The Kenny Williams Effect

The Kenny Williams Effect

Through six games (and 240 minutes) this season, North Carolina’s minutes at the 2-guard spot have been divided roughly evenly between senior Nate Britt and sophomore Kenny Williams. Each has started a trio of games, with Britt logging 122 minutes at shooting guard (along with a handful at the point) compared to Williams’s 101 (plus about 25 minutes at the 3). So how has the team performed with the two platooning shooting guards on the floor? Let’s dig into the +/- numbers for some answers.

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As seen in the above tables, the Heels have been significantly more effective on both ends during Williams’s minutes at the 2. UNC scores about 14 more points per 100 possessions in those minutes, and also allows about 22 points / 100 fewer. Diving into the “4 Factors” numbers, it can be concluded that Carolina is much better at forcing turnovers with Williams on the court. It’s also a little better at avoiding them on the offensive end. Likewise, UNC is also much better at avoiding fouls (and a bit better at drawing them) during Williams’s minutes. The Heels, though great on the offensive glass with either 2-guard, are absolutely dominant in that facet with Williams on the court. It’s debatable how much of the credit he deserves for that, although he’s undisputedly a better offensive rebounder than Britt. But possibly the biggest difference between the Williams vs. Britt minutes has been UNC’s ability to force missed shots with Williams on the court. Again, it’s unlikely that Williams is solely responsible for the eFG% allowed delta seen in the table. But his length and defensive presence are clearly a better fit at the 2 than Britt’s, in my opinion.

UNC’s two most-used lineups this season (by far: the 3rd-most used– Berry-Williams-Jackson-Hicks-Bradley– has just 15.7 minutes as a unit) have been the two platooning 2s alongside the other 4 starters. As mentioned above, each of those quintets has started three games this season. Here’s a +/- comparison of how those two units stack up:

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As in the earlier tables, the starters + Williams combo is significantly superior to the starters + Britt one. In fact, the efficiency margin is even more pronounced when isolating just these minutes. When Williams joins the other starters, Carolina leads 111-57 in 40 minutes (i.e., about one full game). Against Oklahoma State, that 5-man unit led 39-11 in 11 minutes. In the two games in Maui, it’s +41 in about 21 minutes. So, yeah, that’s been a pretty dominant unit.

Of course, +/- data is notoriously noisy– especially for something as small as a 6-game sample. So I’d caution reading too much into this data too soon. That said, at least in my case, the numbers are supporting what I’m seeing via the eye test (and defensive charting data). They also support my preconceived bias of having more length at the 2 (vs. the 2-PG lineups that we’ve seen so frequently in the last couple seasons). Assuming Pinson can return later in the season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him and Williams split the vast majority of the minutes at the 2 while Britt slides over to back up the Berry at the point. That depends on things like (most importantly) Theo’s health, Woods’s development, and how well Britt is playing. It’s also situational: Britt is a very valuable piece against pressure, overplaying defenses like Oklahoma State used on Tuesday night. He’s one of UNC’s best penetrators, finishers, and drive-and-dish guys, preferring to enter the paint via the dribble rather than the pass. Since there’s a team in Durham that traditionally defends the Heels this way (daring them to drive while cutting off post entry passing opportunities), Britt will have his moments to shine as a senior. But, if the early +/- numbers are to be believed, the best version of Carolina might end up being one that includes heavy doses of Kenny Williams at shooting guard.

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