CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Theo Pinson’s emergence as a facilitator for No. 3 North Carolina over the second half of the season could prove valuable during the NCAA Tournament.
Pinson, a sophomore hailing from Greensboro, N.C., had his freshman season cut short due to a foot injury. Due to a lengthy rehab process that lasted until preseason practice, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing was still adapting to the college game once the season started in early November.
It’s now fair to say he’s acclimated quite well. Pinson’s thriving in his role off the bench, averaging 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 19.0 minutes per game. His 103 assists are good for third on the team.
“The game’s really slowing down for me,” Pinson said during UNC’s ACC Tournament Championship run in Washington last weekend. “You can tell when somebody out there is really comfortable and right now I’m out there having so much fun playing the game. I thrive on going into the game and trying to get everybody going and giving a little spark. I think I’m doing a pretty good job right now and I just want to keep it up.”
Pinson’s court vision has long been an asset in his skill set, although it took him a while to settle into a consistently viable option in distributing the ball. That changed near the midway point of the ACC regular season schedule in late January. After dishing out seven assists in his first seven ACC games, Pinson has led the team with 49 assists over the last 14 games.
“He’s done a better job of just making the easy play,” point guard Joel Berry said. “Sometimes he comes in and thinks he has to make a play. Now he’s just seeing the court and making that easy pass. That’s what we need and he’s doing a good job of it… It gives another person that’s looking to distribute the ball, and that’s what we need.”
For Pinson, his transformation into a facilitator comes from a better understanding of how he can help his team.
“We’ve got a lot of scorers – and I can score the ball, too – but I know where my teammates like the ball and where their sweet spots are,” Pinson said.
Pinson’s also been efficient in maximizing opportunities while limiting turnovers. Since that first Boston College game, Pinson ranks second on the team in assist-turnover ratio (3.5) behind sophomore wing Justin Jackson’s 4.3:1. During that span, backup point guard Nate Britt is third on the team in assist-error ratio (3.0), followed by Berry (2.2) and senior guard Marcus Paige (2.1).
“I don’t think those numbers lie,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of it is just making the easy play. A lot of us, me included, try to make that homerun play sometimes and it doesn’t work. I think he’s really cut that out and just made the easy play.”
Pinson leads UNC in assist rate (23.0) – a metric that tracks a player’s assist totals during his time on the court – according to kenpom.com. He also ranks sixth in the ACC in assist-turnover ratio (2.4), joining Paige, Jackson and Berry in the league’s top-10.