We’re back for an installment of our UNC Basketball Summer Preview series. No need to recap what we’re doing. If you’ve read the three previous previews, you know the drill. If you have been living under a rock (or enjoying a well-earned vacation), click on the following links.
Today’s subject is rising junior shooting guard Andrew Platek. The 6-3, 200-pound sharpshooter from Guilderland, New York adds to the depth on the perimeter that has suddenly materialized this offseason for the Heels. A lackluster sophomore campaign, however, makes it difficult to get a grasp on whether he’ll make a junior leap and become a rotational contributor.
Originally a 3-star recruit from Northfield Mount Herman High School, Platek came to UNC with the reputation of being a lights-out shooter and capable defender. As a freshman, he shot 37% from three while averaging 7.5 minutes a game. That same season, against lower-caliber opponents, he often proved to be a tough match-up on defense, making up for a lack of overall athleticism with solid positional defense and old-fashioned effort.
He even reached double-digit scoring twice, scoring 12 and 11 points against Portand and Western Carolina. It was a solid first year, with plenty of positive to build on. My favorite memory from his freshman year was this three-pointer against Syracuse.
However, much like that of his classmate Brandon Huffman, Platek’s sophomore season saw a decrease in playing time. His minutes were cut in half, dropping to 3.7 minutes per game. Naturally, that impacted every other statistical category. His outside shooting dipped to 33% on lower volume. His rebounding totals, averages, and per-40 projections all regressed. Defensive lapses became more glaring. Since guards often progress more quickly than big men, the lack of a noticeable “sophomore leap” can be a concern.
A contributing factor, though, is that UNC simply had more weapons on the perimeter last seaon than they had in 2018. A healthy Cameron Johnson, defensive specialist Kenny Williams, a resurgent Brandon Robinson, and freshmen Leaky Black and Nassir Little can easily account for Platek’s reduction in playing time. Between the combination of three-point shooting, play-making ability, and game-changing defense, someone was going to be the odd man out. When Platek was given a little burn, he often looked…uncomfortable.
Much like when Seventh Woods entered the game, Platek looked either rushed or pressed to make something happen. It’s common for reserves to force the issue to find a rhythm. Coming in cold off the bench can be difficult for some players. It requires a specific mindset that runs counter to anything these players have experienced prior to getting to college. Nothing about Platek’s sophomore season was necessarily unusual. Just a perfect storm of multiple factors brought some disappointment and frustration.
What does any of this mean for next season?
First and foremost, Platek brings something that will be sorely needed year – outside shooting. Before you scoff, check out this article from Andrew Jones of Tar Heel Illustrated. Platek is widely considered one of, if not the, best pure shooter(s) on the team. Seriously. Even Johnson, a 2019 NBA lottery pick, was quoted in that article as saying Platek is the best shooter in the program. His career averages of 35.7% from deep in just 5.7 minutes per game indicates this more than just a courtesy statement. As does the fact that 49% of his career field goal attempts are from three. Platek knows his strength.
Conversely, that highlights a glaring weakness that requires improvement. Aside from the typical “defense” and “effort” replies when talking about a player’s path to playing time, there is one area that Platek can add a dimension to his offensive game: Finishing at the rim.
Platek is not about to become a shot-creating, rim-attacking wing. In two years, he has attempted exactly 25 shots at the rim and usually looked timid or overwhelmed when doing so. Only 64% of those attempts were successful, and that dipped to 62.5% last season. In 2018-19, only Seventh Woods had a worse conversion rate. Platek’s attempts will largely have to come in transition and exploiting gaps in the defense via quick cuts or finding open space. If he can capitalize with assertiveness, both are easy ways to diversify his offensive game.
If that seems unlikely, consider Brandon Robinson. Robinson only hit 35.7% of his attempts at the rim as a sophomore, converting just 5 of 14 opportunities. That success rate skyrocketed to 83.3% last season on 10-of-12 shooting. Those may be small sample sizes, but when looking for incremental gains, every achievement points to a larger body of work. That success, along with some other improvements, changed the perception and reality of Robinson’s contributions.
Platek also brings another underrated skill specifically needed by this edition of Tar Heels. With a large influx of talent this upcoming season, Platek’s knowledge of UNC’s system should give him an advantage, especially in the early stages of the season. The list of Tar Heels who have become key contributors by simply being in the right position at the right time, is endless. Last season, Kenny William’s finished second on the team in assists, mostly by knowing where players were supposed to be.
If you’re looking for a roadmap for Platek’s success, then Robinson is the best starting place. Other than the previously mentioned improvement at the rim, as I explained in Robinson’s preview, the back-up wing settled into his reserve role. He found ways to contribute without “forcing the issue” and became an integral part of the rotation at over 14 minutes per game. That almost doubled his playing time from the previous season, while facing the same logjam of talent as Platek.
Depending on the overall health of the incoming recruits and other positional unknowns, 14 minutes a game is likely the absolute ceiling for Platek. A better expectation (or hope) is a solid 10 minutes per contest. For Platek to truly find a comfort level, the key will be to see extended playing time. The difference in 3-5 minutes of continuous play compared to a combination of 90 second spurts before media timeouts may seem small, but it’s not.
If that still seems unlikely, consider that the experience of a junior can trump the athleticism or recruiting hype of underclassmen. There will be enough matchups throughout the year that Platek can use that experience to his advantage – if he can earn the trust of the coaching staff early in the season. At 6-3, Platek is more suited for the traditional shooting guard role but, depending on what lineups Roy Williams uses, there will be availability on both wings. The collective learning curves of newcomers Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, Cole Anthony, Jeremiah Francis, and Anthony Harris will be steep, and Platek can help ease their transition.
All that being said, the bottom line is this: Platek will have his opportunities. Whether or not he can capitalize is up to him.