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UNC basketball: Don’t forget about Kenny Williams

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The senior guard could quietly be the Tar Heels’ best returning player.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Charlotte Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

One UNC basketball player who has gone somewhat under the radar this offseason is Kenny Williams. With his decision to return for his senior season never really in question, Luke Maye and Cam Johnson commanded headlines as they flirted with going pro (though neither was very serious about leaving). Moreover, the arrival of projected lottery pick Nassir Little has created plenty of buzz. But now feels like a good time to start giving Williams the attention he deserves.

Last season, he averaged 11.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while tallying 31.1 minutes a game. His 40% three-point shooting ranked second on the team behind Maye (43%), but that number could’ve been even higher were it not for a shooting slump at the beginning of ACC play. Williams’ stats certainly put him in a good light, but they still don’t tell the whole story.

In a year that was mainly characterized by Joel Berry and Theo Pinson’s leadership as well as the emergence of Luke Maye, you could argue that Kenny Williams was still the best all-around player on that team. One element that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is the ten defensive player of the game awards he won, allocated by the coaches. He reeled in more than anyone on the team, a testament to his unrivaled hustle and energy in addition to his polished defensive mechanics.

Another category he ranked first on the team for was charges drawn. Williams’ willingness to sacrifice his body for the greater good of the squad became a common theme throughout the season and a huge momentum booster. Aside from the toughness required to take those charges, Williams has developed an incredible aptitude for getting to the spot and getting his feet set before his opponent gets there. The result was many huge, sometimes game-altering plays, most notably this one that came during the final seconds of the Tar Heels’ second win of the season over Duke:

Williams does a lot of little things really well, things that don’t necessarily earn you a ton of camera time on SportsCenter, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of producing those types of highlights. After a sophomore season in which he shot the ball extremely well in short bursts, he added much more consistency to his shooting last season. He was hitting at a preposterous 52% clip from deep before his aforementioned slump at the start of ACC competition. A ten-game stretch shooting at a rate of 25% was cause for some concern, but just as fans wondered if maybe it was more than a slump, Williams caught fire again and finished the year shooting 42%. There’s no reason to think he can’t be even more steady and efficient during his final season as a Tar Heel.

Beyond shooting, Williams has started to show that he can do things inside the arc as well. He demonstrated more aggressiveness with the ball in his hands in getting to the hoop. He’s a sneaky-good finisher when he takes the initiative, but taking that initiative is still something he can improve on. Just 44% of his shot attempts were two-point tries. This number may have been sufficient when he could lean on the physicality of Berry and Pinson, but now that those two are gone, that number has to go up.

In terms of Williams’ role for next season, things probably won’t be vastly different regarding his overall production. The assumption is that some of the younger guys will be able to step up so Carolina won’t have to rely so heavily on its starting five.

The real challenge for Williams will be filling the leadership void left by Berry and Pinson. He, along with fellow seniors Maye and Johnson, will have big shoes to fill trying to emulate two of the best to ever don the Carolina blue.