CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Theo Pinson participated in North Carolina’s opening practice of 2015-16 on Friday, thereby concluding a long offseason of rehab and recovery.
The sophomore wing fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during UNC’s win at Wake Forest on Jan. 21. Pinson missed the next 10 games and ultimately sat out 14 of UNC’s final 19 games before having surgery on May 4.
The Greensboro, N.C. product showed glimpses of his five-star recruiting ranking prior to the injury, although he reminded many of teammate J.P. Tokoto’s early days as a Tar Heel with displays of tremendous athleticism and defensive capability paired with questionable decision-making at times.
Given Tokoto’s early entry into the NBA Draft, Pinson’s health and maturation will factor significantly into how deep UNC can go in March. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing joins classmate Justin Jackson as the lone true wings on the roster, a roster development that all but demands his emergence at the two-guard.
Jackson logged enough playing time in 2014-15 to work through his freshman inconsistencies by the time March rolled. Pinson was not afforded that luxury, and even missed valuable growth opportunities during the offseason due to his injury. While that may be a lot of pressure to place on a sophomore that averaged 12.5 minutes in 24 games last season, Pinson has the talent, athleticism and mindset to lock down a backcourt starting job.
By Eric Montross
As we have discussed many times before, the biggest jump for a basketball player is between his freshman and sophomore seasons. You are - as a player and a person - typically so much more comfortable your second year.
I believe Theo missed 14 games as a freshman, and that can be very disruptive; you have highlight moments and then you pull up lame. I'm very excited about what he brings to the club, his grit. He's also a really good young man, and he's excited to be here and share that enthusiasm he so often displays. He has a wear-it-on-your-sleeve spirit.
We don't really know his greatest strengths or what he can consistently add because he missed so much time. He possesses good size and speed, and it has been a while since Roy Williams has had the team depth and speed to really push the ball and run in transition. Theo's ability to get to the basket but also his ability to guard on the defensive end will be very important as he continues to progress.
By Rob Harrington
Injuries have been a persistent bugaboo for the Heels in recent seasons, and Pinson suffered a broken foot last year just as he was beginning to round into form. He returned to action late but had lost momentum, playing only 300 total minutes, and thus he’s far less experienced than the average Carolina sophomore. Nevertheless, given his athleticism, hard-charging style and blossoming skill, Pinson should be able to match or even build upon now-departed J.P. Tokoto’s wing production. He slots as either a starter at wing guard or else the first man off the bench and someone who should play 20-plus minutes per game.
Xs & Os INSIDER
By Tyler Brooks
Pinson possesses every tangible quality required to excel in UNC’s defensive plan of attack. He can deny the basketball on the perimeter with his range and length, bother shooters with his height, and stay on the ball, closely track cutters, and finish closeouts on his rotations with his quick feet and high-level athleticism. He has room to improve in his technical execution but he is the ideal Carolina wing from a physical standpoint on this end. His offensive production should increase as well, particularly in UNC’s breakneck transition game. Pinson’s most valuable asset offensively is his ability to pass the basketball from the wing position. He has the vision, timing, and delivery skills of a point guard. This is a particularly cherished skill in Carolina’s freelance and zone offense where rapid ball and player movement are required for successful execution.
By Adrian Atkinson
As alluded to in the Joel Berry write-up, the decision to use Pinson vs. Berry/Britt will most likely involve a defense-for-offense tradeoff. Lineups with a single point guard (and Pinson/Jackson on the wings) figure to be Carolina’s best defensively. Last year, the Heels had a defensive efficiency of 90.1 with Pinson at the 2. When he moved to the 3 (alongside a pair of PGs), it ballooned to 102.1. Though no longer an option in Roy Williams’s toolbox, the Pinson/Tokoto wing combination was especially strong on the defensive end, limiting opponents to just 76.4 points per 100 possessions.
The extent to which Pinson can improve as a shooter and overall offensive contributor will determine his ability to earn 30+ minutes per game. In terms of replacing Tokoto, though, he’s already doing a reasonable facsimile according to the per-40 and tempo-free numbers:
Tokoto 2015: 11.4 Pts/40, 7.7 Reb/40, 5.9 Asst/40, 3.1 TO/40, 2.0 St/40, 48.4 TS%, 101.4 ORtg, 1.92 A:TO
Pinson 2015: 9.1 Pts/40, 9.6 Reb/40, 4.9 Asst/40, 2.3 TO/40, 1.9 St/40, 44.4 TS%, 102.5 ORtg, 2.18 A:TO
While he’s unlikely to maintain his lofty rebounding rate (Pinson’s OR%/DR% of 8.1/17.6 compared favorably to Hansbrough’s 10.9/16.8 as a freshman), Pinson’s versatility is certainly Tokoto-like. Defensively, he projects to be even better than the player he’ll replace on the wing. Pinson has superior lateral quickness and, though it might be too early to declare it with certainty, seems to have a better defensive motor and basketball IQ than Tokoto.
“He was injury riddled last year. I think they did a good job of trying to improve the consistency on his jump shot, but he’s not there yet. He’s long, he’s a very effective defender. He’s a team player and good ball mover.” – ACC Coach
“It remains to be seen how he fits into their overall scheme, but I think he has the capability of coming in and being a good defensive stopper for them.” – ACC Coach
“Theo’s not a great shooter right now so you play him more as a driver. If he’s shooting threes or contested twos you’ll live with those. He had a big game at home and then he got hurt and he never got back into rhythm, really, for the rest of the season.” – ACC Coach
“It’ll be interesting to see how he comes out of the gates in terms of being in the flow of the offense. He wasn’t in the flow of the offense when he came back and he was kind of doing his own thing a little bit.” – ACC Coach
“What makes him interesting is if he’s a ball handler and a guy who creates shots, he’s a legit 6-5, 6-6, so to project him as a potential playmaking guard with great defensive instincts and habits, that’s interesting. Look forward to seeing him as a sophomore and healthy – the sample size was too small last year.” – NBA Scout
“At this point he’s on the radar for his high school exploits. We saw him in high school events. He has the height, needs to get stronger and he’s not a knockdown shooter. We’ll be looking to see how he’s grown physically, where he’s at with his jump shot and decision making. If they don’t have a halfcourt game, Pinson could really help them. He’s got a high IQ, good passer, can make plays for other guys.” – NBA Scout
“Everyone around the league will try and find the next Bruce Bowen, Jimmy Butler, or even Josh Richardson – someone who can defend and be a creator on offense. He can do those things. The guy as a defensive player and as a passer, there are some things to look at there. The question is can he overcome poor shooting and poor decision making? His height, length, athleticism makes you want to do your homework on him. But if he doesn’t improve his shooting and decision making, it’ll be a steep uphill climb. J.P. Tokoto was an athlete who struggled with those two things and he was a pick away from being undrafted. NBA is loaded with good athletes. You have to be able to value the ball.” – NBA Scout
(J.B. Cissell, Evan Daniels, Sherrell McMillan, Jack Morton, Ben Sherman contributed to this feature.)