CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Joel Berry’s freshman season started with a groin injury in November. Two months later, the 6-foot, 195-pound guard re-aggravated the strained adductor in practice the day before UNC’s first matchup with N.C. State. After sitting for seven games, using the time on the bench to soak in the hectic college game, Berry re-emerged with a career-best outing at Pittsburgh at the time, scoring eight points and dishing out six assists without a turnover.
It was then that Berry transitioned into a valuable commodity for Roy Williams. He averaged 6.7 points over his final nine games and turned in a strong performance in the Sweet Sixteen loss to Wisconsin, scoring nine points and sparking an 8-2 run in the second half to push UNC’s lead to seven. His body type and physicality attacking the rim offer Williams a different style in the backcourt. More importantly, Berry’s play down the stretch solidified the Tar Heels’ point guard position, which in turn should allow Marcus Paige more opportunities to slide over to the 2-guard spot this season.
By Eric Montross
Joel is dynamic; I love his physical strength, his speed, and his shooting ability.
He missed some valuable time during ACC play as a freshman, but we still saw glimpses of how he can really be a strong player, just as we did with Theo Pinson during his limited time due to injury. Having an additional six months off - that extra time training to work on strength and flexibility - is very valuable. Joel can really shoot; the team needs a more consistent outside threat, which he can maybe provide.
Roy Williams mentioned Joel in the same breath as Ty Lawson, referring to his strength and ability to drive to the basket. Joel demonstrated as a freshman that he has those qualities, and he has to be a favorite to be on the floor a considerable amount as a sophomore. Coach Williams will be looking for that next consistent backcourt player, so the opportunity will be there for Joel Berry.
By Rob Harrington
If he can remain healthy for the entire season, the 2015-16 campaign could serve as a launching pad for Berry. He projects as either the starter at point guard alongside Marcus Paige, or else he’s likely to be Paige’s primary backup. Either way, he should play approximately 25 minutes per game and likely will look to be a more aggressive scorer than he was a year ago.
His improvement as a jump shooter late last season — always an area of inconsistency for him — will go far to determine whether he has a merely good or perhaps an excellent season.
Xs & Os INSIDER
By Tyler Brooks
Berry has the lateral quickness, mentality, defensive IQ, and the (rapidly improved) understanding of UNC’s defensive scheme to excel in every aspect of the game on this end of the floor. He also has the strength to consistently plow his way through opposing ball screens. He must, however, avoid over-helping in the lane and improve his recovery awareness/time between help-to-ball positioning.
Offensively, expect to see Berry more confidently detect how and when to utilize his penetrations skills in order to attack and create in Carolina’s freelance offense. Although UNC’s scheme employs fewer ball screens than its opponents, Berry will likely have increased ball screen opportunities to navigate and pressure the defense. Set plays should be a primary area of focus, where he’ll need to improve his sense of timing and make better decisions with the basketball.
By Adrian Atkinson
As a freshman, Berry, who missed eight crucial developmental games in January and February, played his best during the season’s homestretch. His monthly splits show a player who, like classmate Jackson, became increasingly comfortable with his perimeter shot as the year progressed:
Nov-Dec: 10.6 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 1.2 APG, 2.67 A:TO, 25.0 3Pt%, 51.6 TS%
Jan-Feb: 14.9 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 2.1 APG, 4.25 A:TO, 40.0 3Pt%, 41.5 TS%
March: 15.6 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1.18 A:TO, 50.0 3Pt%, 61.1 TS%
If Berry can combine his March scoring efficiency with his pre-March ability to protect the ball/limit turnovers, he’ll start knocking on the door of all-ACC consideration as early as this season.
He also showed the ability to be a lockdown on-ball defender from the point guard position. Even so, the team figures to (relatively) struggle on the defensive end in the minutes it uses any (or all) of its three point guards (Paige, Berry, Britt) together. Last year, UNC’s single-PG lineups (with 2 of Tokoto/Jackson/Pinson on the wings) posted a defensive efficiency of 92.2 in nearly 800 minutes. With two PGs on the court, it exploded the whole way to 107.4 (in over 700 minutes). With all 3 PGs on the floor together, it was even worse at 127.7 (albeit in a very limited 25-minute sample size).
It seems likely that Berry-Paige will be UNC’s best offensive backcourt this year. But how well those groups can defend might determine how many minutes (and possibly starts) are allocated between Berry and Pinson.
“Much improved. I think his freshman year will lead to him coming out as a sophomore much more productive. I think he has great leadership qualities.” – ACC Coach
“Obviously with Marcus Paige being an ACC player of the year candidate each year he has to figure out how to mesh with him in the backcourt. I think he’s a solid player. Not quite an all-league guy yet, but someone that can be pretty effective.” – ACC Coach
“I think he wants to score. I’d attack him defensively by running him off the three-point line and force him to finish over guys. ” – ACC Coach
(J.B. Cissell, Evan Daniels, Sherrell McMillan, Jack Morton, Ben Sherman contributed to this feature.)