In a game with only five floor spots available at any given time, it’s still difficult to accurately label Theo Pinson. He’s more of a wing than a guard, yet there were times last season when he played the 4-spot and served as an offensive facilitator.
Who better to ask for clarity than the man himself? Pinson, never one to hold back his opinion, defined his play not as a number, but as a competitor.
“I’m just a guy who gets it done, really,” Pinson said. “Whatever we need, I try to do it to the best of my ability. If that’s guarding a bigger guy, I’ll do it, and then being versatile enough to go guard a point guard, if I have to. That’s just the way I’ve been my whole life, being able to play 1-4, and sometimes the 5 if I get switched on it.”
The 6-6, 205-pound rising junior did a little bit of everything in 2015-16, averaging 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 18.7 minutes per game. Pinson became the first non-starter with 100 assists in a season since Quentin Thomas in 2008 and posted an assist-turnover ratio of 2.52 during ACC and postseason play.
His vision and willingness to involve his teammates will be a critical component of UNC’s success in 2016-17 given the team’s likely reliance on Joel Berry’s scoring at the point.
“I really do thrive in that,” Pinson said. “I feel like that’s how I get settled into the game. A lot of guys get settled into the game when they get two or three buckets; a couple of layups, maybe hit a jump shot here or there. I feel like I get settled once I get two or three assists, little stuff like that. Get a rebound, push it down the floor and find somebody for an open shot. I don’t know why. That’s just the way I’ve been my whole life.”
Pinson’s offseason focus has been twofold. He has spent a lot of time working on his midrange game while attempting to improve consistency with his 3-point shot (29.0 percent in 2015-16). He’s also hitting the weights to build his strength in order to boost his defensive capabilities, whether it be guarding on the perimeter or in the post.
While Roy Williams may prefer a traditional lineup with two post players, he has shown a willingness to play small ball as long as rebounding and defensive deficiencies aren’t debilitating. That’s where Pinson factors in. Late last season, UNC’s small lineup proved to be an effective change-of-pace option as increased activity on the defensive end spurred lethal transition offense to offset concerns on the backboards.
That lineup, with Pinson manning the 4-spot, outscored Notre Dame 14-0 to close the first half in UNC’s ACC Tournament semifinal blowout win. Entering the national championship game, the small ball rotation averaged roughly eight minutes per postseason contest with staggering results.
“[Williams] showed trust in me last year, putting me out there in crucial moments,” Pinson said. “We did it in the Sweet 16 and in the Elite Eight game when Brice [Johnson] went out with the technical. I stepped up and made plays for the team that helped us win. He showed trust in that lineup all year, and this year, I don’t see why not again. We may use it more this year, we may not. It depends on how things are going during the game.”
Pinson defaulted to his head coach when asked about the likelihood of more time at the four in 2016-17. The Greensboro, N.C. native’s presence on the roster, however, offers Williams plenty of options in his lineup.