Browsed by
Tag: UNC player analysis

Lawson ’09 vs. Berry ’17

Lawson ’09 vs. Berry ’17

Although Joel Berry’s been great this year, his season still pales in comparison to Ty Lawson’s sublime 2009 campaign—the G.O.A.T. point-guard statline in Carolina history (with apologies to a couple of Phil Ford seasons, Kenny Smith in ’87, Raymond Felton in ’05, etc.). He does stack up quite favorably to Lawson in some key categories, while falling well short in some others.

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

  • From a pure scoring volume and efficiency standpoint, Berry ’17 and Lawson ’09 are nearly indistinguishable. It’s how they get their points where the differences lie.
  • Lawson was a better and (significantly more) frequent close finisher than Berry. He attempted nearly 50% more shots / 40 minutes at the rim than Berry (5.66 vs. 3.95), and also made a higher percentage (62.4% vs. 58.8%). For each point guard, most of that close offense was created off the bounce. Factoring in Lawson’s FTA Rate in ’09—over twice as high as Berry’s this season (a little closer if you look at FTMade Rate since Berry’s at 91.2% vs. “only” 79.8% for Lawson)— and his ability to finish through contact (nearly quadruple the number of “and-1s” / 40), and it’s clear that he was the vastly superior scorer at the rim.
  • While Lawson’s better at the rim, the edge at the other two scoring levels (mid-range and behind the arc) would probably go to Berry ’17. Though Lawson made a higher percentage of his 3s in ’09 (47.2% vs. 42.6%), Berry’s attempting nearly twice as many from behind the arc per-40. Each point guard was super-efficient from the top of the key, and most prolific from the right wing. Lawson, in very limited attempts, was also money from the corners. ’09 Lawson was a more dangerous transition threat from behind the arc (though, again, Berry’s shoots transition 3s much more frequently), and both were deadly off the dribble and in the half-court.
  • While neither point guard made his living with the floater (each was more comfortable pulling up for a jumper or (especially in Lawson’s case) getting the whole way to rim), Berry was more efficient with that shot. Both point guards were lethal on mid-range (10-20′) pull-up jumpers.

II. Passing/Turnover Comparison

  • The biggest differentiator between Lawson ’09 and Berry ’17 was in the passing metrics. Lawson’s assist and potential close assist rates were significantly higher than Berry’s this year. He also created a higher percentage (relative to all potential assists) of open shots for his teammates. Despite creating more and better opportunities for others, Lawson was able to maintain a lower rate of turnovers / 40 than Berry. Combining those two factors, Lawson ’09 had more than double the A:TO (factoring in FT assists) of Berry ’17. For a point guard, that’s obviously a huge, glaring advantage.
  • Each point guard had a very similar turnover distribution. Berry commits passing turnovers at a higher rate (by over a half-turnover / 40), but all other turnover categories look nearly identical.
  • Lawson also created drive-and-kick 3-pointers at nearly triple the rate of Berry. Having wing snipers like Wayne Ellington and Danny Green waiting to catch and fire helped here. But Lawson was also better at getting into the paint to create for others (in addition to himself).
  • Although I didn’t include this data in the table, each point guard had a similar post-entry passing profile. Lawson threw 10.6 post entries / 40 with a Success:Failure (made FGs + fouls / missed FGs + TOs) of 0.90 in ’09. Berry’s currently at 8.6 and 0.79 in those categories. Slight advantage Lawson, but having Tyler Hansbrough in the post is certainly a nice luxury for an entry passer.

III. Defensive Comparison

  • In the early part of the season (through Maui), this is the one area in which I would have given the clear advantage to Berry. His Stop% was up in the low 70s through the first half-dozen games, and he was applying consistent ball pressure to fuel Carolina’s 22 defense (and set up its preferred wing overplays/denials). But, post-ankle injury and illness, Berry has been a significantly less disruptive defensive force. Fatigue’s been an issue, too, as the Heels demand so much of Berry on both ends in big games.
  • The two point guards have been equally disruptive (as measured by forced turnovers and deflections), but Lawson was better at denying opponents scoring opportunities (in large part due to keeping them out of the paint a little better than Berry does). ’09 Lawson allowed a couple fewer FGAs and points per-40 compared to ’17 Berry.
  • Though Lawson’s defensive consistency was vastly improved by his junior season, it was still somewhat sporadic. But, when engaged and motivated (see the ’09 national championship game), it’s hard to deny that he could be a disruptive defensive force and lockdown on-ball defender. This category’s close (with plenty of time for Berry to rewrite the script), but I’d give the slight edge to Lawson.

IV. Plus/Minus/On-Court Impact Comparison

  • Each point guard had a huge and profound offensive on-court impact in his respective season. The ’09 Heels were also slightly better on defense with Lawson on the court, while the ’17 Heels (especially in ACC play) have been significantly worse on that end in Berry’s minutes. This is partially a tribute to how well and hard the Carolina bench units (generally some combo of Woods/Britt/Robinson/Maye/Bradley, plus a starter or two) have defended. It’s also probably an artifact of the noisiness and general unreliability of +/- data—especially in a smaller (half-season) sample in Berry’s case.
  • Suffice it to say, each point guard made his team better. Though, again, I’d give ’09 Lawson the advantage for on-court impact (assuming that quality of back-up PGs—SR Frasor/FR Drew II in ’09 vs. SR Britt/FR Woods in ’17—was roughly equal between the seasons).

In terms of pure scoring ability/efficiency, Berry has been downright Lawsonian this season. He does it a bit differently (more from behind the arc, less at the rim), but just as effectively. It’s the other areas of point guard play (play-making and ball protection, primarily), however, that made Lawson’s 2009 campaign such a historically great one, and have separated it from what Berry’s accomplished so far in 2017.

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.


Berry and Blossomgame: Charting a Pair of Stars

Berry and Blossomgame: Charting a Pair of Stars

In this piece, we’ll focus on two of the ACC’s best players: Joel Berry and Jaron Blossomgame. Specifically, we’ll look at how Berry got his career-high 31 points, and which Heels were responsible for allowing Blossomgame’s 24.

Berry’s 31 Points

Despite not earning a single trip to the line (trivia question: what’s the Roy Williams-era record for most points by a UNC player without attempting a free throw?), Joel Berry scored his 31 points on an efficient 19 FGAs (12-19 from the field, 7-10 on 3s). For the sake of “brevity” (ha!), we’ll just focus on the 12 made shots (chronologically).

  1. a top-of-the-key 3 against Clemson’s zone following a Meeks high-post touch and kick-out
  2. a made layup in transition after pushing hard following a made Clemson field goal (Lawsonian in its nature)
  3. a primary break 3 from the left corner after Jackson gave up a good 3-point look to get a great one (hat tip: Doris Burke); Britt had the hockey assist here
  4. after Clemson switched a ball screen (which it did all game, basically), Berry blew by Blossomgame in isolation for a layup with 3 left on the shot clock
  5. after another switch following a dribble hand-off (this time Donte Grantham was the Clemson big), Berry attacked from the left wing to create a left baseline floater
  6. a right-corner 3-pointer from a BLOB set (against Clemson’s zone) that was assisted by Britt
  7. Berry’s penetration (and kick-out to Britt) created his own 3-pointer after a Clemson miscommunication on the recovery; Berry re-located to the left corner after driving and kicking, receiving a return pass from Britt for a clean look
  8. a made 3 from the top of the key off the dribble (using a Hicks ball screen); this was a huge shot, as Clemson had just completed a 9-0 run to take a 64-60 lead—this dagger cut it back to a 1-point game
  9. a contested 17-footer off the dribble from the right elbow extended; Berry used a double ball screen from Hicks and Meeks, but was still not able to create a clean mid-range look; these back-to-back Berry buckets (with a defensive stop sandwiched between them) gave the Heels a 65-64 lead
  10. a made right-wing 3 assisted by Meeks on a skip pass following pick-and-pop action between Britt and Meeks
  11. a Jackson (now at the 4) high screen again switched Blossomgame on to Berry; this time, Berry was unable to penetrate and handed off to Williams who immediately got it back to him for a deep, contested right-wing 3 from about 25 feet with a couple seconds left on the shot clock; this wasn’t an especially good shot or offensive possession, but great shot-making can bail out bad trips—this hoop gave the Heels a 73-67 lead and, a couple possessions later, Berry’s drive-and-dish to Meeks (again, with only 3 seconds left on the shot clock) put Carolina up by 8
  12. clearly fatigued down the stretch, this Berry-to-Jackson-to-Berry transition layup (after Berry’s incredible steal on the other end) was his only basket in the game’s final 10 minutes

Before running out of gas a bit, Berry scored 19 points (baskets 5.-11. above) over the span of 14 Carolina possessions (about 7.5 minutes of game action spanning from 14:07 to 6:39). That’s obviously an incredible scoring run that allowed the Heels to extend their lead and ultimately hold off the Clemson comeback attempt.

He hit 3s from all over the court against the Tigers, specifically:

  • left corner: 2-2 (4-7 (57.1%) on the season)
  • left wing: 0-2 (6-21 (28.6%) on the season)—Jackson’s been a great left-wing shooter, but bad from the right wing; Berry’s been just the opposite
  • top of the key: 2-3 (10-20 (50.0%) on the season)
  • right wing: 2-2 (11-22 (50.0%) on the season)—he also hit a long 2 from the right wing
  • right corner: 1-1 (2-7 (28.6%) on the season)

Defending Blossomgame

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson’s star forward, is scoring 17.8 points per game this season. He does most of his damage inside the arc (59.7% on 144 2-pointers) and by getting to the line (FTA Rate of 43.9). Despite hitting just 16.3% from behind the arc, Blossomgame’s launched 43 3s in 14 games. Tuesday’s game against UNC was typical Blossomgame—8-9 on 2s, 5-8 from the line, and 1-5 from deep. Here’s how he scored his 24 points (from a UNC defensive perspective):

  1. an iso post-up jump hook over Hicks to open Clemson’s scoring; this was actually really good defense by Hicks to force Blossomgame off the block and to attempt a long, contested hook
  2. transition dunk after a Jackson live-ball turnover
  3. a foul (made 1-2 FTs) by Britt on a post move after Clemson capitalized on a mismatch in transition
  4. a made 3-pointer in the early offense after Maye over-helped in the paint on a rolling big (probably not a terrible decision considering Blossomgame’s woeful 3-point numbers)
  5. made a tough, contested leaner over Hicks after being isolated on the wing against him
  6. following a half-court trap by the Heels, Blossomgame grabbed a rebound over a scrambling Britt and drew a foul on the put-back attempt (made both FTs)
  7. transition dunk after a Meeks live-ball turnover
  8. beat Hicks on a cut down the middle of the lane to receive a pass from Djitte, who was posted on the left block
  9. a post-up hoop over Jackson (playing the 4); good wall by Jackson, actually, but Blossomgame easily powered through it to bank one in
  10. after receiving a screen from Djitte to receive a wing pass, Blossomgame was isolated against Hicks; he beat him off the dribble to draw the foul-prone Heel’s 3rd of the game (non-shooting) less than a minute into the second half
  11. Hicks didn’t pick up his 4th foul until the 7:06 mark, and Blossomgame (after posting him up on the left block) again did the honors (he’d split the pair of FTs)
  12. on the Tigers’ first possession of overtime, they posted up Blossomgame on Hicks; with 4 fouls, Hicks was unable to challenge, allowing Blossomgame to back him down for an easy jump hook
  13. shortly after Hicks fouled out (on a moving screen) and Jackson slid down to the 4, Blossomgame received a secondary break pass at the top of the key and attacked off the dribble to draw a foul on Jackson; he split the free throws to give Clemson an 82-81 lead with 1:42 left in overtime

Blossomgame also blew by Maye (conspicuous by his absence above, perhaps) at one point in the first half to create a drive-and-kick 3-pointer for a teammate.

UNC didn’t do a terrible job on this tough cover: Hicks forced him into some difficult shots (that he made), and also forced a key turnover late in regulation by moving his feet well to pin a driving Blossomgame too deep under the hoop. And, on the game’s very first possession, Hicks forced an offensive reset by denying Blossomgame a shot attempt on his post move. But this game magnified some potential defensive issues for the Heels. Against an aggressive, athletic, attacking dual-threat 4, Hicks is always at risk to be in foul trouble. And, if Hicks does need to sit due to foul issues, the remaining options at power forward (Maye and Jackson) have obvious defensive shortcomings at that spot (containing penetration in Maye’s case, and guarding post-ups/keeping stronger players off the offensive glass in Jackson’s). This is yet another area where Theo Pinson, a more physical small-ball 4 than Jackson, might come in handy. All that said, there aren’t a ton of true inside-outside power forwards like Blossomgame in the country. There are plenty of stretch 4s out there, but not many who are equally comfortable with posting up or attacking off the dribble in isolation.


Trivia Answer: Berry’s 31-point performance is the record for highest scoring output without a free throw attempt (in the RoyW era). Rashad McCants has the next three on the list from the 2003-04 season (30 vs. NC State, 27 vs. Texas, and 26 vs. FSU). Wayne Ellington had 23 without a FTA against Miami in 2009. David Noel (2006 vs. George Mason) and Harrison Barnes (2011 vs. Washington) each had 22 with no FTAs in NCAA Tournament games (McCants’s 27 vs. Texas was also in the NCAAT). Danny Green had a bunch of these (7) in the range of 18-21 points. Truly trivial stuff!

Brandon Robinson’s High-Impact Minutes

Brandon Robinson’s High-Impact Minutes

Although Brandon Robinson played only 5:08 against Clemson (a single 4:33 stint in the first half, and a 35-second one in the second/OT), he made a handful of really good plays in that short opportunity. Backing up Justin Jackson’s a tough gig for a freshman, especially in a must-have ACC road game: the minutes will be limited (although Robinson’s played a good bit alongside Jackson a this season as a 3-4 combo), and the hook will be quick.

Let’s take a look at how Robinson impacted the game in his limited court time.

  • As a pick-and-roll help defender in the paint, he deflected and stole a lob to the rolling Clemson big.
  • After fighting through a screen while trailing a curler, he contested an elbow jumper to force a miss. Despite his slight (by ACC standards) frame, Robinson is really physical and battles hard to get through/around screens. He certainly doesn’t shy away from contact on either end of the court.
  • After a post entry pass to Elijah Thomas, Robinson had a well-timed double down from the wing to get a hand on the ball and force another turnover. He didn’t help too early (and allow an easy kick-out 3), but waited until Thomas had started his post move before scraping down. Bobby Frasor (one of the best at this technique) would have been proud!
  • Robinson had another active defensive possession in which he cut off penetration as an on-ball defender, then later made a great help-and-recover close-out to both curtail the drive and prevent the kick-out 3. He capped off that trip by grabbing the defensive board.
  • UNC allowed just four points in Robinson’s eight 1st-half defensive possessions, and he had a profound impact on (at least) four of the stops.
  • While there may be some question marks about UNC’s perimeter offense next season (depending on the NBA decisions of Berry and Jackson), Woods/Williams/Robinson/Pinson will ensure that Carolina’s perimeter defense is really good (and possibly even elite).
  • On the offensive end, Robinson’s signature play was a transition bounce pass to Tony Bradley for a dunk. After bringing the ball up himself, he attacked immediately off the dribble to create the drive, draw, and dish opportunity. He was perfectly under control, pulling up right as a Clemson help defender was sliding over to draw a charge. Robinson actually leads the Heels in assisted dunks per 40 minutes (1.06), and a they often resemble this play. A former point guard, he is a really good passer/decision-maker who’s played (relatively) under control for a freshman.
  • He also scored a second-chance hoop after receiving a great pass from Meeks for an easy layup. Most of the credit goes to Meeks here, but there’s something to be said for being in the right spot at the right time.
  • Robinson also missed a clean top-of-the-key 3 against Clemson’s zone. This was a good zone possession that involved a high post touch for Maye, who subsequently kicked it out for the perimeter look. Robinson’s shot hasn’t been dropping lately, but he doesn’t appear to have lost confidence. Shooting consistently from the perimeter in a limited role is never an easy thing to do (as many great Carolina shooters of the past can attest).
  • His only glaring error was a bad pass to Britt that resulted in a backcourt violation. Although the turnover was given to Britt for some reason, it was clearly Robinson’s mistake. But, as his 20:10 assist-to-turnover ratio demonstrates, he’s been making more good decisions than bad ones with the basketball.

In the Zone

  • The Heels played seven possessions of zone defense, giving up only five points (defensive efficiency of 71.4). UNC allowed one zone hoop after Kenny Williams gambled unsuccessfully for a steal. The other (a 3-pointer) occurred when a confused Berry appeared to be playing man-to-man while the other four Heels were zoning (the bench was imploring Berry to wake up).
  • UNC also used its half-court trap/scramble defense on two possessions: the first forced a Clemson turnover, while the second allowed an open 3 and subsequent offensive rebound when a scrambling Britt was trying to box out Blossomgame.
  • On the offensive end, Carolina shredded Clemson’s zone to the tune of 12 points on six possessions (offensive efficiency of 200.0). This included a trio of made 3-pointers against the zone (two by Berry, and one from Williams). The Tigers primarily used their zone as a BLOB (baseline out-of-bounds) defense; it paled in comparison to the activity and efficacy of Georgia Tech’s 1-3-1.

Defensive Charting Tidbits

  • Of the 11 FGAs that were credited to/defended by Meeks, Clemson made just a single one. He also forced 1.5 turnovers.
  • A season-high 14 points were credited to the “team.” These are generally transition points caused by live-ball turnovers.
  • Although it was one of Berry’s best offensive games of the season, it was one of his worst defensively. According to my charting, he was responsible for allowing 15 points on 10.5 FGAs. It could have been worse, too, as DeVoe missed an open tip-in after slipping past a ball-watching Berry and Holmes missed his front-end after Berry’s late foul. While allowing points isn’t always associated with poor defense, it generally was in Berry’s case against Clemson. He had a few egregious defensive breakdowns—some mental errors, some physical/effort-related. I’d chalk it up mostly to fatigue as he played 41 intense minutes soon after returning from both injury and illness. No one should question Berry’s heart (or his defensive ability); his conditioning has some room to improve, though. He still forced two turnovers and had five deflections, t0o, including the huge transition steal that led to the Berry-Jackson give-and-go layup.

I’ll try and post updated season-to-date defensive charting numbers soon.

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.

More on 3-Point Shooting: The ’09 Heels vs. The Current Heels

More on 3-Point Shooting: The ’09 Heels vs. The Current Heels

Earlier today, I posted some data on the 3-point shooting tendencies of the 2016-17 Tar Heels. Check it out if you haven’t yet had a chance. Writing that article got me to thinking about the 2008-09 national championship Heels (mainly how they compared as a transition 3-point-shooting team) so, after doing a little digging through my old stats, I decided to share my findings.

First, here’s the data comparison in the below table:

Now, let’s interpret what’s in that table:

  • The bottom-line numbers show how similar the (per-game) 3-point profiles of the two teams have been so far—albeit through only 13 games this season. How this year’s squad can maintain that pace as the strength of schedule intensifies will go a long way to determining how successful its season will be.
  • While the total numbers are similar, a closer examination reveals that the current Heels are shooting better from behind the arc in the halfcourt, while the ’09 Heels were much better in transition (both secondary and (especially) primary).
    • The ’09 starting wings (Wayne Ellington/Danny Green) combined for 6.7 transition 3s / 40, knocking down an impressive 43.7% (80-183). The ’17 starting wings (Kenny Williams/Justin Jackson) combine for 5.8 transition 3s / 40 at a clip of 33.3% (17-51).
    • While the ’09 wings were more prolific transition 3-point shooters, this year’s team actually shoots a (slightly) higher proportion of its total 3s in primary/secondary (44% vs. 41%). Joel Berry, who attempts 3.0 transition 3s / 40 (at 50%, 11-22), is a big reason for that. Ty Lawson, his ’09 counterpart, attempted only 1.1 / 40, although he knocked them down at an equally impressive 50% clip (15-30).
  • UNC shot a lot more drive-and-kick 3s in 2009 (23% of total vs. 14% this season). Both Larry Drew II (2.47 created drive-and-kicks / 40) and Lawson (2.39 / 40) created these opportunities at more than double the rate of the top current Heel (Seventh Woods at 1.16 / 40).
  • Perhaps surprisingly, UNC shoots a lot more of its 3s off of screens than in 2009. The Heels rarely ran sets for Ellington and Green in 2009, maybe because they were so effective at getting good looks in transition.
  • This year’s Carolina edition is creating significantly more inside-out opportunities than its ’09 counterparts (20% of total 3s vs. 13%). Both teams converted these types of 3s very efficiently. The current Kennedy Meeks/Isaiah Hicks/Tony Bradley trio is a stronger/more willing passing trio than the Tyler Hansbrough/Deon Thompson/Ed Davis group (sorry, Psycho T—all-time great Heel, but not an all-time great inside-out passer).
  • The ’09 Heels, however, shot nearly twice as many of their 3s off the dribble (15% vs. 8%). Ellington (32.6%, 14-43), Lawson (48.0%, 12-25), and Green (39.1%, 9-23) were all viable options off the bounce then; now, only Berry really is (Jackson’s 3-3 off the dribble, but still not super-comfortable creating his own 3s).
  • The ’09 Heels faced a lot more zone than the current version has (at least so far). While less than 3% of this year’s 3s (6 of 238) have come versus zone defenses, 21% did in 2009. The perimeter “Big 3” in ’09 (Ellington/Green/Lawson) shot a sizzling 49.5% (52-105) from behind the arc against the zone that season.
  • Speaking of the “Big 3,” the ’09 version accounted for 81% of UNC’s 3-point makes and 73% of its attempts. This year’s team is a bit more balanced from the perimeter, with the 2017 “Big 3” version (Berry/Jackson/Williams) combining for 73% of 3-point makes and 69% of attempts. The ’09 trio combined to make 42.9% of its 3s; this year’s triumvirate is at 40.2% (and will be very hard-pressed to maintain that mark for the remainder of the season).

Edit: Forgot to add that the ’09 Heels were a more balanced bunch in terms of left-side vs. right-side 3s, too—both in terms of number of attempts and (especially 3-point percentage).

That team had the following breakdown by 3-point location:

  • Left corner: 32.0% (33-103)
  • Left wing: 42.2% (73-173)
  • Top of key: 40.2% (49-122)
  • Right wing: 38.0% (78-205)
  • Right corner: 39.2% (31-79)

Summing it up, ’09 UNC was 106-286 from behind the arc on the left side (37.1%) and 109-284 (38.4%) from the right side; one huge benefit of having an Ellington running the right wing (in transition) and a Green filling the left wing.

The Heels are hoping that Kenny Williams can develop into an Ellington-esque 3-point weapon.










Shooting Their Way to the Top

Shooting Their Way to the Top

Despite advancing the whole way to the final game last season (and coming seconds away from winning it), the 2015-16 Heels certainly weren’t considered a great perimeter shooting team. Carolina shot 32.7% from behind the arc last year, knocking down just 5.6 3s per game. After losing Marcus Paige, the program’s most prolific shooter of all-time (with a UNC-record 299 made 3s), reasonable Tar Heel fans were justifiably concerned about the team’s perimeter outlook for the 2016-17 season.

However, through the season’s first 13 games, Carolina is knocking down an impressive 37.8% of its 3-pointers. The Heels are also making nearly a quarter more 3s per game than last year, up to 6.9 so far in 2016-17. The team improvement has been spurred entirely by returning players getting better: after combining to make 33.3% (106-318) of their 3s last year, the quartet of Joel Berry/Justin Jackson/Kenny Williams/Luke Maye has made 40.5% (70-173) this year. Only slumping Nate Britt (32.1% as a junior, 30.6% through the first 13 games of his senior season) hasn’t made significant strides among returning Carolina 3-point shooters.

So let’s take a closer look at how Carolina’s creating its 3-pointers this year.

First, by location:

  • Left corner: 46.4% (13-28)
  • Left wing: 41.1% (30-73)
  • Top of the key: 38.2% (21-55)
  • Right wing: 35.7% (20-56)
  • Right corner: 23.1% (6-26)

The initial thing that sticks out might be how much better the Heels are shooting from the left side of the court (42.6%) versus the right side (31.7%). There are several theories for this, including: 1.) small-sample size noise, 2.) the Heels systemically create better looks from the left side (due to things like driving right to create left-side drive-and-kicks, or making better cross-court inside-out passes from the right block than the left block, etc.), 3.) this group of UNC players just prefers/shoots better from/has favorite spots on the left-side of the floor.

Individually, Jackson has clearly preferred the left side this season. He’s made 47.2% from the left (on 36 attempts), versus only 27.3% (11) from the top of the key and 28.0% (25) from the right side. As the 3 in Carolina’s system, most of his transition 3s will come from the left side. Both Williams and Britt have also shown a clear preference for the left side—at least if you believe the statistical splits. Williams is making 70.0% from the left side (10 attempts), as compared to 27.3% (11) from the top of the key and 31.3% (16) from the right-side of the floor. For Britt, those respective numbers are 40.0% (20), 0.0% (4), and 25.0% (12).

The one Tar Heel who’s been consistently lethal from all spots behind the arc is Joel Berry. Both his distribution and efficiency from 3-point range is more balanced than his Carolina teammates. Berry’s best spot has been the top of the key, where he’s connected on half of his 16 attempts. He’s also made 44.4% of his 18 3s from the right side, and 38.1% of his 21 attempts from the left side.

Though in small samples, Brandon Robinson and Maye appear to be shooters who prefer the top of the key. They’ve combined to make 6-of-11 (54.5%) 3s from that spot (Robinson 3-6, Maye 3-5), but just 3-of-18 (16.7%) from all other locations (Robinson 2-14, Maye 1-4). In Maye’s case, this is good news, as the UNC system works well to create secondary break 3s from the top of the key for its trailing big.

Next, let’s look at 3-pointers by how they were created (listed from most attempts to fewest attempts):

  • Perimeter (or hit-ahead) pass (no screen): 36.1% (26-72)
  • Inside-out: 45.8% (22-48)
  • Drive-and-kick: 35.3% (12-34)
  • Off-screen: 26.7% (8-30)
  • Off the dribble: 45.0% (9-20)
  • Pick-and-pop/dribble-handoff: 47.4% (9-19)
  • Skip pass: 26.7% (4-15)
  • vs. zone (not mutually exclusive with other categories): 50.0% (3-6)

“Perimeter pass” 3s are those that involve a station-to-station (e.g., top of key-to-wing or wing-to-corner) pass to create the 3 without the use of a screen. They’re pretty common in transition for UNC, and I also include transition hit-aheads in this category (although I guess it might make sense to separate these out into separate 3-point creation buckets).

A couple of observations from this data: 1.) UNC is creating more inside-out 3s this season than a normal Roy Williams team does; they’re also hitting them at a really high rate; 2.) UNC has not seen very much zone defense so far this season; 3.) UNC isn’t throwing as many skip passes as in the past—Kendall Marshall, in particular, used this weapon very effectively; 4.) UNC hasn’t been very effective at hitting 3-pointers following a (non-ball) screen.

Berry (4-7) and Jackson (3-3) have made 7-of-10 3s off the dribble; all other Heels have combined to make just 2-of-10 (led by Britt’s 1-6). UNC’s drive-and-kick 3-pointers have been created in a pretty democratic way: Seventh Woods leads the team with in drive-and-kick 3s created per 40 minutes with 1.16, but is followed closely by Britt (1.13), Berry (0.94), Williams (0.91), and Jackson (0.60). This refers to the dribble drive that breaks down the defense to set up the kick-out 3 (even if it requires some around-the-horn ball rotation following the initial drive/close-out sequence).

Finally, let’s look at UNC’s 3-pointers broken down by transition vs. halfcourt:

  • Halfcourt: 44.4% (56-126)
  • Primary break: 29.4% (15-51)
  • Secondary break: 34.0% (18-53)
  • BLOB: 12.5% (1-8)

Most BLOB (baseline out of bounds) 3s result in corner looks for UNC’s point guard (after he enters the ball, then receives a down screen). The Heels (including Berry) have hit some huge 3s out of his BLOB set, including in key NCAA Tournament games. They haven’t had much luck with it yet, but that’s almost certainly a small-sample artifact.

The most obvious takeaway from this data is that the Heels have shot much better in the halfcourt (44.4%) than in transition (31.7% from combined primary/secondary). Unlike some years (2009, with Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, stands out), UNC doesn’t have wing snipers who are looking to launch quick transition 3s. Williams will likely develop into that, but he’s still a bit tentative in transition. Jackson and Britt don’t have lightning-quick releases or fit the mold of a pure wing sniper in transition. Berry is UNC’s most natural fit as a transition sharpshooter, but he can’t simultaneously push the ball and receive a catch-and-shoot pass in transition.

Indeed, Berry is showing great balance as both a transition (50%, 22 attempts) and halfcourt (44.4%, 27) perimeter shooter. Williams is also shooting well in both phases (42.9% on 21 attempts in transition, 40.0% on 15 attempts in the halfcourt). A few other Heels, most notably Jackson, Britt, and Robinson, have shot much better on halfcourt 3-pointers. Jackson’s made 45.2% (19-44) of his halfcourt 3s versus just 26.7% (8-30) in transition. For Britt, those respective splits are 40.9% (9-22) and 16.7% (2-12). In Robinson’s case, they are 40.0% (4-10) and 11.1% (1-9).

No matter how they create them and when they hit them, the Heels will be a tough out this March if they continue to make nearly 7 3s a game at a percentage in the high-30s. And, especially if they become a more comfortable and efficient transition-shooting team, that seems like an entirely sustainable goal.

Droppin’ Dimes for the Holidays

Droppin’ Dimes for the Holidays

Hope your holidays are as cool as Ed Cota lounging by the scorer’s table at Cameron Indoor Stadium waiting to check in to once again terrorize Wojo. And if that simile felt forced and ham-handed, well, it was just an excuse to post that sweet photo of a vintage Cota. In fact, here it comes again:


And speaking of Cota, who delivered assists like Santa Claus delivers presents, let’s proceed with a generous holiday helping of passing stats for the 2016-17 Heels.

A quick glossary:

  • A/40: assists per 40 minutes (including FT assists)
  • PA/40: potential assists per 40 minutes—passes that lead to “assistable” FGAs + FT assists + passing turnovers
  • Asst%: assists / potential assists
  • Pass TO%: passing turnovers / potential assists
  • PCA/40: potential close assists per 40 minutes—passes that lead to lay-up/dunk attempts (including FT assists)
  • FT Asst/40: passes that lead directly to shooting fouls
  • Hockey Asst/40: passes that directly proceed (and help to set up) the actual assist; I only give a primary hockey assist, not secondary ones
  • PCA:PTO— potential close assist-to-passing turnover ratio; helps to quantify the risk/reward associating with creating close opportunities

And a couple notes related to the above data:

  • This edition of Carolina basketball has great passing balance, with six players averaging at least 10 potential assists per 40 minutes (and Jackson, one of UNC’s best passers, right below that at 9.1).
    • A counterexample to the balance shown so far this season would be the 2012 Tar Heels. Led by Kendall Marshall, a sublime passer and pure point guard, almost all play-making ran through a single player. Marshall had a whopping 14.77 assists / 40 and 29.50 potential assists  /40 (Asst%: 50.1). He also created 11.13 potential close assists / 40, over double the rate of anyone on the current roster.
    • But, after Marshall, the next-highest 2012 Tar Heel in assists (3.90 / 40) and potential assists (10/15) was Dexter Strickland. Both those marks would rank just seventh on this year’s team. UNC’s other wings had passing numbers that paled in comparison to their 2016-17 counterparts: Reggie Bullock (2.81 A/40, 6.61 PA/40), P.J. Hairston (2.71, 6.39), and Harrison Barnes (1.94, 5.62).
    • While Marshall was a really, really fun passer to watch (but not as fun as Easy Ed), I think I prefer the quick ball movement and sharing exhibited by this year’s Heels.
  • While Berry’s the clear leader in assists / 40 and also leads in potential close assists / 4o, there’s a real logjam at the top in the PCA/40 leaderboard. Five Heels are between 4.63 and 5.25 in this metric.

Happy Holidays from The Secondary Break—don’t forget to point to the (present) passer while celebrating!


Big-to-Big Passing

Big-to-Big Passing

After having just 11 big-to-big assists in the season’s first 12 games, Carolina connected on five such plays against Northern Iowa—most notably, the Meeks-to-Hicks pass for Isaiah’s thunderous dunk (Hicks also assisted Meeks twice, and one each from Maye-to-Jackson (as a small-ball 4 in the post) and Maye-to-Bradley).

In UNC’s system, most big-to-big passes occur in one of two situations: 1.) high/low passes against the zone (see Syracuse) or 2.) big-to-big passes after a post entry (usually after the opponent sends a big to double—see Virginia). There are some high/low opportunities within UNC’s secondary break (e.g., after the trailing big catches the reversal pass at the top of the key), plus some options built in to the freelance passing game and the various box sets. But, in general, the high/low, big-to-big pass isn’t a staple of Carolina’s system (in contrast to, say, feeding the post with its guards/wings).

On the season, the various frontcourt combinations have connected on the following big-to-big assists:

  • Bradley-Meeks: 3.34 big-to-big assists / 40 (1 Bradley-to-Meeks, 1 Meeks-to-Bradley)
  • Maye-Bradley: 2.37 / 40 (3 Bradley-to-Maye, 1 Maye-to-Bradley)
  • Hicks-Bradley: 1.49 / 40 (3 Hicks-to-Bradley)
  • Hicks-Meeks: 1.13 / 40 (3 Hicks-to-Meeks, 3 Meeks-to-Hicks)

The sample size on Bradley-Meeks is tiny (they’ve played less than 25 minutes together this season, virtually all in Maui), but they showed some big-to-big potential. And Maye is clearly the UNC big who’s shown the most aptitude/willingness to throw high/low passes (generally in the secondary break). Here are UNC’s post players’ entry passing stats on the season:

  • Maye: 3.56 entry passes / 40; 1.50 Success:Failure
  • Hicks: 0.79 entry passes / 40; 1.50 Success:Failure
  • Bradley: 0.56 entry passes / 40; 2.00 Success:Failure
  • Meeks: 0.54 entry passes / 40: 0.33 Success:Failure

As seen, Maye throws significantly more entries (per-minute) than the other three Carolina bigs combined. Individually, Hicks leads the way with 0.79 big-to-big assists / 40, followed by Bradley (0.74), Meeks (0.54), and Maye (0.36). But Maye has also thrown three entries to Bradley  that have resulted in FT assists. So if we’d include those in the analysis, he’s skyrocket to the top (I’m only including traditional box score assists).

Anecdotally, it seemed like last year’s Heels (specifically Brice Johnson) were a much better/more prolific big-to-big passing team. Notably, the game at Syracuse (where Johnson carved up the Orange zone with passes from the high post—including for numerous Hicks dunks) and the regular-season matchup against Virginia (where the Heels chased UVa out of its preferred post doubling scheme by carving it up early with big-to-big passes) stand out in my mind. And, indeed, UNC had seven and five big-to-big assists in those respective games. On the season, however, the Heels had only 44 big-to-big assists in 40 games—nearly an identical rate to 2016-17’s to date.

Here are the frontcourt combos’ big-to-big assist stats from 2015-16:

  • Hicks-Johnson: 1.51 big-to-big assists / 40 (11 from Johnson-to-Hicks, 3 from Hicks-to-Johnson)
  • Johnson-Meeks: 1.37 / 40 (12 from Johnson-to-Meeks, 5 from Meeks-to-Johnson)
  • Hicks-Meeks: 1.29 / 40 (2 from Hicks-to-Meeks, 2 from Meeks-to-Hicks)

So, while last year’s team wasn’t any more prolific at the team level, the above data gives a clue that Johnson was doing an inordinate amount of the assisting. Indeed, he led the way with 0.96 big-to-big assists / 40 last season, significantly higher than any of the Heels’ posts so far this season. It was also nearly double the rate of any other UNC post in 2015-16: Hicks had 0.49 / 40, Meeks had 0.41 / 40, and Joel James failed to record a single big-to-big assist last season.

So, the next time an opponent zones the Heels or sends a weakside big to double in the post, watch to see how effectively the Carolina bigs can locate each other for easy scores at the rim.