15 (34-19) in 13.5 minutes, dominating on both ends so far in its small sample of shared court time (offensive efficiency of 138.8; defensive efficiency of 77.6).

I’m still working to finish charting this game, but will be back soon with a breakdown of Maye’s game against NC State and his development over the course of the season.

The Primary Break: UNC-NC State Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-NC State Quick Takes

Here are some quick statistical nuggets following Wednesday night’s 97-73 victory over NC State.

  • Kennedy Meeks had 18 points and eight rebounds in just 25:51 of court time against the ‘Pack. Adjusting for pace, Meeks is now averaging 20.4 points / 40 minutes and 15.0 rebounds / 40. No Tar Heel since 1980 (i.e., the “pace-adjusted, per-minute” era) has had a pace-adjusted, per-40 20-15 season. Only four UNC players since ’80 have even had 20-13 campaigns (and they’re not exactly lightweights: Antawn Jamison in ’98, Sean May in ’05, Tyler Zeller in ’12, and Brice Johnson in ’16). It’s only been done five times (by three different players) in ACC history since 1980 (Ralph Sampson in ’80, ’81, and ’83, Tim Duncan in ’97, and Zach Auguste in ’16). It’ll be hard to maintain that rebounding rate the rest of the way, but this will be an interesting stat to keep an eye on.
  • With a first-half 3, Joel Berry became the 75th Tar Heel to score 1,000 career points. He had 18 in the game, moving past Tommy LaGarde and Bob Paxton into 73rd place in Carolina history with 1,013. Isaiah Hicks, who has 979 career points, will soon become the 76th member of UNC’s 1,000-point club, giving the current team four of them (along with Justin Jackson and Meeks).
  • The expected starting lineup of Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks made its first start of the year together, but played only 6:12 together due to Hicks’ foul troubles. It led 14-9 in those minutes, and now has a 34-19 advantage in 13.5 minutes this season.
  • Speaking of lineups, the lineup of the night was definitely Berry-Britt-Jackson-Maye-Bradley. That quintet logged a team-high 6:53 together, posting a +/- of +15 in those minutes (23-8). That included an 11-3 first-half run, and a 10-3 second-half one.
  • With three steals, Berry moved into a tie for 45th place with Hubert Davis and Jeff McInnis with 108 in his career.
  • And, speaking of guys tying Coach Davis’ all-time marks, Pinson moved into a tie for 63rd with Hubert in career assists. He had four in the game, and now has 179 in his Tar Heel career.
  • In addition to his four box-score assists, Pinson also had two FT assists (both drawing fouls at the rim). He continues to create a ton of close attempts for his teammates.
  • Luke Maye’s driving dunk was the first close shot he’s made off the dribble all season (on only three such attempts). It was his second dunk of the year (and the Heels’ only dunk of the night).
  • UNC played its jumbo frontcourt of Bradley-Meeks for 3:27 against NC State (the second straight ACC game—and third overall conference contest—in which it’s seen action). It was again successful from a +/- perspective, leading 11-6 in its brief stints.
  • It was a tough night from the field for Jackson, who made just 6-of-16 field goal attempts. All non-Jackson Heels combined to make 61.0% of their shots (36-59), including 68.6% (24-35) for the other four starters.

I’ll be back soon with a detailed breakdown of this one.

 

Tony Bradley’s Development

Tony Bradley’s Development

Earlier this week, we took a look at Seventh Woods’ recent emergence. Fellow freshman Tony Bradley, who started off the season so strong (11.5 PPG (with a FG% of 72.2) and 6.8 RPG in 17.8 MPG through the first six games of his collegiate career), didn’t leave himself as much room for noticeable growth. But that doesn’t mean that his game hasn’t been developing in some areas.

Let’s break down Bradley’s numbers from his first 12 games (through Kentucky) and his last 12 games (10 of them in the ACC).

Bradley as a Scorer:

The good news is that, despite facing a higher quality of opponent/athlete, Bradley is getting more close attempts during the second half of the season, and also converting them more efficiently. What’s actually happening is that many of his free throw opportunities in the early season (when Bradley had a FTA Rate of 87.5 in games 1-12) are merely shot attempts now (his FTA Rate over the last 12 games has dropped to 46.4—still solid, but not off-the-charts high). So his total impact around the rim (in terms of both volume and efficiency) hasn’t changed much at all from one season segment to the next. Still, maintaining a high volume of efficient close finishes against ACC-caliber frontcourts is probably the most important element to Bradley’s offensive game. That he’s proven to be able to do it bodes well for his future as a go-to post scorer for the Heels.

Almost all of Bradley’s non-close attempts have been in the form of hook shots. He’s been making those shots much less consistently in ACC play (and, anecdotally, has definitely been affected by longer/stronger post defenders). The next steps for Bradley as a post scorer will be to develop a reliable go-to move, then a counter move or two. He’s also been taking (and missing) more catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers in ACC play. It’s still a tiny part of his offensive repertoire, but being able to reliably hit an elbow or short-corner jumper will be part of Bradley’s offensive maturation, too.

Bradley’s turnover rate has climbed a bit from 1.58 / 40 in games 1-12 to 2.65 / 40 in games 13-24. Offensive fouls, however, continue to be his biggest source of turnovers, accounting for half his total in both season segments (0.79 in first half, 1.32 in second half). Some of these have been questionable calls (whistled when Bradley tries to create/maintain deep post position), and will probably start to (largely) disappear once he becomes a more established (and respected) post scorer.

Bradley as a Rebounder:

  • First 12 games: 23.0 OR%, 15.5 DR%, 14.6 rebounds / 40 minutes
  • Last 12 games: 18.5 OR%, 20.9 DR%, 15.1 rebounds / 40 minutes

While Bradley’s become slightly less dominant on the offensive glass (but still elite), his defensive rebounding has made big strides recently. He’s close to becoming a rare 20-20 guy in terms of OR%-DR%. Overall, his per-minute rebounding rate has trickled up a bit over the second half of the season (despite an uptick in competition level). That’s obviously a good sign for the Heels next season (in a post-Meeks world).

Bradley as a Defender:

  • First 12 games: 1.37 blocks / 40, 62.3 Stop%, 39.5 TS% Allowed, 13.2 points allowed / 40
  • Last 12 games: 2.34 blocks / 40, 57.5 Stop%, 43.8 TS% Allowed, 12.8 points allowed / 40

Bradley’s per-minute block rate is up about 70% in the second half of the season. That’s a great sign. While his Stop% is lower in ACC minutes, it’s actually relatively higher (compared to the team average) than his non-conference Stop%. In non-conference play, his TS% allowed was tied with Meeks for the best mark on the team. In league games, it’s second to Meeks’ mark of 42.9%. Bradley is still not a classic rim protector, but he’s starting to develop into something more closely resembling that.

Bradley’s On-Court Impact:

Through the first 12 games of the season, the Heels were slightly better (on both ends) with Bradley on the floor. His on-court/off-court differential was +2.34 (UNC was 0.07 points / 100 better on offense in his minutes, and 2.27 points / 100 better on defense) over that timeframe. During ACC play, Bradley was logged a team-high efficiency margin of +18.6. Carolina has been 11.1 points / 100 possessions with Bradley on the floor than with him on the bench. All of that impact has been on the defensive end:

  • ACC minutes with Bradley—Offensive Efficiency: 116.8, Defensive Efficiency: 98.2, Efficiency Margin: +18.6
  • ACC minutes without Bradley—Offensive Efficiency: 117.5, Defensive Efficiency: 110.0, Efficiency Margin: +7.5

Against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (i.e., top-1oo venue-adjusted competition), Bradley’s efficiency margin of +11.2 is third-best on the team behind Theo Pinson (+11.7) and Isaiah Hicks (+11.2).

While Tony Bradley’s statistical splits haven’t changed dramatically from the first half of the season (21.5 points / 40 on a TS% of 60.7, 14.6 rebounds / 40, 1.37 blocks / 40) to the second half (19.7 points / 40 on a TS% of 55.6, 15.1 rebounds / 40, 2.34 blocks / 40), he has shown improvements in some key areas (defensive rebounding and shot-blocking to name two). He’s also shown the ability to maintain his close scoring efficiency against bigger, better frontcourts. Nothing that’s occurred in the second half of the season has changed my (high) opinion of Bradley’s potential as a go-to post scorer for Carolina.

 

 

Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

It’s hard to argue that junior point guard Joel Berry hasn’t been Carolina most important (if not always its best) player this season. More than any other Heel, the team’s fortunes seem to rise and fall with Berry’s level of performance. Unlike Justin Jackson, who’s been a consistent scoring threat all season long, Berry has been prone to some peaks and valleys.

Let’s break Berry’s season down into four even segments: 1.) the first half of the non-conference season (Tulane through Wisconsin); 2.) the second half of the non-conference season (Indiana through Monmouth—Berry missed 2.5 games during this stretch); 3.) the first half (to date) of the ACC season (Georgia Tech through Syracuse); and 4.) the second half (to date) of the ACC season (Boston College through Duke). The following table summarizes Berry’s stats in some key categories for those chronological buckets. As I’ll describe below, each season segment’s statistical profile has described a different type of point guard.

Non-Conference Games 1-7—Joel Berry: All-American

Through the first seven games of the season, Berry’s gaudy numbers were threatening to place him in the pantheon of great Carolina point guards. While the average competition wasn’t as stout in this stretch, he did dominate two (Pomeroy) top-20 teams in Maui (Oklahoma State and Wisconsin), plus a top-75 Chattanooga squad. Not only was Berry scoring 25.0 points / 4o minutes, he was doing so with a True Shooting% of 72.1. Even the ultra-efficient Ty Lawson of ’09 could “only” boast a TS% of 65.9 that season. Per 40 minutes, Berry also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists during the season’s first seven games. Perhaps most importantly, he was fueling Carolina’s (at that point) elite defense with his ball pressure and proclivity for wreaking havoc/forcing turnovers. His Stop% (a defensive charting summary statistic) was at a season-high 69.3 to start the campaign. He was at his most aggressive and attacking in this segment—the only one in which he shot fewer than half his attempts behind the arc, and the one in which he recorded his highest (by far) rate of free throws.

Non-Conference Games 8-14—Joel Berry: Pass-First Point Guard

During the last half of the pre-conference slate, Berry became more of a traditional pass-first point guard. He shot less frequently (15.5 weighted shots / 40 vs. 17.3 in the previous segment), and also much less efficiently. Both his 2-point and 3-point percentages plummeted and, in conjunction with his lower usage, led to a drastic reduction in his per-40 scoring. However, Berry’s per-40 assist rate rose significantly over this period of games. In fact, his 8.4 assists / 40 was nearly on par with Lawson’s ’09 season mark of 8.78. Berry also recorded a (nearly) Lawsonian assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.00 during this timeframe. His individual defense remained very strong, as he posted a terrific Stop% of 65.0 to close out the non-conference schedule. Overall, Berry’s out-of-conference Stop% was a team-high 66.9. His proportion of 3-pointers began to climb, corresponding with a drop in free throw rate.

ACC Games 1-6—Joel Berry: Shoot-First Lead Guard

As the ACC campaign began, a different Berry emerged. The good news is that his scoring efficiency rose closer to his All-American form to start the season. Both his 2-point and 3-point percentages spiked, resulting in a TS% of 64.3. Likewise, Berry’s shooting volume again rose—this time to a season-high 18.1 weighted shots / 40 (a weighted shot is FGA + (0.475 * FTA)). Scoring 23.2 points / 40 (including 26 against Florida State and a season-high 31 against Clemson) at that level of efficiency is no small feat. The bad news, however, is that Berry’s play-making plummeted during this segment of the season. Relative to the previous segment, his assists / 40 dropped by over half to 3.7. Likewise, his rate of turnovers / 40 climbed to a season-high 3.9, dropping his A:TO to an unacceptable 0.95. Additionally, his stellar defense from earlier in the season began to rapidly decline once league play began. During this six-game span, Berry’s Stop% fell to 52.1.

ACC Games 7-12—Joel Berry: Slumping Star

Over his most recent stretch, Berry’s numbers have slumped in many key categories. Similar to the second half of the non-conference season, the latter part of the ACC campaign has been marred by poor Berry shooting. In particular, his 2-point percentage has dropped precipitously to 25.9% (7-27). His free throw percentage, declining across all segments, bottomed out below 70% (capped off by the two huge misses against Duke). Overall, his TS% has dropped below 50% (48.0%), despite a solid 38.5% on 3-pointers. Like his previous poor-shooting segment (non-conference games 8-14), Berry’s inefficiency was associated with a lower usage rate (a season-low 15.2 weighted shots / 40—running contrary to the expected usage-efficiency trade-off for scorers). Unlike that previous segment, however, the lower rate of shot attempts has not been linked to a rise in assists. Berry’s assists / 40 mark has inched up only slightly to 4.1—still far below his non-conference number of 7.1. In better news, his turnover rate has also fallen (from 3.9 / 40 to 2.2 / 40). While his A:TO is an improved 1.82, it’s still far below his non-conference (2.48), 2016 (2.44), and 2015 (2.19) numbers. As Berry’s inability to finish at the rim has emerged as an issue, he’s been compensating by taking more and more of his shots from behind the arc (a season-high 59% this segment). He’ll need to re-establish himself as a dangerous 3-level scorer to regain his scoring form/efficiency from earlier in the year. While not a huge concern for a point guard, Berry’s rebounding numbers have also been consistently declining segment-over-segment. Over the past six games, his rebounds / 40 number has bottomed out at 2.6 (down nearly 60% from his early-season peak). What is a huge concern is his still-declining Stop%. It fell even more to 48.1% this segment and, in all ACC games, has dropped to 50.1% (from 66.9% in non-conference).

The Rest of the Way

For the Heels to hold on to their lead in the ACC standings and, more importantly, have the postseason success that everyone hopes for, Berry will need to snap out of his recent funk. While he doesn’t need to revert to the All-American from games 1-7 who was doing everything (scoring volume, scoring efficiency, rebounding, passing, defending) at an elite level, he’ll need to at least do a couple of things at a high level. Given Carolina’s relative paucity of perimeter weapons, scoring volume will probably be an area in which Berry must excel. And, for the Heels to reach their potential, his defense will need to return closer to its non-conference level. With Theo Pinson’s return, play-making is probably one area in which Berry—never a natural distributor—can take a backseat. He will need to maintain his lower turnover rate, though. Basically, UNC will need the scoring version of Berry from the early ACC games (segment 3) mixed with more defensive energy and better decision-making/ball protection. That sounds like a lot to ask for, but Berry’s shown in the past to be capable of all that and more. His 2016 postseason run and 2017 start to the season were both sustained runs of excellence. And, if that All-American/Maui version of Berry wants to re-emerge, he can cement his legacy among great Tar Heel point guards by leading UNC to postseason glory.

 

Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

With Carolina two-thirds of the way through its ACC schedule, let’s check out how the different lineup combinations are shaping up. As usual, small sample size caveats are in effect for the plus-minus numbers—a dozen games really isn’t enough to draw meaningful inferences about the future. In terms of describing how the Heels’ conference rotations have looked (and performed) so far, though, it can be a helpful exercise.

Let’s start with the cumulative ACC-only plus-minus numbers:

  • The first thing that might stick out is how many bench players are above the team average (and, correspondingly, how many starters are below it). Of the starting 5, only Isaiah Hicks has had an efficiency margin that’s higher than UNC’s ACC average for all minutes.
  • In general, lineups with the bench players have been worse-than-average on the offensive end. But that’s been more than outweighed by how (relatively) strong those lineups have been defensively. This is especially true in the case of lineups with Seventh Woods at point guard (albeit in only a 76-minute ACC sample size). The starters have the opposite pattern: above-average offensively, but well below the mean for defensive efficiency.
  • While I certainly wouldn’t advocate playing Berry-Jackson-Meeks fewer minutes going forward, this does demonstrate that there’s room for defensive improvement in the starting 5.
  • It’s also, of course, true that the bench is playing a significantly higher proportion of its minutes against opposing benches (and/or tired starters). As always, there is plenty of noise and confounding variables in any plus/minus metric. That said, the Carolina bench (primarily Woods/Robinson/Bradley) is grading out well from a defensive charting perspective. And, from a pure “eye test” analysis, those bench lineups are clearly bringing good defensive energy and effort.

Next. let’s break it down by frontcourt and backcourt combinations. We’ll also focus on the 3 position in isolation (rather than try to make things even more granular with 1-2-3 combinations).

  • Both the starting frontcourt (Hicks-Meeks) and the (primary) bench frontcourt (Maye-Bradley) have similar efficiency margins in league play. As was the trend above, however, Hicks-Meeks has been the vastly superior offensive frontcourt and Maye-Bradley the much stronger defensive combo.
  • Small-ball lineups have been unsuccessful. With Pinson at the 4, the offense has been great but the defense poor. With Jackson at the 4, the defense has been above-average but with poor offensive efficiency (which is a historical aberration for UNC’s small-ball lineups—they tend to be strong offensively, below-average defensively).
  • With a couple minutes against Duke, the Bradley-Meeks pairing has now played in two ACC games (Virginia Tech, Duke). In all games, it’s played about 27 minutes. Most of that time (77%) has been against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (i..e, top-100 teams), during which the Bradley-Meeks frontcourt has an efficiency margin of +20.7 (while posting above-average efficiency on both ends). I know why the staff doesn’t use that combo much (especially against stretch 4s), but it actually hasn’t been exploited yet defensively during its limited minutes. I’d be curious to see how that frontcourt would do with some more extended minutes (like it got in the Oklahoma State/Wisconsin games in Maui).

  • Unlike in non-conference play when the Berry-Williams backcourt was vastly superior to Berry-Britt on both ends, it’s much more even in ACC minutes. Berry-Williams has been the better offensive backcourt (used heavily with the other three starters, of course), but Berry-Britt has been the better defensive duo (used more heavily with the bench frontcourt).
  • Though the minutes are split somewhat equally, the Woods-Britt combo has been significantly better than the Woods-Williams one. Most of that advantage has been on the defensive end.
  • Pinson hasn’t played much 2 yet, but it’s been very successful in its limited use. The Berry-Pinson-Jackson 1-2-3 trio was great last year, too (used heavily when Paige was injured), so it will be interesting to monitor Pinson’s time at the 2 (and possibly even his insertion into the starting lineup as a 2).

  • The Heels have also been very successful with Pinson at the 3 this season. While the Jackson-at-the-3 lineups are Carolina’s best offensively, the team defense has been significantly better with Pinson in that spot.
  • Williams at the 3 (alongside a 2-PG lineup—generally Berry-Britt) hasn’t been working in league play. It was below-average in non-conference games, too.
  • Just like in the non-conference schedule, UNC’s been strong defensively with Robinson on the floor, but well below-average on the offensive end.
  • After a dominating non-conference run, the starting 5 has regressed to slightly above-average in league games. While it’s still an excellent offensive unit, that quintet’s ability to get stops has fallen precipitously.
  • Given the lack of dominance, might a Pinson-for-Williams swap in the starting 5 be in order? It obviously depends on many factors (Pinson’s health, team chemistry/how Williams might perform off the bench, how to best utilize Pinson between the 2/3/4 positions, etc.). From a pure efficiency standpoint, however, I think the Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks lineup is probably Carolina’s strongest (although there not much (if any) drop with Bradley at the 5).
The Emergence of Seventh Woods

The Emergence of Seventh Woods

One clear bright spot in Thursday night’s loss to Duke was the play of Seventh Woods. In an extended (6:33) first-half stint, he made a profound impact on the game. After a wild start to the season (which included pops of brilliance splattered on a canvas of recklessness), Woods has demonstrated much better decision-making since ACC play has begun.

If step one on his journey was to stop making so many bad decisions, step two will be to mix in more positive plays (while maintaining that lower rate of errors). If the Duke game was any indication, Woods is well on his way to taking that evolutionary leap. Let’s take a look at Woods’ offensive possessions against the Blue Devils:

1st Half

  1. Following a Woods pass to the left wing, Justin Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer after using a jab step to create space. This one wasn’t credited as an assist since Jackson used some isolation moves/footwork to set up the shot. Still, it was a good example of Woods making the simple play to get the Heels’ top scorer the ball in a preferred location (Jackson’s lethal from the left wing).
  2. Jackson missed a contested floater in transition; no Woods touch on this possession.
  3. Woods missed a floater in the secondary break after running a pick-and-pop with Jackson (at the 4 in this lineup). This was a strong attack off the dribble, and the shot was just short (and almost got a soft roll).
  4. Woods delivered a simple entry pass to Jackson on the left block. As Jackson tried to back down the shorter Matt Jones, he was stripped of the ball for a turnover. Despite the turnover, this was another good example of Woods making a simple play to get the ball to a good spot.
  5. Following a Brandon Robinson post entry pass to Kennedy Meeks on the left block, Woods made a great cut to the front of the rim (as Jones was caught ball-watching). Meeks fed Woods for an easy left-handed finish at the rim. Constant movement is a must in UNC’s freelance passing game, and cuts like this (an area in which Jackson also excels) show why it’s so effective.
  6. Woods collected the loose-ball defensive rebound after a Meeks block, then immediately pushed the ball the other way. After a behind-the-back dribble, he made an accurate left-handed pass to Jackson for a lefty layup in the primary break. Woods’ ability to use his off-hand as a ball-handler, passer, and finisher is already miles ahead of Joel Berry, and is definitely a strength for him. If anything, he needs to work on using his dominant hand more/attacking to the right.
  7. After a Tony Bradley block-to-block cross-screen for Jackson, both defenders followed Jackson (as Duke miscommunicated on the switch). This left Bradley open at the rim, and Woods fired a flashy no-look pass for a dunk. Woods was heading back downcourt before the pass had even arrived, demonstrating a little of that Ed Cota swagger after a slick pass. This play also demonstrates how a top scorer like Jackson can help the offense in subtle ways (by drawing the attention of multiple defenders, in this case).
  8. Woods received a secondary break dribble hand-off from Bradley, then made a simple perimeter pass to Luke Maye (who made a freelance cut to fill an open part of the floor). Maye knocked down a long 2 (foot on the line) from the left wing, giving Woods his third assist on as many possessions. The Heels had now scored on four consecutive possessions: a Woods hoop, followed by those three straight assists.
  9. Maye, after receiving a pass in the right corner, had his shot blocked as he attempted a spinning floater in the paint. Woods didn’t touch the ball on this trip.
  10. Using a high ball screen from Maye in secondary, Woods was able to get to his preferred left side to complete the play with an off-hand finger roll. This was a tremendously skilled finish, showcasing his great body control. Woods has been a poor finisher this year (42.3% (11-26) on close attempts, including 5-of-14 (35.7%) from the left-side of the rim and 9-of-19 (47.4%) off the dribble), but will take his scoring to a more dangerous level once he starts to make shots like this on a more consistent basis.
  11. Woods, again getting a secondary break ball screen (this time from Bradley), was able to split the double team (hedger and recovering on-ball defender) and get in the paint. After forcing a help defender to step up in the paint, Woods delivered a drive, draw, and dish to Maye on the right block. Maye had his layup attempt engulfed by Marques Bolden, but it was still a great job of creating a close opportunity by Woods. Had this pass been made to, say, Isaiah Hicks, it almost certainly would have been another assist. As it is, it’ll go down as a “potential close assist” in the charting stats. Woods’ handle was a little bit shaky when splitting the ball screen defense, but he was able to get through unscathed. Improving his ball-handling will be another way that Woods takes his game to the next level (allowing him to use his great quickness to make more plays like this one more easily).

2nd Half

  1. Nate Britt turned the ball over on an attempted primary break lob to Theo Pinson. No Woods touch on this possession.
  2. Another Woods mid-range assist on a routine freelance passing game feed to Maye. Maye again found a free spot to re-locate to, allowing Woods to hit him for a 16-footer from the left mid-paint extended. Nothing fancy here, but an example of making the simple play in the halfcourt offense.
  3. After a Woods station-to-station perimeter pass to Britt was deflected out of bounds by an overplaying Luke Kennard, Roy Williams opted to bring Berry back in the game to close out the last 6:57 of a 70-70 game. This was Woods’ only questionable decision of the night, as it could have easily led to a live-ball turnover and Duke run-out in the other direction.

I didn’t talk much about Woods’ defense against Duke, but he was very quiet (in a good way) on that end. Defending Jones and then Frank Jackson, Woods’ only defensive box score contributions were a deflection and a defensive board. He picked up the the deflection by stripping Jackson in the paint after a good Bradley help rotation allowed Woods to recover and get his hands on the ball (it would go out of bounds to Duke). In general, Woods’ defense has been solid all year. He’s certainly made some freshman mistakes (ball-watching, gambling for steals, etc.), but his defense has been an overall positive this season. He’s on track to develop into an above-average on-ball defender, probably as early as his sophomore season.

After his 4 assists/0 turnovers line against Duke, Woods’ A:TO in ACC play improved to 22:8 (after being 18:25 in non-conference competition). On a per-40 basis:

  • Non-conference: 4.8 assists / 40, 6.6 turnovers / 40
  • Conference: 11.7 assists / 40, 4.3 turnovers / 40

The 4.3 turnovers / 40 is still a bit high (though moving rapidly in the right direction), but the 11.7 assists / 40 (22 assists in 75 ACC minutes) is off-the-charts good. Adjusted for pace, that number is 11.2 assists / 40. Over the course of an entire season, only Kendall Marshall’s 11.4 / 40 in 2012 would top it (Marshall had 9.7 / 40 as a freshman in ’11; Ed Cota’s FR-SR numbers were 9.8, 9.3, 8.6, 9.0). Obviously Woods’ current ACC assist rate in not sustainable. Nobody is mistaking him for Marshall or Cota (or even Raymond Felton) as an all-time Carolina passer. But the truth is most certainly somewhere in the middle between his 4.8 / 40 non-conference rate and his gaudy 11.7 / 40 ACC one.

Let’s take a look at some season-to-date UNC passing leaderboards to see where Woods ranks (as seen by his non-conference/ACC splits, he’s been moving way up on these lists lately):

Assists / 40 (including FT Assists)

  1. Pinson: 9.72
  2. Woods: 8.19
  3. Berry: 6.20
  4. Britt: 5.88
  5. Robinson: 5.56

Potential Assists / 40

  1. Pinson: 16.66
  2. Woods: 16.55
  3. Berry: 14.61
  4. Britt: 12.52
  5. Robinson: 10.94

Potential Close Assists / 40

  1. Pinson: 7.64
  2. Woods: 5.16
  3. Robinson: 4.51
  4. Britt: 4.41
  5. Berry: 4.34

%Open Shots (Open Potential Assists / Potential Assists)

  1. Pinson: 34.2%
  2. Meeks: 22.5%
  3. Woods: 20.9%
  4. Hicks: 17.5%
  5. Britt: 17.3%

The bad news, of course, has been the rate of passing turnovers for Woods—nearly twice as high as the next-highest Heel (although, again, trending in the right direction) :

Passing TO / 40

  1. Woods: 3.55
  2. Berry: 1.86
  3. Maye: 1.42
  4. Britt: 1.24
  5. Williams: 1.03

Passing TO% (Passing TO / Potential Assists)

  1. Woods: 21.5%
  2. Meeks: 16.9%
  3. Maye: 15.4%
  4. Hicks: 15.4%
  5. Berry: 12.7%

Woods’ scoring (and scoring efficiency) has also been way done in ACC games. After scoring 11.4 points / 40 in non-conference play on a TS% of 48.5, those numbers have dropped to 5.3 and 24.7% in the ACC. Woods is also drawing significantly fewer fouls in league games (FTA Rate of 56.3 vs. 90.3 in the non-conference). That’s to be expected with Woods’ evolutionary journey of first eliminating the bad plays (which has made him less aggressive/more focused on making the simple play). Some of the good (attacking the rim to draw fouls/score) has been temporarily shelved since it didn’t outweigh the bad. But, as the Duke game may have portended, Woods may soon be to the next step in his journey as a Carolina point guard: a stage in which the good/aggressive plays are more prevalent, but not interspersed with so many bad ones (i.e., knowing when to attack and when to make the smart/simple/safe play). Learning the UNC system isn’t easy for any freshman point guard. But if the recent signs are to be believed, Seventh Woods is close to having a breakthrough.