The offseason for the North Carolina Tar Heels has been a very eventful one to say the least. Coming off of a National Championship, players have left for the NBA, incoming freshmen opted to go to other programs, a prized grad student has come in despite long-standing controversy, and commits that are still a solid year out from getting to Chapel Hill are increasing their stocks. The roster is finally complete, and with all of the storylines that have been circulating for the past couple of months you can hear a faint voice in the distance:
"Where's my chair? Where my name at though?"
Theo Pinson withdrew from the NBA draft along with his fellow classmate Joel Berry II. A lot of hype has been focused around Berry for coming back, and rightfully so. He was the ACC Tournament MVP in 2016 and this year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player. By and large, this year's team only got as far as Joel Berry was able to take them, injured ankles and all. There is a lot of value to him coming back, and the team would be considerably worse without him. What also needs to be acknowledged, however, is that Theo Pinson's return holds great importance as well.
Theo's career up to this point has been quite a roller coaster. His freshman year he missed 14 games, including the entire ACC Tournament, and only saw the court for 14 minutes in the NCAA Tournament. For his sophomore season, Pinson managed to stay healthy and came off the bench as the energy guy whenever UNC needed a boost. His junior year Pinson was hit with more injuries, and yet managed to have some big time plays at big time moments whenever he was healthy and on the floor.
So why exactly is it so important that Theo is back? Let's take a look at three key reasons why Pinson's return is important for UNC's 2017-18 season:
Pinson is a big-time defender
Defense has been paramount to UNC's success the past couple years. During the 2016 ACC Tournament, you could almost see the light bulb turn on for the team and suddenly they were playing their best defense of the season going into the NCAA Tournament where they made it to the final game. This year wasn't much different, as defense saved UNC big time during the NCAA Tournament before knocking off Gonzaga for the championship.
One big reason why UNC's defense has clicked so well the past couple years is without a doubt because of Pinson. The first meeting against Kentucky this year served as solid proof of that fact, as Malik Monk went ballistic on a Theo-less UNC team scoring 47 points and shooting 8-12 from behind the arc. He proved to just be too much for the Heels, and the talk circulating after that game was that a healthy Theo Pinson on the floor could have made enough of a difference on defense to come away with the win.
The rematch came in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and this time Pinson was available for the Tar Heels. However, De'Aaron Fox, who also had a clear height advantage over Joel Berry, had just come off of a season-best 37 point game so Roy Williams had to make some adjustments.
Pinson ended up guarding Fox while Justin Jackson guarded Malik Monk and Berry guarded Isaiah Briscoe. The result was Fox scoring 13 points shooting for only 35%, down from 65% the game before. Malik Monk was visibly frustrated by the size of Jackson, and while he managed to shoot 50% from 3-point range, he only touched the ball enough to score 12 points for the game.
Theo Pinson's defense is easily a game-changer considering his ability to guard 3-4 different positions on the floor. For opposing teams' best guards, Roy Williams is able to put Pinson on them and create a size disadvantage that makes it hard for the other team to shoot spot-up jumpers or break free long enough to create offense altogether. Against bigger players, Pinson has been able to show that he can hold his own and cause problems as well. His defensive abilities hold tremendous value to UNC, and will be important for this 2017-18 squad.
Pinson's ability to create plays
Theo Pinson is one of the better passers for UNC, and there are plenty of numbers to back it up. Specifically for his sophomore year, here are a few notes about his play-making ability:
- He was third on the team with a total of 115 assists.
- He was the first non-starter to have over 100 assists in a season since Quentin Thomas did it in 2008.
- He led the team with an assist every 6.5 minutes of action.
- He finished the season with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3/1 (115/49).
During his junior year, Pinson was able to continue the trend by finishing the year with 77 assists and 31 turnovers with a 2.48/1 assist-to-turnover ratio. To put his figure into perspective: Joel Berry, who had the most assists on the team, finished the year with a 1.91/1 ratio (138/72). The only player who finished with a better ratio than Pinson is recent UNC graduate Nate Britt, who finished with a 2.54/1 ratio. Pinson's ability to create plays will be huge, especially considering this team's make up of shooters and playmakers outside of the post.
Pinson gives the team life
Since arriving in Chapel Hill, Theo Pinson has been the guy that manages to give the team life on and off of the court. Off of the court, Pinson serves as the team's comedic relief. Whether it's randomly crashing press conferences, doing impressions of the coaching staff, or creating dance videos with Joel Berry, Pinson has always found a way to entertain and keep everybody laughing and loose. In the realm of competitive sports, that is something that is needed to keep things from getting overly serious and well, not fun.
On the court however, Pinson gets as serious as anybody on the floor. When the lights turn on and his name is called, Theo always manages to find a way to make some kind of a play that gives UNC a major boost just at the right time. He turns into a big time stat-stuffer, and everything comes around full-circle to everything that I discussed earlier. To list all of the plays he's made to get UNC going would be a tall task, and if he stays healthy next year the list will continue to grow.
When it's all said and done, Theo Pinson may leave Chapel Hill as one of the most sneaky-important players in recent memory. He doesn't put up staggering numbers in any particular category, but his skill set honestly doesn't call for that. His abilities as a lockdown defender, a playmaker, and a high-energy player continues to be a strong asset to the program.
The scary part is that Theo definitely hasn't reached his ceiling. He's had flashes of a decent to good shooter, and if he manages to get his shot figured out this offseason we may be in for some special things to come. Theo is back, and I'm sure someone will make sure he has a chair from now on.