Theo Pinson, finally free of the injury and inconsistency problems that plagued him in his first three years of college basketball, took his game to another level as a senior for Roy Williams, becoming a phenomenal playmaker, improved scorer and finisher, and the general jack-of-all trades that we all knew he could be but hadn’t really been yet. I wrote about it at the time, saying that he’d transformed from an energy guy into a bona fide star. And it was this revolution that earned him, almost immediately after going undrafted, a coveted two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets, giving him a guaranteed year as a professional in the Nets’ G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, with the opportunity to spend up to 45 days in the season in Brooklyn. It also guaranteed him a decent salary for the year (a minimum of $75,000 with significant increases with more time spent with the NBA team), so that’s nice. From this point, it was up to Theo to prove he was worth the investment.
Suffice it to say he has done that and more. Pinson has been nothing short of a star for Long Island, averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game through 19 games, ranking 3rd, 4th, and 2nd respectively on his team among players with more than 15 games. In a kind of combo guard role, he has excelled, showing the versatility, do-it-all nature, and energy that were his best attributes as a Tar Heel. Playing 35 minutes a game, his volume has been impressive, too, including, finally, a triple-double in a win against the Wisconsin Herd where scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out 13 assists. He’s had some scoring explosions, too, including a 43-point outburst in his most recent game, a win against the Maine Red Claws.
Most shocking, perhaps, has been how well he has taken to the NBA three-point line. Pinson’s struggles from behind the arc were well-documented, to say the least. A career 25.7% shooter in college whose last year was his worst didn’t seem to have all that much hope of being a sharpshooter in the pros, even with a good free throw stroke and 80% conversion rate. I was kinder than most, noting his improved efficiency with improved volume as well as a suggested fix that had certainly been done before by Kemba Walker. But even I didn’t see this coming: In his first year as a professional, through 19 games, Theo Pinson is a 39% three-point shooter from NBA range, while attempting 7.7 threes per game. In the aforementioned 43-point game, he was 7/13 from deep, and while that’s an anomaly, it wasn’t the kind of jaw-dropper it would have been less than a year ago. There was an inkling of this possibility after Theo led Brooklyn in 3-point percentage in the Las Vegas Summer League, but that was on tiny sample size. He’s clearly been doing everything possible during the season to dispel the notion that his stroke was simply lucky, and boy, has he proved that right.
Particularly in his senior year, it was clear to all of us in Tar Heel Nation that Pinson was a pro in the making, but in a shot-happy league, there were questions about whether NBA people would see him the same way. So far, he’s forcing them to see the answer is an unequivocal yes. He’s played 7 games already in the NBA, and while he’s been colder in those appearances than he has been with Long Island (7-20 shooting, 1-11 from distance, 19 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists in 72 minutes), his G-League consistency and excellence are showing that it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a fixture at the highest level. And for a guy who gave Tar Heel fans more joy than just about anybody else in recent years, that’s incredible to see.