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UNC Basketball Summer Preview: Leaky Black

Is the rising junior poised for a breakout year?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday we continued the summer previews for this upcoming basketball season. Check out the links listed below to catch up on Garrison Brooks, Andrew Platek, and Sterling Manley.

3 August: Garrison Brooks
10 August: Andrew Platek
7 September: Sterling Manley

Today, we’ll focus on Leaky Black. The rising junior out of Concord, North Carolina will look to provide consistency and stability on the wing, though he’ll likely see time at four of the five positions. Let’s dive in.

Leaky Black

Small Forward
2018-19: 23 games, 10.3 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 46.9 FG%, 41.8 3P%, 85.7 FT%
2019-20: 32 games, 29.7 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 35.9 FG%, 25.4 3P% 69.6 FT%

Here’s the deal: Leaky Black has made that time honored transition from under-the-radar freshman who will be the next big thing, to the rising upperclassmen who has yet to meet expectations. It’s an entirely stupid cycle that plays out for UNC basketball fans once every two or three years. Theo Pinson and Kennedy Meeks wore that crown until, of course, they didn’t. Leaky Black is the next player to leave those ill-conceived disappointments in the dust.

I get it. Leaky struggled for long stretches last year. His shooting efficiency nosedived, and his production didn’t entirely match an almost 300% increase in playing time. Black looked hesitant, passed up open looks, and lacked confidence for long stretches. For the majority of his sophomore campaign, he looked like a freshman. That’s because for much of the year, he was basically was a first-year player.

Context is important here, as I pointed out in his season review.

Before his freshman year was derailed by injury, Black was only averaging 10.3 minutes per game. Most of those minutes came against non-ACC opponents and were at the small forward position. In the first three ACC games that season, he played 16, 10, and 14 minutes against Pittsburgh, N.C. State, and Louisville. Two of those contests were essentially decided by halftime, thus facilitating a longer bench. In the three games before the injury against Georgia Tech, he played a total of 16 minutes.

Then last season, he was forced into multiple positions around the perimeter on UNC’s least talented team in almost two decades. That included significant time at the point guard position which is only the hardest position to learn at UNC. Throughout those challenges, Leaky also battled his own ankle issues, as other player’s injuries constantly disrupted any team chemistry.

So, what does any of that mean for this upcoming season?

First, the answer to that question probably lies in the final 12 games of last season. After Cole Anthony returned, Black spent most of his minutes on the wing where he averaged 7.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 turnovers. During that stretch he also grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against Notre Dame, and finished with a career-high 14 points in the season finale against Syracuse. Nothing spectacular, but all better than or equal to his overall season averages.

As the year came to a close, it became evident that the small forward spot maximizes Leaky’s skill sets. Without being forced into major point guard minutes, Black can hone those talents in UNC’s rotation. His length disrupts on defense, where he finished second on the team with a DRtg of 101.7. On offense, that length helps when crashing the glass from the perimeter and finding passing lanes that smaller wings cannot. It also allows Black to be a secondary ball-handler in transition, without the pressure of actually running the team.

Black will still perform spot duty at the other positions, specifically at point guard and as a stretch-four. It’s possible (likely?) that he is primary back-up depending how Anthony Harris is utlizied post-injury, and how R.J. Davis acclimates to the college game. Jeremiah Francis’ injuries and subsequent transfer also created an unplanned void. Hopefully, though, any PG minutes are minimal. That experiment has not been successful and simpler, at this point in his career, is better for Leaky.

Second, aside from consistent minutes at one position, UNC needs Black to regain the poise and confidence from his freshman year. While he lacks the ballhandling ability of Theo Pinson, Black can still use his size and length to be an attacking playmaker. Too often last year he settled for mid-range jump shots or lost momentum once he was in the air.

His FG% at the rim was just 55.4% (31-57), while his 103 jump shots accounted for 46.4% of his overall shooting attempts. Some of that may be a byproduct of defenses packing the paint. The entire team only shot 60% at the rim, after the talented 2019 team hit 70.1% of those attempts. Nagging injuries and Black still learning how to use his body may also have been contributing factors. This season will provide some answers.

Lastly, if UNC can get even a semblance of the 41.7% three-point shooter that played in 2018-2019, the Tar Heels become an exponentially greater threat from behind the arc than they were last season. Last season, opponents disrespected the Heels’ shooting so much, they didn’t even guard the arc. An influx of freshmen talent will also cause unstable outside shooting production. Leaky can help stretch defenses if his shooting form returns. Early success will also allow UNC to use Leak as a stretch-four in a change-of-pace lineup...if Roy wants to continue recent trends.

Nobody enjoyed last season, but not many players had the combination of injuries, in-game requirements, and positional instability as Black. Even fewer players could navigate those pressures, but Leaky continued to get better throughout the year. Those efforts largely flew under the radar over the final 12 games of a disappointing season, but if he’s healthy, Black set the foundations for a legitimate break-out junior year.