clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UNC basketball: Don’t forget about Theo Pinson

New, comments

Luke Maye, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks have all had the spotlight at some point in March. But, don’t forget about Theo Pinson.

Kentucky v North Carolina Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Yes, Luke Maye hit the game-winning shot. Yes, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks have carried UNC for long stretches at a time. Yes, when Joel Berry II plays poorly, the Tar Heels lose. All that can still be true, but that doesn’t mean the contributions of one Theo Pinson should get lost amidst all the other Final Four storylines.

Pinson is Coach Roy Williams’ athletic, bouncy, and rangy junior guard-forward. After a few years of hype—weighed down by inconsistent play and worrisome injuries—Pinson is finally turning into the real contributor everyone in Chapel Hill hoped he would be.

With an incredibly deep and varied team like Carolina, Pinson’s numbers don’t immediately stand out at you. He only scores six points per game and doesn’t shoot it well from a distance. His 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists are nice enough for arguably the fifth best starter on the squad, but nothing really screams X-factor.

To be fair, he also hasn’t seen the court all that much this season. Pinson missed all of the non-conference schedule to start the year and even missed five ACC match-ups. All in all, UNC is 19-4 with him out of the lineup and 19-3 with him in it. That’s not much of a difference. But Carolina did have to play a tough road game at Indiana without him, as well as a marquee neutral-site showdown against Kentucky in his absence. And we all know what happened when he was given a shot to play Kentucky again.

Currently, Pinson is in the midst of his longest time starting for the Heels. He actually tied a career-high with 30 minutes played against Kentucky in the Elite Eight. While the stats still don’t tell the whole story, Pinson is beginning to live up to the early triple-double speculation that surrounded him. Somewhat of a successor to the J.P. Tokoto kind of player, Pinson affects the game in so many ways. Much like Tokoto, too, that can be wildly up and down.

Pinson has only reached above 10 or more points twice in the last 13 games—none of which have come in the Tournament. Nonetheless, he consistently finds other ways to impact the game. With Kenny Williams out, he’s most likely the best perimeter defender the Heels have. He’s a good rebounder for his size and, although his assists and turnovers don’t always bear it out, he’s a creative and exciting passer.

To truly appreciate Pinson, you have to watch him play. He’s hit threes when he meant to lob alley-oops. He’s had just as many eye-popping passes as head scratching turnovers. His acrobatic layups are a thing of beauty and leave fans, coaches, and players with their jaws dropped. Pinson is straight up fun to watch and will be the breakout favorite for next season’s UNC.

For now, though, he’s an effective, spontaneous, and lively Tar Heel who has helped take the team to a Final Four level. Berry and Jackson score in bunches. Meeks, Maye, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley patrol the paint and corral every—yes, every—rebound that comes their way. Pinson? He does a little bit of everything. He pushes the pace, can guard multiple positions, finishes with style and efficacy, and can even hit a three every now and then.

Pinson is really Williams’ jack of all trades. He might not be a master of anything (yet), but North Carolina doesn’t need him to be. They just need him to be the fun and imaginative player that he is, not unlike his post-game press conference appearances.

So, Pinson probably won’t win the player of the tournament or anything like that when it’s all said and done. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to have the sort of impact Andre Iguodala has had on the Golden State Warriors. He could do all of the little things that add up to a championship.

After all, who pushed the ball all the way up the court and shuffled it off to Maye for the game winner?