CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Joel Berry was penciled in as a backup when North Carolina’s preseason practice began this time a year ago. Theo Pinson’s nagging foot injury and Marcus Paige’s broken hand provided the 6-foot, 195-pound point guard an opportunity, and it’s one that he never let go.
Berry was arguably UNC’s most consistent player in 2015-16, scoring in double figures in 35 of 40 games and displaying a knack for knocking down big shots as the season progressed. His assists increased as his turnovers declined as the postseason arrived – he dished out 29 assists against seven turnovers in UNC’s final five games of the NCAA Tournament – and that trend needs to continue for the Tar Heels to return to the Final Four in April.
Earned ACC Tournament MVP and NCAA Tournament All-Final Four honors by averaging 14.8 points on 55.7 percent shooting and 4.2 assists in the postseason.
Only the sixth Tar Heel to win ACCT MVP and NCAAT All-Final Four recognition and the first of that group not named All-ACC in the same season.
Tied for the team lead with 10 defensive player of the game awards in 2015-16.
Berry’s rapid improvement throughout the 2015-16 season shows in many statistical areas, especially in half court offense. On a team that has traditionally thrived in the open court but struggled to consistently generate offense in slower tempo, Berry began to thrive in the latter. While limiting turnovers (eight total TOs in the final all-important eight games), he emerged as a vital offensive weapon. Berry was the team’s best shooter in spot up situations (57.3 aFG%), improved running the pick and roll late in the year, and graded out in the nation’s 82nd percentile for overall half court points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. Factor in assists (Half Court PP(P+A)) and he was even more impactful, at the 91st percentile.
by Rob Harrington
Over the course of last year, Berry grew into an increasingly prominent force. He took and hit big shots, frequently attacked the rim in transition, competed defensively and emerged as a three-point marksman as well. Whereas some other Tar Heels need to tweak their approach, Berry simply needs to build on the momentum he generated for himself last season. With Marcus Paige’s departure, he becomes the unquestioned backcourt leader and most likely the designated clutch shooter. In fact, it’s possible he’ll turn in such a huge year that the NBA could open up as a realistic option next spring. He has lived up to his promise out of high school and may even exceed the accolades he brought with him to campus.
by ACC Coaches
“I thought he really found his shooting last year. I think he’s a guy that really wants to score the ball. I think he’s looking for his own shot before he’s looking for everybody else’s. He’s very hungry to score. Can’t leave him open because he’s a good knock down shooter and I thought he was better last year at creating off the bounce and I think he’ll be more aggressive with that this year, obviously, without Marcus coming back.”
“I’m expecting him to take a big leap this year as far as leadership role with the team. You know he’s an explosive athlete, penetrates both directions, is an underrated jump shooter and underrated shot maker, and is going to be very good in transition. He has defensive limitations because of his size but for them to be as good as they would like to be this year he’s going to have to take a big step up as far as what he’s doing as a leader.”
by Dewey Burke
I believe Joel Berry is poised to have a 1st-Team All-ACC caliber season. All of us saw the light bulb go off for him early in the '15-16 season and he never looked back. What impresses me about Joel is his poise and toughness. Over the years we have always loved having a point guard who could get to the rim and finish over bigs -- it takes a certain craftiness that Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson had. Joel has it, too. I would also say that at this point in his career, there is no doubt that Joel is a better shooter than both of those guys. Raymond was probably the toughest guard I ever played with/against, and Ty was without question the fastest and most explosive, particularly in the open court. Ty coming at you full speed in practice/pick-up was a completely helpless feeling. It feels to me that Joel has a little bit of each of those guys to his game. To me he is our unquestioned leader and will have the ball in the hands in many, many late game situations. He hit so many huge shots for us down the stretch last year and was terrific in the game against Nova.
Coach will look to him for nearly every decision that is made on the floor: what box sets to run and when, how and when to get Justin and Isaiah their touches to get them going, when to spring our run & jump traps on defense. Joel will have the ball at the end of every shot clock, charged with using ball screens correctly, finding shooters on penetrate and pitch situations, feeding the post and deciding when he should hunt his own shot. It's a hefty load for a junior point guard that has started as many games as he has. He's up for it.
An area for him to improve would be his 2-point FG%. The 38% from the 3 is excellent and over 86% from the line is terrific. I'd like to see him take less contested 2's this year if it can be avoided (sometimes late clock situations dictate that a pull-up off the bounce is warranted) and either get to the rim to finish/get fouled, or use the 3-pt line to score.
Joel Berry is a winner and our most important player.
UNC INSIDER II
by Kendall Marshall
As a kid, he’s extremely animated. He’s always ready to have a good time, the life of the party, great guy. As a player he took that jump that you like to see a lot of college kids make from their freshman to sophomore year. I don’t know what it is, but you will never shoot the three well as a freshman at Carolina. Whether it be Reggie, Harrison, P.J. (Hairston), Justin (Jackson), Joel … but sophomore year he made that jump, he remained aggressive, stayed true to who he was, he still understood that he’s a scorer, an aggressor.
(The next step is) being able to make plays for other people. But he has to continue to be aggressive and score while getting other guys involved. That’s when he takes that next step to ‘ok, maybe I am ready to play at the next level.’ What I’m really excited to see is that now he has that bull’s eye on his chest to where he’s that guy now and I’d like to see how he reacts to that.