Joel Berry II is getting all sorts of preseason accolades in the days and weeks ahead of the college basketball season. We can quibble about the magnitude of those accolades, but there is no doubting that he is getting recognized. The latest mark of recognition for Berry comes in SB Nation’s College Basketball Top 100 Players for the 2017-2018 season, where the senior point guard and reigning Final Four MVP comes in at #10. Here’s what writer Mike Rutherford has to say about Berry:
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 Final Four, Berry has already accomplished plenty in his college career. The final task will be to serve as the unquestioned leader and focal point of a North Carolina team looking to make a third straight trip to the national championship game.
There are a lot of good players in college basketball this season, both young and old, so it’s hard to say whether or not the ranking is really fair. I will say, though, it does seem a bit strange to see Berry ranked behind Jalen Brunson, a player who is essentially where Berry was in his career at this point last year. After the year Berry had, I personally would rank him at the very least ahead of his junior self.
Berry has been such a consistent performer over his past two seasons that it’s hard to see him playing below this ranking barring something devastating happening. Even when his shooting percentages dipped towards the end of last season, he found ways to make plays for himself and his teammates, so there shouldn’t be any worry about shooting slumps seriously tanking his or the team’s performance. Berry shot just 30% from the field, 25.5% from three-point range, and 66% from the charity stripe during the NCAA Tournament, but still managed to will his team to the top of college basketball and earn the honor of Final Four MOP doing it. Berry is a pretty safe bet to be among college basketball’s best this season.
The real question is how much higher he can go. Statistically, Berry was largely the same player his junior year that he was his sophomore year, just with higher usage and more shot volume, so it’s fair to wonder whether we’ve already seen his best (which, mind you, is outstanding). However, consider this: Sophomore Berry took 55% of his shots inside the arc and drew fouls on 26% of all his field goals. Junior Berry took 53% of his shots outside the arc and drew fouls on 32% of all his field goals. He attacked the basket less, but got to the free throw line more often. In other words, when Berry attacked the basket his junior year, he was stressing defenses much more than he did in 2016, and this year, he has the additional threat of multiple proficient shooters to kick out to. If Berry can attack the basket a tad more often than he did last year, opportunities will open up for both him and the rest of the offense and elevate his numbers accordingly. Berry’s freshman year showed that he could be an excellent distributor, and this year, he will have the opportunity to return to that form while continuing his incredible scoring run. In other words, Berry absolutely has higher heights to reach than he already has. He could be the best player in the country.
Another Tar Heel also finds himself on SB Nation’s list, and that is Berry’s classmate and NBA 2K18 superior Theo Pinson, who landed at #77. Rutherford had this to say about Pinson:
Known as much for his comic relief during press conferences as his on-court talents, Pinson is looking to finally emerge as a consistent (and healthy) offensive threat in his final collegiate season. He set career highs in points (6.1 per game), rebounds (4.6) and assists (3.7) last season, but shot just 38.1 percent from the field.
Pinson is the highest-rated member of his class still in college, per 247 Sports’ Composite rankings. His value has always been in his versatility, as shown by the statistics cited above, but he has yet to truly dominate a game. The closest he has come was probably in his return to regular game action against Florida State in 2017, where he scored 12 points, pulled down 10 rebounds among Florida’s army of 7-footers, played surprisingly good defense on 300-pound Michael Ojo, and did this:
Pinson is an extraordinarily valuable player to the Heels, don’t get me wrong, and he has value just with the energy he brings to the floor. He can be an excellent defender when he is focused, he has extraordinary court vision, and his body control and athleticism at the rim are special when he puts them to good use. He has a lot of tools, and the good thing for UNC is that he doesn’t have to put them all together to help the team tremendously. As far as Pinson the player is concerned, however, his role of consistent role player is why he isn’t higher on the list.
Pinson’s biggest and most obvious weakness is his jump shot, which has looked broken ever since he came to Chapel Hill. He isn’t a completely incompetent shooter, but he isn’t a natural shooter, neither in form nor in mindset. He’s very streaky, and if he misses his first outside shot, he becomes extremely tentative for the rest of the game, limiting his effectiveness as not only a shooter, but a scorer. The good news is that he finds a way to impact the game in other ways even though he isn’t a deadly shooter, and his penetration game, after being a little wild his first two years, really came on in his junior year. His jump shot even flashed some mechanical improvements initially before he re-injured himself and reverted to his old mechanics, so there is potential for improvement there.
Like Berry, Pinson isn’t very likely to end up lower than this ranking, but for a very different reason. He isn’t nearly as consistent a performer as Berry, but his usage is much lower, so he doesn’t really need to be. Additionally, even if he is inconsistent at times, he does so many things well that he’s bound to be making an impact in some way in any given game. Throughout his career, Pinson has breached 10 points 10 times, grabbed 5 or more rebounds 11 times, and had 5 or more assists 15 times.
He can, however, move way up with a senior year where he puts it all together. If Pinson can manage to put together a consistent set of performances where he does everything well, with maybe a triple-double or two, or maybe a 5x5, he will really be able to put the college basketball audience on notice and get his name into much more prestigious conversations. Pinson is a good player, but he has the ability to be great. He, more than just about any player in the country, could find himself much higher in a ranking of college basketball players than most would have him now.