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UNC basketball: Can Kenny Williams regain his effectiveness?

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The junior guard will look to return to form after undergoing two knee surgeries.

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s easy to sort of forget about Kenny Williams considering the success the North Carolina Tar Heels had this past season. Williams started 22 games before going down with a knee injury right before the Heels’ 97-73 road win over N.C. State. While not exactly a go-to scorer, Williams still played a pivotal role in helping his team win a second straight ACC regular season title, which makes UNC’s tournament run without him that much more impressive.

Williams underwent surgery shortly after what was determined to be a right meniscus tear in February. He was expected to be back at full strength some time in June or July, but we have recently learned that he’s had to undergo a second surgery on the same knee. It has not been explicitly specified why this was necessary and if/how it relates to his previous injury. The recovery time for this surgery is assumed to be shorter than the last, though, as Williams is expected to be participating in preseason activities in October.

Williams averaged 6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 23.7 minutes per game. When he was in the game, he provided the Tar Heels with a solid defender and a low-error guy on offense. Coming out of high school, Kenny’s claim to fame was his ability to stroke it from deep. We haven’t exactly seen the knockdown shooter he was hyped up to be (he shot 34% from three), but we have certainly witnessed spurts of his shooting ability.

The most notable of these spurts occurred in a December game against Radford. Williams exploded right out of the gate, amassing 14 points within the first five minutes of the game. He slowed down considerably after that, not because he was cold, but because he stopped taking as many shots. He would go on to finish the game with 19 points, making five of his six 3-point attempts.

Tar Heel Nation had been anticipating one of these types of games from its starting shooting guard. From then on, Williams became a reliable spot-up shooter, one you could usually count on to hit the open shot. However, he will have to do more next season if he wants his team to compete for another title.

Williams, along with Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, and Cameron Johnson, will be a veteran in a loaded backcourt. He won’t necessarily be the focal point, but the offense will run through him much more than it did last season. With the ball handling capabilities of Berry and Pinson, he can continue to play off the ball, but expect him to receive a sizable increase in looks.

In order to establish himself once again as a starter, Williams will likely need to prove he can hit from deep a little more consistently. It would be preferable if he could cross the threshold into the 40s percentage-wise considering he will not be asked to shoot many tough jumpers.

There is some concern as to how much he will be affected by these knee surgeries. The good news for Williams, though, is that his game is not overly reliant on his athleticism. He could lose a step and still contribute offensively in many ways. Defensively, it could be a different story.

Early on last season, Williams made some acrobatic plays on defense for the Tar Heels. He provided the team with an exceptional replacement for Pinson, who was sidelined with an ankle injury for the first half of the season. Williams brought that energy and hustle that was lost without Theo. Clearly, the effort will continue to be present, but Williams’ injury could cause him to be less effective moving his feet defensively.

Assuming Williams is able to play once the season rolls back around, it will be a positive for UNC no matter what kind of shape he’s in. I look forward to seeing that smooth stroke and never-ending intensity that has already made Kenny Williams a fan favorite in his time at Chapel Hill.