With so much attention focused on UNC's perimeter offense, particularly the three pointer, let's take a look at what UNC players in the Roy Williams era have typically shot from three.
*Started career under Matt Doherty
**Five year player
Given Marcus Paige is the only returning three point threat UNC has, some of the focus has been placed on whether any of the three incoming freshmen can help in this regard. Taking into account only the players who played as freshman or their first year under Roy Williams, the odds a shooting savior is in the incoming class are pretty slim.
The best freshman three point shooter Williams has had at UNC is(surprisingly) Kendall Marshall who shot 37.7% on 20-53 shooting. The best three point shooter who had a palatable volume of attempts was(not surprisingly) Wayne Ellington at 37.1%. Danny Green and Ty Lawson both topped 35% as freshmen while the Iowa duo of Harrison Barnes and Marcus Paige both topped 34%.
What is interesting to note is players like P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Bobby Frasor who came in with reputations as big shooters were 29%, 29% and 31% as freshmen. The only reputed high school shooter who really lived up to his billing as a freshman was Ellington, everyone else struggled. Frasor was pushed into being a point guard which limited his looks. Bullock was injured as a freshman and never finished the season while Hairston was good early then fell into a huge slump during ACC play.
With the incoming class of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson there is hope being held out one or more can give Paige some help on the perimeter. However the stats for UNC freshman would indicate that is probably not going to be the case especially given scouts aren't high on this trio's three point shooting. That being said, if either Tokoto or one of the freshman can hit 34-35% it would be an improvement over Leslie McDonald's 31% from 2014.
Second and Third Year Improvements
While freshman shooters might not perform well in the first year by the time many of those players are in the program 2-3 years, their three point shooting can improve dramatically. In some cases significant improvement in the third season came after a decline in the player's second. This was the case for Raymond Felton and Danny Green. Felton, as a freshman under Matt Doherty shot 35% from three then dropped to 31.2% in his second season after Roy Williams took the program over. Danny Green was at 35% as a freshman and dropped to 29% as a sophomore. In Felton's case he actually took fewer attempts as a sophomore(176 to 112) whereas Green took about the same(76 to 81).
However in both players' junior season, the shooting really jumped. Felton went from 31% to 44% on 159 attempts. Green nearly doubled his attempts and improved to 37% on the season. Likewise Ty Lawson, who had been around 35-36% in his first two seasons jumped to 47% on 108 attempts. Even Ellington continued his upward trajectory from 37% to 40% to 42% as a junior.
Overall there is enough evidence to suggest UNC shooters improve from beyond the arc the longer they are in the program. Green's shooting went from 37% as a junior to 41% as a senior. His shooting got better even with more shot attempts. Reggie Bullock also improved from 29% to 38% to 43% over the course of his three years in Chapel Hill. In fact the only players to end their careers with a worst season from three than at any point in their time at UNC were Melvin Scott, Jawad Williams(0.1% lower), Wes Miller, Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, Reyshawn Terry, Larry Drew, Leslie McDonald and Kendall Marshall. Three of the players listed here were injured at some point and never quite returned to form. Scott's middle seasons were better than his first and last. Jawad Williams was at 38% as a freshman, declined then ended at 38% as a senior. Terry's "best" season was 12-20 in 2005 when he played mop up minutes while Marshall was actually a better shooter late in the season after not shooting well early on. Larry Drew was Larry Drew.
There are also a couple of players who had limited playing time early in their career but still shot well as juniors and seniors. David Noel was a non-factor for two years, played some in 2005 shooting 35% from three(7-20) then as a senior hit 39-92 attempts for 42%. Wes Miller transferred in and hit 44% of his threes on 164 attempts in his junior year. Miller's numbers slipped the next season as did his playing time with the arrival of Ellington. Reyshawn Terry became a starter in 2006 after sitting on the bench for two seasons and taking a total of 25 threes in two years. As a junior Terry hit 38% of his attempts. During his senior year that number jumped to 43%.
What Does it Mean For Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto
It may not mean anything at all except for the fact there is enough history here to suggest that Marcus Paige can and should build on his 38% shooting percentage from this season. Based on the improvement of other players under Roy Williams, it is not outrageous to suggest Paige would be over 40% next season, possibly at 42-43%. On the season Paige took 221 threes which makes him only the third player in the Williams era to have more than 200 attempts in a season and second to P.J. Hairston's 225 three pointers last season. The reason for the elevated shot attempts lies with the lack of interior offense. In 2013, UNC went small and Hairston shot threes at will alongside Bullock as the Tar Heels' traditional offense got inverted a bit. This past season, the offense was still inverted just not as much. However, Paige was the only reliable threat so he took a bulk of the threes.
For UNC to be successful, Paige's three point attempts probably need to come down a little and the efficiency of the interior offense needs to increase. It would also help if Tokoto could get his numbers up but it is unclear if that will happen. While there is evidence to suggest most players improve from three under Roy Williams, Tokoto lacks that pure shooting touch as evidenced by his free throw shooting. Tokoto just didn't struggle at the line, there were times when he missed free throws badly pointing to some issue with his overall shooting. At the same time, Tokoto hit some mid-range jumpers late in the season possibly indicating the cause isn't totally lost. No one is saying Tokoto can't make a nice jump in his perimeter shooting but it is probably not something anyone should hang the season on.
The overall point here is UNC players, probably via good coaching and their own work ethic, trend upwards as shooters the longer they stay in the program. Even players that hit bumps in the road like Hairston, Green, Felton and Bullock bounce back to have very good season as three point shooters. As far as next season goes, it stands to reason that Paige is primed for more improvement, it's possible Tokoto might and banking on the freshmen doing too much is probably not a good idea. In short, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks really need to bring it on the offensive end.