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:
- 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).
- Jackson missed a contested floater in transition; no Woods touch on this possession.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Nate Britt turned the ball over on an attempted primary break lob to Theo Pinson. No Woods touch on this possession.
- 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.
- 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)
- Pinson: 9.72
- Woods: 8.19
- Berry: 6.20
- Britt: 5.88
- Robinson: 5.56
Potential Assists / 40
- Pinson: 16.66
- Woods: 16.55
- Berry: 14.61
- Britt: 12.52
- Robinson: 10.94
Potential Close Assists / 40
- Pinson: 7.64
- Woods: 5.16
- Robinson: 4.51
- Britt: 4.41
- Berry: 4.34
%Open Shots (Open Potential Assists / Potential Assists)
- Pinson: 34.2%
- Meeks: 22.5%
- Woods: 20.9%
- Hicks: 17.5%
- 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
- Woods: 3.55
- Berry: 1.86
- Maye: 1.42
- Britt: 1.24
- Williams: 1.03
Passing TO% (Passing TO / Potential Assists)
- Woods: 21.5%
- Meeks: 16.9%
- Maye: 15.4%
- Hicks: 15.4%
- 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.