While the last post dumped a bunch of defensive charting data, it didn’t do much in explaining a.) what the numbers mean, or b.) what else I’ve observed beyond the numbers based on careful re-watching/charting. So, without further ado:
- Ball-screen defense: there are many ways to defend a ball screen, but Roy Williams’s preferred technique has alway been for the on-ball defender to fight over top of the pick, while the help defender hedges then recovers to his rolling/popping man. Over the past couple of seasons (dictated partially by personnel), the Heels have used more “soft” hedges (where the help defender plays a sort of one-man zone rather than aggressively “showing” to disrupt the dribbler) against the high ball screen. This year Carolina is switching ball screens more frequently than ever before, especially a.) late in shot clocks, or b.) when Justin Jackson is at the 4. Still, UNC’s hedging (either hard or soft versions) about 75% of the time.
- The Hawaii game showed why Roy Williams has had lifelong reservations about switching ball screens. The Rainbow Warriors attacked the UNC switches in a variety of ways, including: 1.) with a guard beating Kennedy Meeks off the dribble, 2.) with a wing hitting a step-back 3-pointer over Isaiah Hicks, and 3.) with a center hitting a jump hook over Jackson after receiving a post entry. Meeks and Hicks have never been especially strong hedge defenders (although the early returns on Tony Bradley have been promising here). But the way that Hawaii exploited mismatches following switches confirmed Williams’s preferred help-and-recover strategy.
- In general, UNC’s backcourt has defended much better than its frontcourt. Both Hicks and Jackson have been consistently beaten for baskets this season. Jackson, while not disruptive, has shown the ability to be a very good, steady positional wing defender. While sliding down to the 4, though, he has been overmatched on several occasions by more physical opponents. Hicks still seems to be adjusting to his new role, both in terms of logging big minutes and avoiding fouls while providing aggressive, high-energy minutes. Meeks, though he struggled a bit defensively against Hawaii, was very energetic and effective in the first three games of the season. The Heels haven’t faced many high-level bigs yet (although Chattanooga’s Justin Tuoyo is very good), but Meeks’s defense has been a pleasant surprise. Bradley’s still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the college game, but it’s obvious that he’ll be a fantastic defensive big at the collegiate level. For now, though, he’s still a step slow on many rotations– as that improves with more reps, his blocked shot numbers should increase dramatically.
- As for the backcourt, it all starts with Joel Berry. He’s been fantastically disruptive as an on-ball defender, and has really set the tone for the entire defense. His defensive energy was down a bit against Hawaii, and it made a noticeable difference on the entire unit. Seventh Woods has made his share of freshman mistakes (e.g., taking bad angles fighting through screens, allowing penetration to the middle of the floor, etc.), but has shown glimpses of being a great on-ball pressure defender. Kenny Williams and Nate Britt has been a really good defensive platoon at the 2. Britt’s strengths are ball pressure, wing denial, and defensive disruption (he led the Heels with 8 deflections and 4.5 forced turnovers vs. Hawaii). Williams is a more prototypically-sized defensive 2, and his length, physicality, ability to curtail penetration, and crisp help-side rotations make him my preferred option at that position. Once Theo Pinson returns from his injury, UNC’s backcourt defense will become even more potent and flexible. The Heels were beaten by a few backdoors against Hawaii, but that’s the cost of denying the wings/disrupting offensive flow.
- Defensive rebounding continues to be a relative weakness for Carolina. While the Heels rank 3rd in the nation in OR%, grabbing nearly half their misses (49.3%), they’re just average on the defensive glass (170th in the country at 70.3%). Somewhat surprisingly, UNC’s rebounded well in its small-ball lineups (DR% of 77.8 with Jackson at the 4)– albeit in a limited sample. Likewise, the Hicks-Meeks starting frontcourt has been solid on the defensive glass (DR% of 74.2). Hicks-Bradley has been just an average frontcourt in terms of defensive rebounding (71.4%), and Maye frontcourts have really struggled (58.6%– although, again, sample size caveats apply). Individually, both Hicks (DR% of 11.5) and Jackson (8.5%) need to step it up. At center, Meeks has been excellent (22.7%) and Bradley serviceable (15.9%). Berry, Woods, and Williams are aggressive, athletic rebounders who can grab traffic rebounds or help clean up long misses. Again, the return of Pinson figures to really help out on the defensive backboards.