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Jackson Makes His Case

Jackson Makes His Case

With Pitt riding some Senior Day emotion, the first 17 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game were back-and-forth with neither team possessing more than a six-point lead. After Michael Young hit a 3-pointer following a Cameron Johnson pin-down screen (Luke Maye’s navigation of the screen was poor; he was obviously out of his defensive comfort zone here), the Panthers cut the Carolina lead to two at 30-28. Over the three minutes that remained before the halftime break, however, Justin Jackson stated his case for ACC Player of the Year.

Let’s break down that 10-0, Jackson-led scoring run. It was a quick one, involving just four offensive possessions and four defensive stops for the Tar Heels.

UNC1 (33-28): Against the Pitt zone, Jackson hit Tony Bradley at the left elbow, then got it back on a dribble hand-off from him. Jackson was looking to launch a 3, but a strong Pitt close-out denied him that opportunity. So he again found Bradley and used him to facilitate a hand-off. This time the exchange created just enough space for Jackson to release a contested 3 from the left wing that he knocked down with a second left on the shot clock. This was one of Pitt’s better zone defense possessions, which made Jackson’s dagger at the buzzer even more disheartening.

PITT1 (33-28): After a solid possession of half-court defense by the Heels, Young settled for a step-back 3 from the left wing that was well-guarded by Maye. Jamel Artis out-battled Jackson for the offensive board (this hasn’t happened much: in ACC game, Jackson has 44 defensive boards while only allowing seven offensive rebounds), but had his put-back attempt altered by Tony Bradley. Joel Berry came crashing in for a strong defensive rebound in traffic.

UNC2 (35-28): Upon grabbing the board, Berry immediately pushed the pace himself. He skipped the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson, having a decent transition look from his favorite spot, instead opted to bounced an entry pass to Maye on the left block for an easy lefty layup. This was an example of a selfless superstar giving up a good look to get a great one. It’s also one of the reasons why Carolina’s offense can be so hard to defend; the Heels are relentlessly committed to getting paint touches (which sets up the perimeter game). While Jackson got the primary assist here, the hockey assist went to Berry—one of UNC’s season-high 15 secondary assists (Jackson led the way here, too, with 4; Britt/Berry/Hicks had 3 apiece, while Woods and Pinson each had 1).

PITT2 (35-28): Pitt ran a ball screen with Sheldon Jeter setting a pick for Chris Jones. Jackson fought over the top of the screen, while Meeks flat-hedged the action in an effort to contain Jones’ penetration. Jones was still able to turn the corner, but Meeks corralled him well enough to set up Berry’s helpside rotation. Berry slid over to draw the charge—one of two that he picked up against the Panthers. Berry’s now drawn 13 offensive fouls this season, second on the team to Kenny Williams’ 17.

UNC3 (37-28): Against the Pitt zone, Jackson whipped a Pinson-like pass into Meeks on the left-side of the hoop. While Young recovered to block the initial attempt, Meeks was left wide-open for the subsequent tip-in. Although Jackson didn’t get credit for the assist here because of the offensive rebound, it was clearly his bullet pass that created the scoring opportunity.

PITT3 (37-28): Johnson took Pinson off the dribble from the right wing, forcing a Pinson bump/hand-check in the paint to control the penetration. The Panthers were still in the single bonus and Johnson, an 82% free-throw shooter, missed the front end with Meeks controlling the rebound.

UNC4 (40-28): The Heels capped off their 10-0 run the same way they started it: on a Jackson 3. This one was again late in the shot clock, and set up by Berry splitting the zone with a drive. After Berry picked up his dribble near the foul line, Jackson curled to the right wing to receive the kick-out pass. The spacing wasn’t great on this play, as both Britt and Jackson were simultaneously cutting to the same area. It didn’t matter, though, as Jackson was still able to make a contested catch-and-shoot 3 with four seconds left on the shot clock (and about 13 seconds left on the game clock). Both of Jackson’s 3s during this critical 10-0 run were in the final six seconds of the shot clock. He’s been an assassin in late-clock situations this season, with a True Shooting% of 90.1% with less than six seconds left in the possession (12-18 from the field, 8-12 behind the arc, and 3-3 from the foul line).

PITT4 (40-28): On the final possession of the half, Pitt used a Young ball screen to create a drive-and-kick opportunity for Justice Kithcart. He was able to get penetration and set up a left-corner 3 for Jeter, but a solid close-out by Meeks forced a miss as the clock expired.

All 10 of the Heels’ points in this defining half-ending spurt were scored or set up by Jackson. Some of it was good offense (like the secondary break entry to Maye for the layup), while some (like Jackson’s contested 3s) was just individual shot-making. UNC used some Jackson brilliance along with a couple good breaks (the 50-50 call on the Berry charge—close to being an “and-1” for Pitt, the front-end miss by a good shooter) to quickly turn a close game into a comfortable halftime margin. Pitt would never truly threaten in the second half, as Jackson’s late-half knockout-punch 3s effectively ended the Panthers’ chances. A player of the year does more than just fill up the stat sheet: he makes big plays in big situations. Jackson made his case again on Saturday afternoon, and it’s a compelling one.


Justin Jackson’s Historic 3-Point Improvement

Justin Jackson’s Historic 3-Point Improvement

After making just 29.2% of his 120 3-pointer as a sophomore, Justin Jackson has improved to 39.4% on 178 attempts as a junior. That increase of 10.2 percentage points is obviously a healthy one. But where does it rank in ACC history among season-over-season improvements?

The only caveat here is that a player must have at least 100 3-point attempts in each season to qualify for this list (to prevent cases like Donald Williams’ freshman-to-sophomore improvement in which he went from a seldom-used reserve to a starter; while those are also clearly improvements, they fall into a different class than what we’re trying to measure here).


  • Prior to this season, only 11 ACC players had ever had a 10-percentage-point increase in their season-over-season 3-point percentage. So far this year, three other players (Kennard, Holmes, and Jackson) are currently poised to join that club. Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen will probably be a fourth. He’s currently shooting 47.8% from behind the arc on 90 attempts. Last year, he made just 28.0% on 157 3s. He’ll qualify for the list once he gets 10 more attempts to reach the threshold of 100.
  • Calabria, Felton, and Hairston give Carolina three members on this list (Jackson would be the fourth). No other team has more than two (Kennard would be Duke’s third; Allen would be the third for Virginia Tech).
  • Some UNC near misses on this list are: Hubert Davis (+9.3: 39.6% on 111 attempts in 1990 to 48.9% on 131 in 1991), Vince Carter (+7.5: 33.6% on 107 attempts in 1997 to 41.1% on 107 attempts in 1998), Ademola Okulaja (+17.3: 25.8% on 93 attempts in 1998 to 43.1% on 137 attempts in 1999—just missed the 100-attempt cutoff in season one), and Reggie Bullock (+8.6: 29.6% on 98 attempts in 2011 to 38.2% on 186 attempts in 2012).

Some other Jackson-related 3-point tidbits.

  • UNC’s all-time record for made 3s in a season is 95 by Shammond Williams in 1997. Next is Marcus Paige (94 in 2015), P.J. Hairston (89 in 2013), Reggie Bullock (88 in 2013), and Jeff Lebo (88 in 1988). So far this season, Jackson’s made 74 in 28 games. Assuming that UNC plays 10 more games (four regular-season games plus anywhere from 2-to-9 in the postseason; we’ve chosen six for this forecast), Jackson is projected to end the season with exactly 100 3s. Whether he breaks the single-season record (and becomes the first Heel with a triple-digit made 3-point season) figures to be a function of how deep Carolina advances in the postseason.
  • Jackson (74) and Joel Berry (63) have combined to make 137 3s so far this season. The most by any pair of UNC teammates is:
    • 177: Hairston (89)/Bullock (88), 2013
    • 162: Ellington (85)/Green (77), 2009
    • 154: K. Smith (87)/Lebo (67), 1987
    • 153: D. Williams (87)/Calabria (66), 1995
    • 144: Calabria (77)/McInnis (67), 1996
  • Assuming 10 more games this season, Jackson and Berry would end the season with 186 made 3s, placing them at the top of this list. Even with a shorter-than-expected postseason, that duo figures to easily climb to at least No. 2 on the list.
  • Jackson and Berry are both also in the Carolina all-time top 20 for made 3s. Berry is currently 15th with 148, while Jackson is 19th with 137. Jackson’s career 3-point percentage of 34.3% is the second-lowest of any Tar Heel in the top 20 (only Leslie McDonald at 33.3% is lower). It’s obviously been trending in the right direction this season, though.
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.


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.
Jackson & Berry: Best-Shooting UNC Duo Ever?

Jackson & Berry: Best-Shooting UNC Duo Ever?

Justin Jackson and Joel Berry combined to make 6-of-11 3-pointers in the big home win over Florida State. That’s nothing new, though—that combo is shooting 41.5% (88-212) from behind the arc this season on a healthy 11.8 attempts per game (accounting for the two games that Berry missed). So how does that compare to the greatest Carolina 3-point shooting tandems of all-time?

To answer that question, let’s use Points Above Replacement Shooter (PARS), a metric that combines shooting efficiency and shooting volume. It assumes a replacement-level 3-point shooter makes 30.0% of his shots and, unlike here where we used PARS/1,000 minutes, we’ll use PARS / game for this analysis. All 3-point attempts per game are pace-adjusted.

As seen in the table, Berry and Jackson are currently third on UNC’s all-time list for combined PARS / game for a pair of teammates. While it will be difficult to maintain their lofty percentages as the schedule continues to intensify, it’s a safe bet that this duo will remain in the top 5 on this list all season. We’ll keep an eye on this leaderboard as the season progresses, but it’s safe to say that the Berry/Jackson combo has exceeded even the most optimistic Tar Heel fan’s expectations in terms of 3-point shooting.

I’m charting the exciting win over the Seminoles this evening, and will be posting a game story at some point this weekend. So stay tuned for that.

Justin Jackson’s Development as a Shooter

Justin Jackson’s Development as a Shooter

After making just 1.17 3-pointers / 40 minutes at a rate of 29.7% through his first two collegiate campaigns, Justin Jackson has improved those numbers to 3.17 and 38.7% after 17 games of his junior season. Both his 3-point volume (per-40) and efficiency have significantly increased season-over-season—a testament to the feedback he received from NBA scouts, and the hard work he put in all summer. But just how rare is it for a Tar Heel to make the type of perimeter improvement that Jackson has this year? Let’s dig deeper into the data to answer that question.

For the sake of this analysis, we’ll look at two primary numbers: 1.) 3-point percentage (efficiency) and 2.) pace-adjusted 3-point attempts per 40 minutes (usage/volume). In Jackson’s case, his season-by-season marks in these metrics are:

Using these two concepts of 3-point proficiency, we can create a metric called Points Above Replacement Shooter per 1,000 Minutes—or PARS/1000. Since 2002, the national average has hovered between 33.9% and 35.1%. The average for those seasons in 34.5%. For the sake of this analysis, we’ll consider a “replacement-level” shooter to be one who connects on 30% of his 3s. While that number is somewhat arbitrary, it doesn’t make a difference for the sake of the rankings/ordering. Alternatively, we could use the concept of an average shooter here rather than a replacement-level one, too. 1,000 minutes is used because a.) it’s a round number, and b.) it’s about the number of minutes an average collegiate starter will play in a season (35 games at 26.6 MPG).

Jackson’s PARS/1000 this season can be computed as follows:

  • 7.62 3-pointers per 40 minutes –> 190.5 3-pointers per 1,000 minutes
  • a replacement-level shooter would score 171.5 points on those attempts (190.5 * 0.300 * 3)
  • Jackson would score 221.2 points on those attempts (190.5 * 0.387 * 3)
  • thus, Jackson has a PARS/1000 of 49.7 (221.2 – 171.5)

As a sophomore, Jackson’s PARS/1000 was actually negative (since he fell slightly below the 30% mark) at -2.5. Thus, his season-over-season change in this metric was (49.7 – (-2.5)) = +52.2. So how does that mark compare historically to other UNC shooters? Let’s take a look at the table below:

The major assumption used here is that a player must log at least 10 minutes/game in each of the seasons for which the PARS/1000 change is being measured. This will ensure that we’re only including players who were in the rotation in both years of the comparison. It excludes the freshman-to-sophomore leaps of some memorable UNC shooters like Hubert Davis, Donald Williams, Shammond Williams (and Kenny Williams this season), as well as Wes Miller’s sophomore-to-junior jump and Pearce Landry’s junior-to-senior one. If we were to raise the minutes/game threshold to 15, Jackson would actually climb to No. 2 on the list behind Okulaja (Hairston and Curry played 13.0 MPG as freshmen, McDonald played 10.3, and Graves (prior to his suspension) played 11.2 as a sophomore).

The players on this list can be split into three primary buckets:

  1. Those who improved both their 3-point volume and efficiency significantly. This includes (at least to date) Jackson and Berry this season. It also includes Britt’s jump between his freshman and sophomore seasons (a time period in which—stop me if you’ve heard this one—he actually changed shooting hands!). Others on this list include McDonald, Okulaja, Graves, Stackhouse, Cota, Paige, and Jawad Williams.
  2. Those who improve their 3-point efficiency significantly. This group includes Hairston, Curry, Felton, Calabria, Bullock (twice!), Davis, Boone, Green, Lawson, and Donald Williams. For some on this list (notably, Curry, Calabria, and FR-to-SO Bullock), 3-point volume actually went down (as part of a volume-efficiency trade-off). For some (Felton, Boone, Green, D. Williams) it went up slightly. For some (Hairston, SO-to-JR Bullock, Davis, Lawson), it stayed nearly the same. In all cases, it was the increase in 3Pt% rather than an increase in the volume that was driving the improvement.
  3. Those who increase their 3-point volume significantly while maintaining a high percentage. This is the rarest type on the list, including just Fox, Bucknall, Scott, and Noel. Scott moved from point guard as a freshman to off the ball (alongside Felton) as a sophomore. Noel’s volume increased to help compensate for the losses of Felton, McCants, Scott, and Jawad/Marvin Williams from the ’05 champs. Fox and Bucknall likewise stepped up as upperclassmen to help fill perimeter voids (the loss of Ranzino Smith in Bucknall’s case, and the losses of Lebo/Bucknall in Fox’s).

In the offseason, I’ll play around a little more with this data (career PARS/1000 leaders, categorizing UNC’s historical 3-point shooters into buckets by career shooting progression, etc.). For the remainder of this season, the ability of Jackson and Berry to maintain their places on this list will help to determine just how special Carolina’s season ends up being. The Heels will need both to continue being high-volume, high-efficiency options from behind the arc.

An interesting aside about Jackson’s 3-point shooting in 2017: he continues to be significantly more effective from the left side of the floor than the right side from the perimeter (and as a penetrator too, actually; his floater percentage from the left paint is much better than from the right paint). Here are his 3-point splits by shot location:

  • right corner: 25.0% (2-8)
  • right wing: 20.0% (6-30)
  • top of the key: 44.4% (8-18)
  • left wing: 51.3% (20-39)
  • left corner: 45.5% (5-11)

Or, summing those up: 21.1% from the right side (on 38 attempts) and 50.0% from the left side (on 50 attempts). The top of the key was right about in the middle percentage-wise (and, you know, shooting-wise) until Jackson hit 2-of-2 there against NC State to bump that percentage until the mid-40s. Just something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


The Understated Elegance of Justin Jackson

The Understated Elegance of Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson’s game has never been flashy. Rather than explosive leaping ability or a lightning-quick first step, he relies on quick-release, odd-angle craftiness to score in the paint. Instead of blowing by or powering through to get to the rim, he’s more likely to use a subtle cut or baseline flash to receive a pass for a close score.

That said, as Jackson continues to add legitimate 3-point range to his scoring arsenal, he’s now too good offensively to fly under the radar. He’s developed into a legitimate alpha scorer, but the rarest of alphas who can dominate a game without dominating the ball. Let’s break down Jackson’s 28-point, 5-assist masterpiece against Monmouth to see how he’s creating his opportunities.

These are listed chronologically—video would be great here, of course, and hopefully I can go back (when I have more time) and edit some of these posts to include video clips.

1st Half: 6-9 FGs, 5-7 3Pt, 0-0 FTs, 17 points, 3:0 A:TO

  • Missed 2-pointer: With the Heels focusing on pounding the paint early, Jackson didn’t get his first look until UNC’s seventh possession. A contested catch-and-shoot 18-footer from the left-elbow extended, it came in the freelance passing game after he set a back-screen for Isaiah Hicks, then curled to receive a pass from Kenny Williams. Jackson was falling away a bit on this shot, and mid-range jumpers (of the non-floater variety) remain the one glaring weakness of his offensive game. He’s now 0-of-3 on catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers, and 0-for-7 on off-the-dribble mid-range jumpers. Overall, Jackson’s just 1-13 (7.7%) from between 10 and 20 feet this season.
  • Assist: Jackson’s first assist came on a secondary break lob to Kennedy Meeks, who received a Nate Britt back-screen after reversing the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Good Britt screen, and a typically well-delivered pass by Jackson.
  • Made 3-pointer: It took five minutes of game time for Jackson to crack the scoring column, but he did so by hitting a secondary break 3 from the left wing (his sweet spot—now 16-31 (51.6%) on left-wing 3s this year). This one was set up by a Meeks ball screen, and Jackson knocked it down off the bounce (he’s now 4-of-5 on off-the-dribble 3s this year). The ability to hit 3s off the dribble when defenders go under ball screens is a big addition to his offensive repertoire. Jackson passed Brian Reese for 63rd on UNC’s all-time scoring list with this hoop.
  • Made 3-pointer: Two possessions later, Jackson hit another 3—this time after receiving an inside-out diagonal pass from Luke Maye in UNC’s freelance motion. Britt threw the entry pass to Maye on the left block to earn the hockey assist. Jackson’s now just 6-22 (28.6%) on right-wing 3s this year. Monmouth didn’t double the post, but Jackson’s man sagged/over-helped on the weak-side to allow the diagonal pass when Maye looked opposite. Over-helping in the paint at the expense of defending the 3: must have been something that King Rice picked up in his Carolina days (just kidding… kind of).
  • Assist: Following a BLOB ball reversal, Jackson hit Tony Bradley (who created a strong seal in the post) with a tough-angle, bounce-pass entry. This was a really good (and subtly tricky) post delivery, and led to an “and-1” when Bradley hit a contested jump-hook. Jackson’s been UNC’s best post entry passer all season (8.9 entries / 40 with a Success:Failure of 1.68 entering the Monmouth game), and this pass was a terrific example of why.
  • Made 3-pointer: This entire defense-to-offense sequence showed the value of Jackson. After making a good help-the-helper rotation (after Bradley helped when Hicks allowed dribble penetration) to force a steal, Jackson pushed the break himself. After hitting Bradley (the trailing big) in secondary, Jackson immediately received a handoff and knocked down a deep (24′ or so) top-of-the-key 3. He’s now 5-13 (38.5%) this season on 3s from this location. For those keeping track, within a 5-possession span, Jackson hit: a 3-pointer from the left wing, the right wing, and the top of the key. He also hit one off the dribble, one off a handoff, and one following an inside-out pass.
  • Missed 3-pointer: After resting for a couple minutes, Jackson immediately launched a 3 in his first possession back on the floor. Cory Alexander correctly identified this one as a “heat check,” and it was created via a routine BLOB entry by Berry to the right corner. This one was well-contested, and Jackson was again leaning back/falling away a bit on the release. He’s shooting 2-7 (28.6%) on right-corner 3s this year.
  • Made 2-pointer: As the small-ball 4 against a zone defense, Jackson was working the baseline/low post with Meeks operating in the high post. As he does so well, a cutting Jackson found an opening near the rim to receive a right-block entry from Berry for an easy 4-footer. A good Carolina possession against the zone defense.
  • Made 3-pointer: On the very next possession (still as a 4), Jackson created a Berry 3-pointer with a drive-and-kick pass. After the Berry miss, Williams tipped out the rebound which was saved by a Britt hustle play on the floor. As the loose-ball scramble was won by Britt, Jackson re-located to his favorite spot (the left wing) and hit a 3-pointer following a Berry pass. Jackson moved by John Henson for 62nd on UNC’s career scoring list with this basket. He also passed Ed Cota into 28th place with his 94th career 3-pointer.
  • Made 3-pointer: On the next possession (still as a 4), Jackson, the trailing big, received a simple secondary break reversal pass from Britt and drilled a clean top-of-the-key 3. This is why Jackson is such a dangerous offensive weapon as a small-ball 4. He can hit that 3 when trailing, or get to the rim off the dribble if an opposing 4 closes out on him to deny it. The three possessions just described were literally the only ones in which Jackson played the 4 versus Monmouth. And he scored eight points on them! The 8-0 Jackson run stretched UNC’s lead to 19 at 41-22. On the season, Jackson has now scored 65 points (including 9-21 on 3s) in 78.9 minutes as a small-ball 4—that’s an incredible 33.0 points / 40 minutes. With this basket, he moved past Jeff McInnis on the career scoring list.
  • Assist: In his first possession back at the 3 after a quick stint on the bench, Jackson found a screen-slipping Hicks for an open dunk. This slip-screen action has been a staple of Carolina’s secondary break for decades, and several of Jackson’s team-high seven assisted dunks have come on this very option.
  • Missed 3-pointer: Monmouth was back in its zone on this possession, and Jackson received a pass on the right wing from Hicks during the secondary ball reversal. After shot-faking to get the defender to fly by, Jackson created a clean 3 with one hard dribble to the left but was unable to knock it down (his first missed 3 off the dribble of the season).

2nd Half: 3-5 FGs, 1-2 3Pt, 4-4 FTs, 11 points, 2:2 A:TO

  • Made 2-pointer: Jackson’s only floater of the game, this one was created following BLOB freelance action. He curled off a Meeks screen to receive a Williams pass, then took two hard dribbles with his left hand before hitting a righty floater from about 8 feet. It was attempted from the left side of the court, an area where Jackson’s made 10 of 15 shots this year (almost all of them floaters). From the analogous location on the right side, Jackson’s made only 5 of 13. Overall, he’s connected on 46.7% (14-30) of his patented floaters on the season.
  • Made 3-pointer: Following a missed Meeks foul shot, Hicks tapped out the rebound and Berry found Jackson open in the left corner against a scrambled defense. He’s now 4-8 (50.0%) on left-corner 3s this year. Jackson had now attempted around-the-horn 3s (both corners, both wings, and the top of the key) against Monmouth, hitting one from each spot except the right corner. This basket capped off a 6-point possession (2 Berry FTs on the technical, followed by a Meeks FT, then the Jackson 3 on the tip-out). After a defensive stop, UNC scored 5 points (4 Berry FTs, plus a Meeks FT) on its very next possession. This rapidly extended a 10-point Carolina lead (56-46) to 21 points (67-46), effectively ending Monmouth’s upset bid. Jackson tied Wes Miller for 27th in UNC history with his 96th career made 3-pointer.
  • Missed 3-pointer: After a Hicks high-post touch against Monmouth’s zone, Seventh Woods whipped a perimeter pass to Jackson in the right corner. Jackson tried a jab step to create space, but it was well-guarded as the defender didn’t bite on the fake. This led to a contested corner 3. But even Jackson’s misses were turning out well on this night, as Williams crashed from the weak-side for an easy tip-in. Zone the Heels at your peril; even if you get initial stops, the offensive rebounds will kill you.
  • Assist: Jackson threw a simple secondary break entry pass from the right corner to Meeks on the right block, who finished strong with a power dribble through contact. This type of entry is as routine as it gets in Carolina’s system, but Jackson’s ability to consistently execute these plays perfectly (and quickly—rarely being a ball-stopper) is a big part of why the Heels are so offensively efficient.
  • Made free throws: In UNC’s halfcourt freelance passing game, Jackson capitalized on an opportunity created when a Monmouth defender over-played a passing lane/took a poor angle around a Hicks screen. Jackson recognized this advantage immediately, and drew the foul on the rotating help-side big upon entering the paint.
  • Assist: Another secondary break set, another assist for Jackson. This time, after throwing the reversal pass to Jackson on the wing, Hicks set a ball screen and rolled to the rim. Jackson lobbed it in to Hicks for an easy layup. This play wasn’t really open (or executed well—the spacing on the back-screen from Williams was poor), but the Heels were able to take advantage of a smaller defender on Hicks. This type of pass won’t work against many ACC-caliber opponents, but luckily Jackson is too smart to attempt it in those situations. To summarize, Jackson had four secondary break assists out of four different actions (slip to trailing big, lob to trailing big after back screen, lob to trailing big after pick-and-roll, and routine entry pass to non-trailing big). All five of his assists were to Carolina bigs (2 to Hicks, 2 to Meeks, and 1 to Bradley). They resulted in a dunk, three layups, and an “and-1” hook in the paint.
  • Turnover: After getting trapped immediately upon crossing halfcourt, Jackson threw the ball out of bounds when attempting a skip pass to Berry. He needs to be stronger with the ball here, but even this could have been much worse (i.e., a live-ball turnover).
  • Missed 2-pointer: With the shot clock down to single digits, Jackson attempted to create his own offense off the bounce. His mid-range jumper from the short left corner was blocked; as mentioned earlier, the (non-floater) mid-range remains Jackson’s biggest offensive weakness right now.
  • Made 2-pointer: An immediate BLOB lob (Bob Loblaw?) entry from Berry to Jackson resulted in a quick and easy layup. With a smaller defender on Jackson, this was good awareness/communication/chemistry from the Berry-Jackson duo to recognize and capitalize on the opportunity.
  • Turnover: After a Williams hit-ahead pass in transition, Jackson tried to hit a cutting Meeks at the rim. The pass was too high and hard (although it probably would have worked if thrown to either Hicks or Bradley), sailing out of bounds. Although a poorly-executed pass, this is the type of turnover that Roy Williams can live. It’s the cost of doing business in Carolina’s high-octane, up-tempo system.
  • Made free throws: Jackson received a right-wing ball screen from Bradley in UNC’s freelance motion, using it to get a right-elbow jumper on which he was fouled. The official scorer mistakenly credited Jackson with both a missed field goal and two made free throws here. It should have only been the free throws (and, thus, I had Jackson at 9-14 from the field rather than 9-15).

So UNC didn’t run a single set to get Jackson involved against Monmouth. Much of his offense flowed naturally out of the secondary break, and he also took advantage of some routine freelance passing game options. Throw in a couple of 3s following offensive rebound-related defensive chaos, plus a BLOB chance or two, and it adds up to 28 easy points for Jackson. He won’t always hit 6-of-9 threes, but he will usually be able to get these types of scoring opportunities in Carolina’s offense.

Jackson, Berry, and Guarding Ball Screens

Jackson, Berry, and Guarding Ball Screens

Since my first attempt at breaking down the epic Carolina-Kentucky game ended up being nothing more than a “Defending Malik Monk” piece, I thought I’d take another crack at it. I think this will actually be a 3-part series: Part 3 will focus on Carolina’s transition defense, its late-game decision-making, and some other final thoughts on the UK game. Then, in the immortal words of Bill Belichick, it’ll be “on to Northern Iowa.”

Jackson and Berry:

  • In addition to teaming up for a hyper-efficient 57 points on 32 FGAs, Jackson and Berry also combined for 10 of UNC’s 25 defensive rebounds, an A:TO of 10-to-3, and five (of the team’s six) FT assists (passes leading directly to shooting fouls). The Heels scored 100 points on 78 possessions (oRtg of 128.2) against Kentucky’s top-10 defense (still 6th in adjusted defensive efficiency, even after yesterday’s rough showing), largely due to how effectively the Jackson/Berry duo performed. Here’s a closer look at how they got their points.
  • Jackson:
    • 4 3-pointers: 1.) an inside-out one (great cross-court pass from Bradley after a post entry from Berry); 2.) a secondary break pick-and-pop one while Jackson was playing small-ball 4 (one of Maye’s 3s also resulted from pick-and-pop action); 3.) a tough, step-back 3 off the dribble after curling off a screen; and 4.) coming off a screen in UNC’s “elevator doors” set to hit the huge 3 that gave the Heels a 98-95 lead
    • 2-of-5 on floaters (he’s now 11-27, or 40.7%, on floaters this season), including his first lefty floater of the year
    • 3-of-4 on close attempts, including as a cutter (for the key late-game “and-1”) and both off-the-dribble and receiving a pass in transition
    • a turnaround jumper over Briscoe after backing him down off the dribble (looked like Harrison Barnes circa 2012 on this one)
    • 10-of-15 from the line, drawing the fouls by a combination of attacking the hoop off the dribble and running the court in transition (plus a loose-ball foul he drew while corralling a defensive board)
    • There were plenty of encouraging “alpha scorer” signs from Jackson in this one— most notably drawing the 15 FTAs, of course, many by just lowering his shoulder and bulling his way to the rim (he had a couple bad misses (with no fouls called) using this approach, too, but that’s an acceptable trade-off for getting this version of Justin Jackson). The back-down of Briscoe, plus the step-back 3-pointer off the bounce also stood out as big-time offensive moves.
  • Berry:
    • 3 3-pointers, all of which I’d classify as “vintage Berry”– 1.) a deep, contested dagger after a routine perimeter pass from Williams that cut UK’s largest lead (38-26) back down to single digits; 2.) with the shot clock winding down, Berry used a ball screen by Maye to hit a 3 off the bounce over Willis (after a switch) and cut the lead back down to 4 (74-70, answering a Monk transition 3); 3.) a top-of-the-key 3 off the dribble after UK switched a ball screen (again by Maye), putting Adebayo (who actually defended this well) on Berry; this one cut the Heels’ deficit to 93-91
    • a floater
    • a pair of FTs after attacking the front of the rim with reckless abandon
    • 5-of-7 on close attempts, including his first two lefty finishes of the season; entering this game, Berry was just 10-of-19 in close attempts through his first nine games—he was clearly much more aggressive getting to the rim against UK (dare I say, nearly Lawson-esque in a couple cases?)
    • He did miss his only two mid-range attempts of the game, but is still knocking down over half of his shots from 10-20′ this season (11-21).
    • Berry, at his best, combines Felton’s quick-release, deep daggers off the dribble with Lawson’s physical, body-searching finishes in the paint. It’s too bad he missed his late-game drive, but there’s no question that he wants the ball in his hands in big possessions (or expiring shot clocks). Hard not to love this dude.

Ball Screen Defense:

  • Kentucky ran 21 ball screens, virtually all of them for lightning-quick freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox. UK scored or drew fouls on 12 of them, while missing seven shots and resetting the offense twice following high-screen action.
  • Despite Monk’s hot hand, Kentucky ran four straight ball screens at a key point in the game (right after Maye’s second 3 cut the UNC deficit to 84-80), scoring on each of them. In every case, UK ran its high screen as the very first movement in its offense (always within the first seven seconds of the clock)—always with the 4 (both Gabriel and Willis) setting the screen with Adebayo positioned on the weak-side block to await a lob pass. Briscoe and Monk were spread to the deep corners. Pretty basic stuff, but Calipari (who, regardless of how you feel about him as a recruiter/program figurehead, is a fantastic gameday coach, in my opinion) went back to it again and again down the stretch.
    • At the 6:45 mark, Britt-Maye were engaged in the first of the aforementioned streak of ball screens. Britt was blown up by Gabriel’s pick, leaving Maye to try to keep Fox out of the paint. Although Fox missed the lay-up, Bradley’s help rotation freed Adebayo up for a follow dunk (that he almost blew after easily overpowering a rotating Jackson for the offensive board).
    • After a wave of substitutions (Berry, Hicks, and Meeks back in), UK again ran a ball screen at the 6:20 mark—this time against the combo of Berry and Hicks. Like Maye on the previous screen, Hicks defended with a soft hedge designed to keep the ball-handler out of the paint. Fox’s hesitation dribble froze Hicks, however, allowing the cat-quick rookie to blow by for an easy lay-up before a late-rotating Meeks could arrive to contest.
    • At 5:55, Kentucky went back to the well, again engaging Berry-Hicks in a ball screen. After two unsuccessful soft hedges, Carolina decided to switch this one. Hicks gave Fox a huge cushion, though, allowing him to knock down a clean elbow jumper.
    • Finally, with 5:30 left in the game, Berry-Hicks were again tasked with defending a ball screen. This time, Hicks pressed up on the screener (Derek Willis, who had replaced Gabriel), ostensibly to prevent a pick-and-pop opportunity. With no one even threatening to slow Fox on this one, he easily blew into the paint and forced Meeks into an early (mid-paint) help situation. This set up the lob to Adebayo, which was thwarted only by a Meeks foul, his fourth of the game. Fox split a pair of free throws, a moral victory for UNC’s ball screen defense.
    • On the next UK possession, perhaps recognizing that both Tar Heel bigs now had four fouls, the Wildcats ran a quick set to enter the ball to Adebayo on the left block (with Hicks switched on to him following Meeks’s foul on the last trip). He easily drop-stepped for a dunk against a tentative Hicks.
    • After Meeks fouled out on UNC’s subsequent offensive possession, Kentucky went back to its quick-hitting high-screen action at the 4:10 mark. It necessitated another Berry-Hicks switch, with Isaiah doing a better job of with his defensive spacing. Fox, unable to blow by or create space for a mid-range jumper, settled for a contested floater in the paint (with good help from Bradley). After this stop, UK abandoned its ball-screen offense for the final four minutes, opting to go back to a refreshed Monk (who had been primarily hanging out in the corner) with some staggered screen/iso action.
  • So what’s the take-home message from the above ball-screen failures? UNC did mix up its defense during this sequence, trying three different techniques (soft hedge, switch, and pressing up on the screener). It might have been nice to blitz Fox with a trap to force the ball out of his hands. But having Monk or Briscoe possibly attacking in a 4-on-3 is no recipe for great defensive results either. Even a quick zone possession might have helped, although that was certainly no panacea against UK. This is a clear example of where a healthy Theo Pinson would have been huge. The ability to go small (without needing to bring Britt or Robinson onto the court) with Pinson at the 4 would have enabled Carolina to easily switch all high screens and roll the dice with Theo on Fox.