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Kennedy Meeks Emerges

Kennedy Meeks has quietly emerged as UNC’s best post player

Entering the season, hopes, dreams, and expectations were sky-high for Isaiah Hicks. His explosiveness and energy were supposed to transfer into his starting role. At worst, he was supposed to surpass Kennedy Meeks as UNC’s go-to post player. At best, he would come close to replicating Brice Johnson’s All-American campaign. So far, neither has happened. While he’s been solid, he has often been outplayed on a per-minute-basis by both Tony Bradley and Kennedy Meeks.

Using a few standard stats, and a few "advanced" stats, we compare Bradley, Hicks, and Meeks in the tables below.All stats come from .

Note: These numbers do not include last nights victory against Davidson.

Overall Per Game Averages

Player Minutes Per Game Points Rebounds FG% Steals Fouls
Meeks 23.2 13.4 10.2 53.2 1.2 2.3
Hicks 26.2 13.3 5.2 64.5 0.3 2.7
Bradley 17.6 9.9 6.3 63.5 0.4 2.0

Using per game averages, with the exception of his shooting percentage, Meeks has arguably been the best post player for UNC. For what it's worth, over his career Meeks is 55% from the floor, so that may still improve as the season continues. He has quietly averaged a double-double, despite only a minimal increase in playing time from last season, when he was on the court for 20.6 mpg.

The most surprising stat is the lack of rebounding from Hicks. Last season he averaged 4.6 rebounds while averaging 18.1 minutes of action. This season, the increase in playing time has not translated to more rebounds. That could be troublesome as the ACC season approaches.

Unfortunately, only using game averages to compare players can sometimes lead to a skewed idea of which player is truly being "more" productive. Remember, last year fans were clamoring for Hicks, in part, because his projected stats over a full 40 minutes were downright dominant. The table below, attempts to address those concerns for the current team.

Game Averages, Per 40 Minutes

Player Minutes Per Game Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Fouls
Meeks 40 22.8 17.6 1.5 2.1 4.0
Hicks 40 20.5 8.0 0.8 0.7 4.1
Bradley 40 22.5 14.4 1.0 0.8 4.6

Comparing the three players as though they averaged 40 minutes a game also produced some surprises. Most notably, Meeks and Bradley have produced at almost identical offensive rates through the first nine games, although Meeks' numbers are slightly better. This confirms the  notion that yes, Tony Bradley is very good at basketball. The future is bright for him, based on this very small sample size.

However, using this metric, Meeks begins to separate himself from his teammates again, thanks to his defensive production. That is going to surprise numerous fans who get frustrated at Meeks' perceived lack of defensive ability. Over the course of a 40 minute game, he theoretically would block more shots and earn more steals. Effectively, Meeks' skillset is more diverse than he is often given credit for.

So, using game averages and estimated averages over 40 minutes of playing time, Meeks appears to have been the best UNC post player thus far. However, I wasn't fully comfortable with the evidence so I looked at one more metric - averages per 100 possessions. The following table addresses these comparisons.

Averages, per 100 possessions

Player Points Rebounds Steals Blocks Fouls ORtg DRtg Rtg +/-
Meeks 30.5 23.6 1.8 2.8 5.4 118.2 79.5 +38.7
Hicks 27.5 10.7 0.9 1.1 5.4 122.1 90.6 +31.5
Bradley 30.2 19.3 1.0 1.4 6.1 137.4 89.5 +47.9

Once again Meeks slowly separates himself from the pack. His ORtg is a little surprising, but can likely be attributed to his field goal percentage. I was also surprised to see an elevated foul rate. He ultimately compensates for that with his current DRtg, which is a ridiculous 79.5. Again, Meeks overall skillset sets him apart.

Using all three statistical comparisons, there is a legitimate case to be made that Meeks has been the most dependable and productive player on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Not many people would have expected that before the season, except maybe, um…some of us here at the Tar Heel Blog. You can read about that here.

Admittedly, Tony Bradley's numbers are also impressive and encouraging, but fans need to have reasonable expectations. Numbers don't tell the entire story, and his season is likely to be one of peaks and valleys (3 points and 4 rebounds against Davidson can be considered a valley). Remember, Hicks' projected numbers were off the charts last year as well. If Bradley can keep the party rocking when the competition increases, a reassessment will be needed.

Surprisingly, Hicks has struggled to find a rhythm. He hasn't had trouble scoring, and he has (mostly) been able to avoid foul trouble. However, his lack of rebounding and current defensive deficiencies indicate that he is still trying to adjust to being a full-time starter. That should not be a huge surprise and hopefully improves as UNC enters the next part of their season.

Ultimately, assuming he stays healthy, Meeks is evolving into the most valuable post player for the Tar Heels. He has not been dominant, but he has been consistently productive. His best performance was against Wisconsin, when he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in 31 minutes. Against Radford he produced a ho-hum 13/9 stat line on 6 of 9 shooting in just 20 minutes of work. The opponent has not mattered. He has shown up to play, every game, regardless of the opponent.

The trend may not continue, but it is certainly a promising development that should be monitored in this young season