Browsed by
Tag: UNC player analysis

Luke Maye Busts Out

Luke Maye Busts Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Bradley’s Development

Tony Bradley’s Development

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

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

Bradley as a Scorer:

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

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

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

Bradley as a Rebounder:

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

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

Bradley as a Defender:

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

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

Bradley’s On-Court Impact:

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

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

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

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



Pinson vs. Division I: The Stat-Stuffing Showdown

Pinson vs. Division I: The Stat-Stuffing Showdown

Last month, Adrian posted a comparison of Theo Pinson’s amazing productivity in points, rebounds, assists, and steals this season to box-score-busting years by past Tar Heels. I thought I’d take a look at how #1’s stat line stacks up to players nationwide this season.


  • All raw data used here comes from, a site I find user-friendly, well-organized, thorough, and always up to date (they’ve updated Carolina’s stats the same day as a game sometimes this season.) has the advantage of listing games started in its season boxes, but can be very shaky on keeping updated.
  • The averages I give (besides mpg) are in my preferred tempo-free normalization, which asks “At this player’s per-possession production, what would his averages be if he played 35 games at about 30 mpg on a 70-possession-per-game team (thus playing 53 offensive and defensive possessions per game) and saw 26 rebounds/game grabbed at each end of the floor?” This projects a player’s stats to a fairly typical starter’s role on a fairly typical college team, and I find it more intuitive than things like (with a tip of the cap to our esteemed host) per-40 stats or rebounding percentages.

So Theo’s per-53 numbers are currently at 10.6 P, 9.4 R, 5.6 A, 0.2 B, 1.7 S, 2.5 PF, and 0.5 TO. As of this morning, RealGM lists 3,162 players who have played at least 100 minutes at at least 10 mpg (out of 4,785 players overall). I (actually my poor, overworked MS Excel and Access) calculated each of those players’s percentile rank for each of the seven counting stats. Pinson’s steals put him in the 94.2 percentile, his boards at 96.8, assists 99.1, and his 2 turnovers in 116 minutes in the 99.5 exosphere.

No other player in the country ranks in the top 5.8% in any four of the seven stats. Theo Pinson is the four-course national champion. Can we get David Noel to lend him that title belt?

Notable stat-sheet stuffers around Division 1:


Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Games 7-12—Joel Berry: Slumping Star

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

The Rest of the Way

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


Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emergence of Seventh Woods

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

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

1st Half

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

2nd Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assists / 40 (including FT Assists)

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

Potential Assists / 40

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

Potential Close Assists / 40

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

%Open Shots (Open Potential Assists / Potential Assists)

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

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

Passing TO / 40

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

Passing TO% (Passing TO / Potential Assists)

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

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


UNC Shooting Trends

UNC Shooting Trends

Let’s take a quick look at some Carolina shooting trends for various shot types/locations. This analysis will be comparing numbers from the first 12 games (through Kentucky) to those from the last 13. It’s roughly a non-conference vs. ACC split, although the final 13 includes Northern Iowa and Monmouth (in addition to the 11 conference games).

One area that figures to be of utmost importance against Duke is Carolina’s ability to finish at the rim. Because of how the Devils typically defend (pressure the ball, front the post), the Heels have a hard time delivering post entry passes against Duke. However, they have an easier time getting to the rim off the dribble to exploit perimeter pressure. And, irrespective of whether the ball enters the paint via the pass or the bounce, getting (and efficiently converting) second-chance opportunities will be of paramount importance for UNC.

  • Close FG% (games 1-12): 63.2% (204-323)
  • Close FG% (games 13-25): 58.4% (220-377)
  • Close FG% off the dribble (games 1-12): 53.4% (63-118)
  • Close FG% off the dribble (games 13-25): 45.9% (56-122)

It’s not too surprising to see Carolina’s close FG% drop as the competition improves. Finishing against the longer, more athletic defenders of the ACC is inherently more difficult than finishing over Radford’s or Davidson’s bigs. The quantity of close attempts has actually ticked up a little over the second half of the season (from 26.9 FGA / game to 29.0), a promising sign for any Roy Williams team.

The more troubling number, perhaps, is UNC’s inefficiency at the rim off the dribble. Never a great team at creating off the bounce (Ty Lawson isn’t walking through that door), the Heels have been trending in the wrong direction in this metric. Specifically, its two most prolific creators have been significantly less efficient over the last half of the season. After making 58.3% (14-24) of his close off-the-dribble attempts in games 1-12, Joel Berry has finished just 40.6% (13-32) over the last 13 games. Likewise, Justin Jackson has dropped from 56.5% (13-23) in games 1-12 to 41.4% (12-29) since. The one Heel who has stayed consistent in this area is Isaiah Hicks—68.8% (11-16) in games 1-12, 62.5% (10-16) in games 13-25.

For Carolina to beat Duke on the road, Berry and Jackson will have to get into the paint off the dribble and consistently finish (or at least get the ball on the rim for the bigs to clean up).

Speaking of the bigs, let’s take a look at their close-shooting trends.

Kennedy Meeks, despite playing against bigger and better ACC posts, is actually finishing at the same rate at the rim. In games 1-12, he made 60.3% (41-68) of his close attempts; in games 13-25, that’s improved slightly to 60.7% (54-89). Those slight efficiency upticks have been consistent for Meeks’ second-chance opportunities (57.7% (15-26) to 58.3% (21-36)) and tips (53.7% (7-13) to 64.3% (11-17)), too. Tony Bradley has also improved his put-back efficiency from 50.0% (10-20) in games 1-12 to 58.8% (10-17) in games 13-25.

While the Carolina bigs have had noticeable declines in their close FG%, there have been efficiency drops in most categories of post moves. Meeks, who made 50.0% (12-24) of his hooks in games 1-12, has made just 33.3% (7-21) in games 13-25. Likewise, Bradley’s hook percentage has fallen from 42.9% (6-14) to 22.2% (2-9). Hicks, on the other hand, has just removed the hook shot from his offensive repertoire entirely. After shooting 12 in the first 12 games (and making five of them), he’s attempted just a single hook in the last 13 games (which he missed). His turnaround jumper—now his clear go-to post move—has improved from 42.9% (6-14) in games 1-12 to 53.3% (8-15) ever since.

A few other interesting shooting trends:

  • Jackson floaters: 40.7% (11-27) in games 1-12; 48.6% (17-35) in games 13-25
  • Jackson right-wing 3s: 26.3% (5-19) in games 1-12; 29.0% (9-31) in games 13-25
  • Jackson left-wing 3s: 48.3% (14-29) in games 1-12; 59.3% (16-27) in games 13-25
    • Same percentage trends for Jackson (loves the left wing, struggles from the right), but he’s been taking a higher proportion of his 3s from the right wing lately (a troubling trend, perhaps, given the relative percentages)
  • Britt close off-dribble: 45.8% (11-24) in games 1-12; 71.4% (5-7) in games 13-25
    • Attempts way down, but finishing more efficiently
  • Britt mid-range jumpers off-dribble: 25.0% (3-12) in games 1-12; 10.0% (1-10) in games 13-25
    • Just stop shooting these, Nate!
  • Berry mid-range off-dribble: 55.6% (10-18) in games 1-12; 41.7% (5-12) in games 13-25
    • Down in both volume and efficiency lately, but still UNC’s best option from 10-20′ off the bounce
  • 3s against the zone: 50.0% (3-6) in games 1-12; 37.6% (50-133) in games 13-25
    • Huge uptick in volume as the amount of zone defense that the Heels have faced has skyrocketed in league play

And finally, a few passing trends:

  • Berry—games 1-12: 8.44 assists / 40, 16.14 potential assists / 40, 5.48 potential close assists / 40
  • Berry—games 13-25: 4.91 assists / 40, 14.05 potential assists / 40, 3.64 potential close assists / 40
    • Berry’s assist numbers are way down lately; some due to worse luck (i.e., more missed 3s on potential Berry assists), but mostly due to him creating fewer opportunities (and especially fewer close/good opportunities). Having Pinson around for part of that time has cannibalized some of Berry’s assists/assist opportunities, of course.
  • Woods—games 1-12: 6.33 assists / 40, 15.07 potential assists / 40
  • Woods—games 13-25: 10.00 assists / 40, 18.09 potential assists / 40
    • Unlike Berry, Woods has had both better “assist luck” and potential assist volume in the season’s second half. His potential close assist rate has stayed steady, but he’s had more assists following routine post feeds over the last few weeks (just by making the simple/easy play consistently).

Woods’ turnover / 40 number has also dropped from 6.63 in games 1-12 to 5.24 over games 13-25. That’s been driven almost entirely by a reduction in his ball-handling turnovers—from 2.11 / 40 to 0.48 / 40. Over the last handful of games, his overall turnover rate has dropped even more dramatically, as he’s finally started to reduce his rate of passing turnovers.


Greatest Williams-Era Performances vs. Duke

Greatest Williams-Era Performances vs. Duke

Let’s count down the 10 greatest Williams-era individual performances against Duke. This obviously throws out a big chunk of pre-2003 Carolina history, so apologies for the recency bias.

Apologies also to, among countless others, Phil Ford (34 on Senior Night in 1978), Larry Miller (32 on 13-of-14 shooting in the ’67 ACCT title game), Charles Scott (40 points on 17-of-23 shooting to fuel UNC’s come-from-behind ’69 ACCT title-clinching comeback win), Joe Forte (24/16/7 in 2001), and Antawn Jamison (35 points in 53 seconds with the ball in 1998).

Honorable Mention:

  • Rashad McCants (2/5/2004): Put up 27 efficient points (10-16 from the field, 2-4 on 3s, 5-7 from the line) along with nine rebounds (five on the offensive end) and three steals in an overtime home loss to Duke
  • Sean May (2/9/2005): 23 points (8-14 from the field, perfect 7-7 from the line) and 18 rebounds in a tough 71-70 loss in Durham; drops to honorable mention due to five turnovers
  • Marcus Ginyard (3/4/2006): Scored 12 points (4-8 FGs, 4-6 FTs) with four rebounds and two assists, but, more importantly, spearheaded the defensive effort on J.J. Redick that held Duke’s All-American to a 5-of-21 shooting night (including 2-1o behind the arc)
  • Tyler Hansbrough (2/6/2008): With Ty Lawson out, Hansbrough recorded a massive 28-point, 18-rebound double-double during his ’08 Player of the Year campaign; the Heels lost in Chapel Hill by 11, and his 0:3 A:TO and uncharacteristic 4-of-9 from the foul line kept this “Psycho T” performance out of the top 10
  • Tyler Zeller (2/9/2011): An efficient 20-10 (24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 13 rebounds) by Zeller wasn’t enough to overcome the Heels’ 2-of-14 3-point shooting in a six-point loss in Durham
  • Leslie McDonald (2/20/2014): McDonald’s finest moment as a Tar Heel, he scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting while only turning the ball over once in 32 minutes as Carolina knocked off Duke 74-66 at home
  • Brice Johnson (3/5/2016): In the most recent edition of the rivalry, a 76-72 Carolina win in Cameron, Johnson scored 18 points with 21 rebounds. Twelve of his rebounds were on the offensive end, as the Heels completely dominated the Devils 64-29 on the backboards to compensate for losing the 3-point battle 13-to-4 (a 27-point Duke advantage from behind the arc).

Top Ten:

10. Marcus Paige (3/7/2015): Although Carolina lost this one 84-77 to the eventual national champs, Paige poured in 23 points on just 10 FGAs (6-10, 5-9 on 3s, 6-6 FTs), adding five assists and three steals.

9. Tyler Hansbrough (3/4/2007): Before having his nose broken by a Gerald Henderson elbow in the classic “Bloody Hansbrough” game, he scored 26 points with 17 rebounds in just 30 minutes to carry the Heels to an 86-72 victory.

8. J.P. Tokoto (2/18/2015): One of the most-balanced statlines of the Williams era, Tokoto scored 15 points, adding eight rebounds and seven assists. He also chipped in three steals and two blocked shots while not committing a single turnover, leading Carolina to a near-upset of Duke in Cameron (a 92-90 overtime loss).

7. Kendall Marshall (3/5/2011): With the ACC regular season title on the line (as both teams entered with matching 13-2 conference records), Marshall orchestrated a masterful win with a 15-point, 11-assist double-double. He only turned the ball over twice, while scoring his points on an efficient eight FGAs.

6. Brice Johnson (2/17/2016): Johnson shot 13-of-17 from the field to score 29 points, adding 19 rebounds as part of a near-20-20 performance. This one would definitely rank higher on the list had Carolina not let a seven-point second-half lead slip away, during which Johnson had just two points and two rebounds over the final 13 minutes.

5. Kendall Marshall (3/3/2012): In another master class on offensive point guard play, Marshall scored 20 points while adding 10 assists to lead Carolina to a huge 88-70 win over Duke on the road. With Butter spreading the ball around, all five Tar Heel starters scored in double digits, as Carolina clinched another regular season title with the win (again, both teams entered the game with matching 13-2 conference marks).

4. Ty Lawson (2/11/2009):  After trailing by eight entering the locker room (with Bobby Frasor’s 3-of-3 3-point shooting keeping the Heels within striking distance), Lawson exploded for 21 second-half points to fuel a 57-point Carolina outburst in the second stanza. UNC won that half by 22, pulling away for a comfortable 101-87 win in Cameron Indoor. For the game, Lawson scored 25 on 8-of-11 from the field and a perfect 9-of-9 from the line. He only shot once from behind the arc (a miss), instead opting to relentlessly attack off the dribble and get to the rim. Lawson added five assists, four rebounds, and a pair of steals (and an uncharacteristic five turnovers).

3. Tyler Hansbrough (3/4/2006): In his first time playing in Cameron, a freshman Hansbrough came away with his first of four straight victories there. Outperforming senior All-American Shelden Williams, Hansbrough had 27 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and a steal. Most memorably, he knocked down a late-game, late-clock 3 to seal the Heels’ 83-76 win. Most typically, he got to the free throw line nine times and converted eight of them.

2. Danny Green (3/8/2008): Coming off the bench, Green stuffed the stat-sheet with 18 points, eight rebounds, two steals, and a career-high seven blocked shots in just 25 minutes . As a team, Carolina blocked 15 Duke shots with Deon Thompson also adding a handful of rejections. Green made 8-of-14 field goals including a pair of 3s (on four attempts), but it was his defense that really shined in this one, helping the Heels to hold Duke’s top-15 offense to a mere 0.92 PPP in Durham. Oh, yeah: Green had a pretty memorable dunk in this one, too.

1. Sean May (3/6/2005): While this memorable matchup in Chapel Hill is best known for the Marvin Williams “and-1” put-back that nearly blew the top off of the Dean Dome, Sean May was the true star of the game. The Heels needed every one of his 26 points and 24 rebounds to complete their late-game comeback. He also added three assists (versus only a single turnover) and two steals to his massive 20-20 performance. In the two Duke games in 2005, May combined to score 49 points and corral 42 rebounds. Johnson likewise averaged a 20-20 against the Blue Devils in 2016, racking up 47 points and 40 boards in the two matchups. Despite getting outscored by 30 from behind the arc in this game (33-3), Carolina won on the strength of a 48-30 rebounding advantage (with May collecting exactly half of those 48 boards—a dozen on each end). If the Heels emerge victorious on Thursday, they’ll probably follow the same successful formula of dominating the paint and glass.


Theo Pinson’s Impact

Theo Pinson’s Impact

First, apologies for no breakdown of the Carolina-Notre Dame game. I was out of town for a few days (to celebrate my buddy’s 40th birthday), and fell a little behind with charting. I’m caught up now, but probably won’t produce an article with the Duke game right around the corner. Anyhow, let’s get back to business as usual.

As Theo Pinson nears his return to the court, let’s take a look at four major ways in which his presence has dramatically impacted the Heels. It should, as always, be noted that all these numbers are based on Pinson’s tiny 5-game sample of less than 100 minutes this season.

1. Passing Impact

There’s not much doubt that Pinson has the best vision and play-making creativity on the team. He leads the Heels in the following passing categories, most of them by healthy margins:

  • Assists / 40 (including FT assists): 9.91 (Woods is next with 7.75)
  • Potential assists / 40: 18.17 (Woods is next with 16.74)
  • Potential close assists / 40: 8.26 (Woods is next with 4.80)
  • Potential close assist-to-passing turnover ratio: 10.0 (Robinson is next with 5.2)
  • Open shots created / 40: 5.37 (Woods is next with 2.40)
  • %Open (open potential assists / total potential assists): 34.2% (Meeks is next with 21.4%)

He also leads Carolina with a Success:Failure of 2.33 on post entry passes (i.e., his entries lead to 2.33 made baskets for fouls for every missed field goal or turnover). The next-highest mark for a UNC wing/guard is Brandon Robinson’s 1.23 (Isaiah Hicks, a vastly improved high-low entry passer, has a Success:Failure of 3.20).

2. Defensive Impact

While Pinson is not a shutdown wing in the Jackie Manuel sense, and is prone to gambling, overhelping, and generally getting himself out of position too often, there’s no denying that he was Carolina’s most disruptive defender in ACC play. Based on his defensive charting numbers, one could easily make the case that he was UNC’s best defender period (depending on one’s beliefs regarding the relative merits of defensive disruption versus positional defense). During ACC-only minutes, Pinson leads the Heels in the following defensive categories:

  • Stop%: 68.3% (Meeks is next at 63.3%)
  • Forced turnovers / 40: 5.78 (Williams is next with 4.04)
  • Deflections / 40: 7.02 (Britt is next with 5.52)
  • Defensive Usage Rate (%DefPoss): 25.2% (Hicks is next at 23.5%); like with its offensive counterpart, a high defensive usage rate isn’t necessarily good—it is when paired with a high Stop%, though (like in Pinson’s case), and demonstrates Pinson’s energy and defensive activity both on and (especially) off the ball

Pinson’s defensive rebounding percentage of 20.6% in league games is also second on the team behind only Kennedy Meeks’ 24.3%. And, while it doesn’t show up in the defensive charting metrics, the ability to play Pinson big minutes on the wing (in a rotation with Kenny Willams at the 2 and Justin Jackson at the 3) reduces the amount of minutes that Carolina needs to play its 2-PG lineups (with Nate Britt at the 2). Britt, who’s posted a Stop% of just 50.3 in ACC games and is allowing 15.7 points / 40 in league play (only Hicks at 18.4 / 40 allows more), has struggled to defend big, athletic ACC wings like Bruce Brown and Jamel Artis.

3. The Hicks Effect

I wrote about this here, with the basic premise being that Pinson’s passing best accentuates the strengths of Isaiah Hicks, who is best-suited athletically to take advantage of that type of next-level play-making. Only 37 of Pinson’s 97 minutes have been alongside Hicks, so it’s certainly premature to draw any firm conclusions. That said, the early returns have certainly indicated that Pinson’s presence has positively impacted Hicks’ productivity. Let’s compare Hicks’ numbers in a few categories with and without Pinson on the floor with him:

  • Points / 40: 28.9 with Pinson; 20.3 without Pinson
  • True Shooting%: 68.4 with Pinson; 65.6 without Pinson
  • FGA / 40: 16.1 with Pinson; 12.7 without Pinson
  • FTA Rate: 66.7 with Pinson; 46.9 without Pinson
  • Dunks / 40: 4.29 with Pinson; 2.12 without Pinson

Of Hicks’ 27 points when paired with Pinson, Pinson has accounted for 12 of them (four assists leading to dunks/layups, and four free throws following free throw assists at the rim). He’s actually been a pretty equal-opportunity assister: while his four assists to Hicks are his highest to any teammate, he’s handed out three apiece to Jackson/Williams/Maye, and two each to Meeks/Britt/Bradley (plus one to Berry).

4. On/Court (Plus-Minus) Impact:

During ACC action, only Luke Maye (+21.4) has a higher efficiency margin in his minutes than Pinson’s +19.4 (Bradley is third at +17.9, followed by Hicks at +13.9). But Pinson’s overall number is being dragged down dramatically by his minutes as a 4 (or 5), when he’s posted a net efficiency of -4.0 in 39 minutes. In 58 minutes as a wing, his efficiency margin is a healthy +36.6 (+37.7 in 45 minutes as a 3; +33.7 in 13 minutes as a 2). Carolina’s team defense has been especially stout with Pinson on the wing, registering a defensive efficiency of 80.4 in those 58 ACC minutes (compared to 105.3 in all conference minutes).

Pinson’s most-used backcourts have been especially effective (albeit in tiny samples): Berry-Williams-Pinson (at the 1-2-3) has an efficiency margin of +46.3 in 12 minutes, while Berry-Pinson-Jackson (at the 1-2-3) has a +46.6 in nine minutes. For Carolina to reach its potential this March, those two 1-2-3 pairings will need to see heavy minutes, in my opinion (as well as some situational minutes with Jackson-Pinson at the 3-4).

Pinson has also allowed the Heels to play closer to Roy Williams’ preferred pace. With Pinson on the court, UNC has an ACC tempo of 78.1. Without him on the floor, it falls precipitously to 70.1.




What’s Happened to the UNC Defense?

What’s Happened to the UNC Defense?

Through the first 17 games of the season, Carolina had posted an unadjusted defensive efficiency of 90.7 (i.e., allowing ~91 points per 100 possessions). When accounting for the strength of those opponents (who had an average adjusted offensive efficiency of 108.6—better than the national average of 104.7), the Heels’ adjusted defensive efficiency for the first 17 games improved to 87.4.

Over the last seven games, however, UNC’s unadjusted defensive efficiency has climbed the whole way to 111.8 (allowing more than 21 additional points per 100 possessions). While the quality of opposing offenses has risen a bit over that span to 113.3, the Heels’ adjusted defensive efficiency over the past seven games is still a significantly worse 103.3.

To examine what’s changed on the defensive end from the non-conference portion of the schedule to the ACC portion, let’s take a look at a couple of defensive charting summary tables. The first shows charting stats for only the 14 non-conference games. The second summarizes the same stats for the 10 ACC games that the Heels have played so far.

Not surprisingly, individual Stop%’s have dropped across the board. At the team level, UNC is now getting stops 54.5% of the time as compared to 59.9% during the out-of-conference slate. Some of this is due to facing a higher caliber of offense during league play (UNC’s ACC opponents have an average adjusted offensive efficiency of 112.5; its non-conference opponents had a mark of 108.1). But some has simply been due to worse defense/more mental mistakes by the Heels.

As seen by comparing the two tables, Joel Berry has been the biggest defensive decliner during league play. His Stop% has dropped from a pre-ACC mark of 66.9 to 50.4 in conference games. This reduction in defensive effectiveness has been fueled largely by an inability to force turnovers. Both Berry’s rates of turnovers created and deflections have fallen precipitously during league contests. Likewise, Nate Britt has seen drops in his defensive disruption numbers in ACC action. Both of UNC’s smallish guards have also allowed a much higher TS% on shots they’ve defended in league play. Britt, in particular, has also been committing fouls much more frequently in league play (or at least shooting fouls).

Many of Britt’s defensive difficulties can be directly linked to the absence of Theo Pinson. Pinson, as seen in the second table, has been Carolina’s most effective and (especially) disruptive defender during ACC play. Without him, Britt has had to absorb heavy minutes on the wing and match up with big, athletic guards like Bruce Brown and Jamel Artis.

Kenny Williams, who leads the Heels in both steals (13) and drawn offensive fouls (9) in ACC play, has continued to be an effective defender according to the defensive charting metrics. Likewise, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks haven’t fallen off very far from their non-conference numbers (although Hicks’ pre-ACC metrics weren’t great either). Overall, however, the Carolina starting 5 has been much less effective as a defensive unit. In the non-conference, the Berry-Williams-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks lineup posted an (unadjusted) defensive efficiency of 80.7 in 98 minutes. In 109 ACC minutes, however, that number has skyrocketed to 109.6 (that unit’s offensive efficiency continues to be excellent—posting a mark of 120.2 in the ACC, down from 138.8 in non-conference games).

Another factor to keep in mind is that, perhaps, Carolina’s ACC opponents have just been extraordinarily hot from behind the arc. While hot shooting/bad shot luck doesn’t excuse bad defense/breakdowns, it can explain why numbers look especially bad over a relatively small sample. In 14 non-conference games, 77% of the 3-pointers that UNC allowed were either open or lightly contested according to my charting numbers. But opponents made just 34.0% of those clean looks. In the 10 ACC contests, the percentage of open/lightly contested 3s has inched up a bit to 81%. But the 3-point percentage on those clean opportunities has exploded to 45.1%. Historically, the Heels’ opponents have shot between 37-40% on open/lightly contested 3s (with between 75-80% of total 3s being classified in these categories). That suggests that: a.) UNC’s non-conference foes were uncharacteristically cold from behind the arc, and b.) UNC’s ACC opponents have been uncharacteristically hot (so far). I’d expect some regression to the mean on opposing clean 3-point looks, which will result in defensive “improvement” even if it’s purely related to better shot luck.