To those observing the North Carolina program from a distance, Theo Pinson was a bit of a long shot to get selected in the 2018 NBA Draft after he completed his senior season as a Tar Heel. His age and lack of a jump shot were considered serious factors against him, and while he was seen to have stepped up his game in his final collegiate year, the “jack of all trades, master of none” approach doesn’t quite hold water in the NBA. You need to do either one or multiple things at an NBA level, and many just weren’t confident that Pinson could. ESPN’s NBA Draft Top 100, written by the former DraftExpress staff, listed him at #100 last November and up to #89 right before the NBA Combine, both of which are unlikely-to-be-drafted-but-might-sign-for-the-summer-type rankings.
Pinson had an up-and-down Combine. While he played okay in scrimmages, his body and athleticism testing was mediocre: he measured in at a legitimate 6’5’’ without shoes with a near 6’11 wingspan and 9-inch hands, all good numbers for him. But 7.35% body fat (Combine measurements for BFP tend to run very low, so while 7.35% might seem pretty good, it’s at the lower end for Combine athletes), 27/34 inch standing/maximum vertical jumps, and an 11.53 second lane agility test were all disappointing numbers for a player who has flashed the athletic ability that Theo has. This is at least partly due to his inability to prepare for the event, having been invited as a late alternate, but it still could not have helped his stock, which depends heavily on measurements in today’s data-driven age.
But it looks like he’s impressed some teams either with his tape, his five-on-five play, interviews, or a combination of all of them, because Pinson has had a fairly busy workout season. According to Inside Carolina, Pinson has either worked out with or scheduled a workout with 15 teams. The list of teams that have already worked him out includes the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, and Los Angeles Lakers. We aren’t privy to how those workouts have gone, but according to Pinson,
“I am shooting the ball a whole lot better [than I did in college]. I think the big-time thing for me is confidence and getting a whole lot of reps up. I think I am proving myself in my workouts.”
I explored this claim before it was made, back in December, and Pinson is absolutely right: he shoots better when he shoots more. In a workout or practice setting, it stands to reason that he’d shoot much better than he did in games as a Tar Heel. His shooting form is unorthodox, to say the least, but it’s workable. His upper half and lower half are both fine on their own, but they don’t work in concert. His shot compares pretty well to Kemba Walker’s in his early years as a pro, when he shot a mediocre 30-33% as opposed to the high-30’s he consistently hits now:
Walker’s feet go forward and his shoulders go back, resulting in an exaggerated version of what’s called “sweep and sway” by shooting coaches. It’s a comparatively newer emphasis in coaching, comparable to the feet-tilted approach to shooting compared to the old-school “toes square to the basket” adage. But here in Walker’s shot and in Pinson’s, you see it exaggerated to the point of almost manufactured fadeaway. Compare that to Walker’s shot now:
Here we see a more vertically balanced jump shot, still with the sweep and sway: Note how he steps away from the shot after he lands because his shoulders are pulled back. His feet stay largely the same, but the shot is much more fluent because the shoulders start out over his feet instead of behind. This is what Pinson should emulate for long-term success, in my opinion.
But that’s enough of that tangent. It seems apparent that Pinson is marketing himself as a wing player who can switch 1-4, which is certainly coveted in today’s NBA. He should also be emphasizing his court vision and passing ability as a potential backup point guard, similar to Shaun Livingston with the Golden State Warriors. He doesn’t have point guard handles, but he’s a smart player and can play pick-and-roll very well. Whatever he’s doing, though, it’s apparently working, according to Inside Carolina’s Ross Martin:
Spoke with a source close to the UNC basketball program: “I’d be very surprised if Theo Pinson doesn’t get drafted.” Added that Pinson could be gone by pick No. 45.— Ross Martin (@RossMartin_IC) June 10, 2018
We don’t know if this source is judging based on talent alone or intel from NBA personnel, but it’s something. Incidentally, pick 45 belongs to the Brooklyn Nets. That seems high to me for a senior with limited upside and who wasn’t a college star for most of his career, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken in picks 50-60, just like Marcus Paige was after his senior year. We’ll be pulling for him whatever happens to him and wherever he ends up going, but it’s worth noting that he’s expressed particular interest in joining former teammate Tony Bradley in Utah:
“And going to a winning team and going to a team that just came from the playoffs, shocking a lot of people, moving the ball, playing together, that is my type of style. And the Jazz perfectly fit that.”
We know for certain that Pinson is a winner, and that he has a place in the league. We wish him the best of luck.