Yesterday, I provided a breakdown of how opponents are guarding Luke Maye, compared to previous post players at UNC. I recommend reading that before you continue with this more detailed review. Thanks to his ability to shoot, drive, and pass the ball, Maye is not being afforded as much space to operate around the perimeter as his predecessors became accustomed to.
The change has not mattered. Maye is still punishing opponents with a 19.9/10.5/2.7 nightly average. More importantly, UNC’s offense has blossomed despite the lack of their traditional simultaneously dominant low-post threats and All-ACC caliber talent Cam Johnson still watching from the sidelines. As a result the Heels are averaging 88.1 points per game, good for 18th in the nation. How has this happened?
Luke Maye’s Scoring
First, we must start with Luke Maye’s offensive production. The most impressive part about Maye’s breakout season has been his ability to score from everywhere on the floor. He is not just a “stretch four” who dances around the perimeter and makes a few backbreaking threes in an effort to stretch the defense. He has succeeded with three pointers, mid-range jump shots, hook shots, baseline spin moves, and running to the rim in the primary break.
I won’t overwhelm you with Luke Maye stats, but here are three examples to remind you. Yesterday, we showed his ability to shoot and drive so those won’t be repeated. Instead, we’ll look at his ability to score in the post which has negated the need for a second, permanent low-post presence.
Against Western Carolina, Maye gets the ball eight feet away from the basket. His relative lack of size has seen him occasionally struggle to get deep in the paint, but that hasn’t mattered. He is so efficient with the ball that he only needs one dribble and drop step/spin move to get around the defender.
Here Maye catches the ball on the block out of the secondary break. This time it takes one power dribble to collect himself, and he goes straight to the rim. Once again his quick decision making allows him to score. Never mind that this is “only” Western Carolina. This has been standard from Maye all season.
Of course, he doesn’t need to get position on the block. He’ll just beat everyone down the court for a quick bucket, like you see here against Arkansas.
The major takeaway is that Maye is doing just enough in the paint to mitigate any major losses from last year’s team. If he was strictly a low-post player it is highly unlikely he would be as effective. However, because he can contribute from all over the court, defenses must account for him at all times. This usually involves an opponent’s post defender(s) pushing out closer to the three-point line. That opens up opportunities for the rest of the Heels.
Before this season started, there were legitimate concerns about who would provide the offensive production. Those concerns grew louder when Cam Johnson injured his knee. Those days seem so long ago.
Below, both Joel Berry (direct) and Garrison Brooks (indirectly) were benefactors of Maye’s spacing and passing. Maye’s and Berry’s defenders are wary of a ball screen, dribble handoff, or outside shot. Those are a lot of concerns.
As a result, both are defending high up the court, leaving a wide open lane for a backdoor cut. If that was Kennedy Meeks or Brice Johnson, the post defender would likely be sagging deeper into the paint (thus blocking the backdoor lane), or Berry would be receiving additional scrutiny.
With Maye requiring extra attention, Berry is wide open to receive the pass. Though he misses the reverse layup, Brooks is able to clean up the miss. Brooks is untouched because his man had to slide down the lane to help against Berry’s drive. It’s like a basketball version of the circle of life.
SPOILER ALERT: Another Joel Berry backdoor cut. This time against Michigan, UNC runs a version of a 4-high set. (Note: this appears to be is a newer wrinkle for this season’s team.) Maye once again draws his defender to the three point line at the top of the clip, leaving nobody within 15 feet of the basket. On the reversal to Brooks, Berry takes advantage.
Similar to an example from yesterday, Maye finds Williams on the left side of the court for another triple. Of note, when Pinson skips to Maye, the Arkansas defender tries to close out hard (and wrong footed) above the three point line to deny a Maye deep ball. (Hint: This has been a common occurrence).
Luke obliged by taking one dribble, which was just enough to force Kenny’s defender into the lane. Williams takes care of the rest.
Finally, another 4-high set against Michigan. With both Maye and Williams demanding attention on the perimeter, Brooks clears out of the paint. This time it’s Kenny who benefits, as Maye gives a savvy brush/bump screen on KWill’s defender.
Kenny’s Wolverine is delayed just enough while his teammate (Luke’s defender, who does NOT want to leave Maye unguarded)) just watches Williams slip down the middle of the lane. Once again, Maye’s positioning and influence on how teams guard the Heels opened up a scoring chance.
After the departure of last year’s top three post players there was naturally concern about UNC”s ability to score and rebound in the paint. Yet, through 10 games Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, and Garrison Brooks are averaging a combined 16.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Unsurprisingly, we here at the Tar Heel Blog believe some of this production can also be attributed to Luke Maye.
Remember in the last section when we said that closing out hard and wrong footed above the three point line was a common occurrence? Voila! This time however, Maye drives into the paint and finds Garrison Brooks.
You can clearly see as soon as Maye dribbles three Michigan Wolverines begin to collapse into the middle. Brooks’ dunk reminds them that he can also play basketball.
Another similar situation arises against WCU. Again Maye takes one dribble after an aggressive closeout. Again the defense begins to collapse on Maye. Again Maye finds Brooks for some Hi-Lo action. If someone told me that Luke Maye was on video game mode I would not question them
Fortunately, the fun isn’t limited to Garrison Brooks. Here Sterling Manley has his defender isolated on the block for a turnaround jumper. In previous years this would result in a double team, or, at a minimum, a second defender in the paint.
Teams struggle to execute either of those options when Luke Maye is in the game. He demands full effort and attention. In this play, Maye’s defender never even sees Manley get the ball.
So there you have it. Luke Maye is influencing this high-octane offense with and without the ball. When he is scoring, passing, or when he is simply on the court. From the top of the key, from the post, and in transition.
To be clear, I am not suggesting this is a one man rodeo and everyone else is just along for the ride. Obviously, there are many moving pieces to this equation. This is still Joel Berry’s team. The freshmen post players deserve kudos for taking full advantage of their minutes and Theo Pinson is a triple-double waiting to happen. This weekend Kyle Britt will look at the point guards and how they've contributed to date.
However, it’s hard to fathom that this team would be nearly as effective, fun, or efficient without Maye’s ability to stretch, move, and confound opponents.
Its a new look in Chapel Hill. Just sit back and enjoy the show.