It is a huge credit to the season that Theo Pinson had for the Tar Heels this year that I would have almost certainly bet any amount of money that I’d be writing this article about Joel Berry II. Take nothing away from Berry, because he was great. He was Tar Heel Blog’s runner-up for the award. However, the voting wasn’t particularly close.
Theo Pinson did literally everything for UNC this season. He played point guard when Berry needed a break, but he also guarded all-world center Marvin Bagley incredibly well. That win against Duke at home? A large part of that was because Theo’s defensive play was able to keep the Blue Devils in check.
Although Pinson was incredibly important all season, I don’t think his importance fully sank in to me until the NC State game at home. Theo got into foul trouble and the team crumbled in his absence. The same thing happened when the Tar Heels headed down to Clemson and Pinson was knocked out of the game early with an injury. Without him, they barely looked like the same team.
It’s clear to everyone who watched Carolina basketball this year that Theo simply made them a better team. His floor vision is second to none, rivaling that of Kendall Marshall before him. His ability to find his teammates, even in nearly impossible windows, was truly unmatched. Theo’s shot also took a step forward this season. He flirted with triple-doubles on more than one occasion, and contributed quite a bit offensively in addition to everything else he brought to the floor.
Last year, the familiar refrain around Pinson was that his contributions didn’t always light up the stat sheet. This year, they certainly did. Having a player with the versatility to run Roy Williams’ offense while also sliding down into the post to guard one of the best big men in the country was such a huge weapon for the Heels.
I think a lot of people overlooked or underrated Pinson. Maybe it was easy to write him off as the comedian whose main objective was providing humorous relief whenever given the chance. If that was the case, I think Theo made sure they didn’t do that for his entire career. He showed what he is capable of this season, and it could land him playing time in the NBA as a result.
Pinson was UNC’s most valuable player this season because everything worked better when he was on the court. There were so many examples of this. There were still plenty of laughs along the way, in true Theo fashion, but there was also a ton of great basketball. It’s hard to imagine where UNC would have been without him, but it is easy to say they would have been far less successful.