Category Archives: Stats

A Tale of Two Halves: Joel Berry’s Free Throw Shooting

The free throw line is the loneliest and most pressure-filled place on a basketball court. Some basketball players thrive on this moment. Others? Weeeeeelllll, not so much.

Two players in NBA history have shot over 90% for their careers (Steve Nash, 90.4% and Mark Price, 90.4%). Stephen Curry (90.4%), though still active, shares the same distinction. Coming in just behind these three is Rick Barry who famously shot his free throws underhanded (and technically rounds up to 90% free throw shooting himself).

On the other side of the coin are the “not-so-much-ers”. We all know about the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic of fouling an opponent even when he doesn’t have the ball. Why? Because he’s so awful at shooting free throws that the percentages say you are better off giving that player two free shots from 15 feet rather than letting the opposing team run their offense. It’s become so rampant that the NBA has been forced to employ rules discouraging the use of this tactic. As you would imagine, this strategy is so named because teams started doing this to Shaquille O’Neal. While Shaq is a poor free throw shooter, and believe me, he is bad, the Big Aristotle actually more than half of his free throws (52.7%) for his career.

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Believe it or not, there are actually several NBA players with worse free throw shooting percentages than Shaq. One of the most famous players of all time – Wilt Chamberlain – shot just 51.1% from the charity stripe. Several NBA players have shot under 50% – Chris Dudley (45.8%), DeAndre Jordan (42.1%), and Ben Wallace (41.4%).

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Finally, coming in under 40% free throw shooting is Andre Drummond at 38%.

Wikimedia.org

When it comes to the best free throw shooters in North Carolina basketball history, Shammond Williams leads the way at 84.9% (292-344). As recently as last year, it looked as though that Williams’ career record would fall. Entering his senior year, Marcus Paige had actually eclipsed Williams in career free throw percentage at 86.5% (275-318). Paige, as you might recall, had an “off year” (by his standards) in the 2015-16 season, shooting “just” 77.4% (72-93). When all was said and done, Paige wound up fifth on the all-time list for UNC at 84.4% (347-411), behind Williams, Kim Huband, Marvin Williams, and Danny Green.

Shammond Williams also holds the single-season record for free throw percentage at 91.1% (133-146) in 1997-98; the only Tar Heel to shoot above 90% for an entire season. Marcus Paige holds two of the top nine single season free throw percentage marks. He hit 87.7% (128-146) in 2013-14 (third place) and 86.5% (96-111) in 2014-15 (ninth place).

This brings us to Joel Berry. Berry did not begin his Tar Heel career as a candidate to be one of the best free throw shooters in North Carolina history. During his freshman year, Berry shot 75.7% (28-37). Things changed, though, in his sophomore year when Berry shot 86.7% (91-105), which is the eighth best single-season mark in Tar Heel history. This incredible sophomore year allowed Berry to begin his junior year at 83.8% (119-142) for his career, which is seventh on the all-time list.

Joel Berry entered his junior year with great possibilities of continuing to move up the career free throw percentage list as well as having one of the best single seasons of free throw shooting in UNC history. Right out of the gate, that’s exactly what Berry did. Oddly though, Joel Berry’s free throw shooting in 2016-17 has been a tale of two halves.

Let’s use the natural dividing of non-conference schedule and conference schedule to create those two halves.

First, the good. In non-conference, Berry hit 39 of 42 free throws over the course of 11.5 games (he missed most of the second half against Radford after suffering an ankle injury and the subsequent games against Davidson and Tennesee). That’s a 92.9% clip during roughly the first third of the season. That free throw percentage would give Berry the best single season number in Carolina history; beating Shammond Williams’ 91.1% mark for a single season by almost two percentage points. This hot start also propelled Berry to 85.9% for his career, a full percentage point above Williams’ career record.

As the conference part of the schedule began, everything changed. Let’s call this part the “not-so-good”. The Tar Heels have played 17 conference games (and have one more to go against some team from eight miles down the road). In those games, Joel Berry has shot 35-47 from the free throw line, which is 74.5%; a drop of 18.4 percentage points from the non-conference portion of the schedule. This is a respectable number, but not an “all-time-best-in-program-history” type of number. The worrisome part is that things have continued to get worse. Over the last 11 games, Berry has shot just 68.8% (22-32) from the line. Remember, this is statistically one of the greatest free throw shooters in Carolina history.

Here’s a telling way to look at things. In the non-conference schedule, Berry shot free throws in nine of the 11.5 games he played in. In those nine games, he hit every free throw he took seven times. By contrast, Berry has shot free throws in 11 of the 17 conference games. Of those 11 games, he’s made every free throw he’s taken just twice.

It’s also troubling to notice the discrepancy in the number of free throws Joel Berry has attempted when comparing the non-conference and conference. In his 11.5 non-conference games, Berry shot 42 free throws. In the 17 conference games, he’s shot 47, just five more. That means that in non-conference games, Berry 3.65 free throws a game, which dropped to 2.76 per game during the conference schedule. In the non-conference schedule, there were three games when Berry didn’t shoot any free throws. In conference, there have been six such games.

It’s hard to say exactly what is causing the drop in Joel Berry’s free throw percentage. Perhaps it’s the fatigue of playing point guard for Roy Williams over the course of a grueling season. Perhaps it’s a problem of shot mechanics. Perhaps Berry is in his own head. Perhaps the hot start was an anomaly. Perhaps it’s a lack of focus.

Whatever the reason, while Justin Jackson has been the most consistent scorer this year for North Carolina, Joel Berry is the heart and engine of the team. In order for this year’s version of the Tar Heels to reach, and possibly exceed, what the 2015-16 team achieved, Berry will have to continue to be that driving force as the regular season gives way to postseason tournaments. And it wouldn’t hurt if he hit a couple more free throws along the way.

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Offensive Zone Possessions (@ Clemson)

Based on the way that Georgia Tech’s disruptive 1-3-1 zone slowed down North Carolina’s offensive attack last Saturday, Clemson, a team that typically stays in man-to-man on defense, sprinkled in several possessions of zone throughout the game. While Georgia Tech played an aggressive 1-3-1, Clemson played a 2-3 zone, more designed to coax a team into settling for 3-pointers and mid-range jump shots.

While the Tar Heels are currently shooting their highest 3-point percentage since 2012-13 and second highest since 2009-10, the interior game is still the bread and better so coaxing the team into shooting from outside is a good recipe for springing an upset. The Heels are shooting 36.4% from 3-point range this season. For reference, here are the shooting percentages of every team in the Roy Williams era:

  • 2016-17 – 36.4%
  • 2015-16 – 32.7%
  • 2014-15 – 35.8%
  • 2013-14 – 33.6%
  • 2012-13 – 37.3%
  • 2011-12 – 33.8%
  • 2010-11 – 32.8%
  • 2009-10 – 32.8%
  • 2008-09 – 38.7%
  • 2007-08 – 37.2%
  • 2006-07 – 35.8%
  • 2005-06 – 37.5%
  • 2004-05 – 40.3%
  • 2003-04 – 35.1%

So let’s took a look at this game against Clemson: the possessions in which the Tigers played zone, what happened in those possessions, and then we’ll make some observations about how UNC did in those possessions.

By my count, the Tar Heels had 80 possessions in this game, 36 in the first half, 34 in the second half, and 10 in overtime (including quick end-of-period possessions). For the game, Clemson played zone for all or part of six possessions. One of those six possessions included two separate sections of zone, so there were seven times when Carolina played offense against the Clemson defense. Here’s what happened in those six possessions (seven sequences):

  1. 17:56 (1st half) – Possession starts with Clemson in man-to-man. Clemson foul @ 17:49. Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Joel Berry three. Open. MADE.
  2. 13:11 (1st half) – Possession starts with Clemson in man-to-man. Clemson foul @ 13:03. Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Luke Maye 17-foot jumper. Open. MADE.
  3. 11:30 (1st half) – Full court pressure after made Clemson free throw. Once UNC is across half court, Clemson falls back into 2-3 zone. Result: Brandon Robinson three. Open. MISSED.
  4. 4:49 (1st half) – Possesion starts with Clemson in man-to-man. Clemson foul @ 4:31. Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Justin Jackson three. Contested. MISSED. UNC offensive rebound results in free throws for Tony Bradley (1-2).
  5. 18:58 (2nd half) – Possesion starts with Clemson in man-to-man. Clemson foul @ 18:50. Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Joel Berry three. Contested. MISSED. Kennedy Meeks offensive rebound. Ball out of bounds to UNC @ 18:35 (2nd half). Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Kenny Williams three. Open. MADE.
  6. 13:54 (2nd half) – Possession starts with Clemson in man-to-man. Clemson foul @ 13:40. Clemson in 2-3 zone from UNC base line inbounds. Result: Joel Berry three. Open. MADE.

So now let’s make some observations about the zone possessions / sequences:

  • Clemson certainly coaxed the shots they wanted out of the Tar Heels. The initial shot in six of the seven sequences was a three-pointer. The seventh might as well have been – a Luke Maye 17-foot jump shot just inside the three-point line.
  • The Tar Heels were 4-7 (57.1%) on those initial shots.
  • Five of the seven initial shots were either open or wide open due to good ball movement and probing the middle of the defense.
  • Of the six possessions, UNC scored on five of them (83.3%), thanks to offensive rebounds on two of the three misses.
  • Six of the seven sequences occurred from dead ball, rather than live, situations. In the lone outlier, Clemson began the possession with full-court pressure and sunk into the 2-3 zone once UNC got the ball across half-court.
  • Of the six dead ball zone sequences, five of them occurred after a Clemson foul. In the outlier, Clemson played zone after the ball went out of bounds off a Tiger.
  • Worth noting: Clemson didn’t play zone out of every dead ball situation.
  • Curiously, the possession that started at 13:54 of the second half was the last in which Clemson played zone for the game. The Tigers returned to their man-to-man defense for the rest of the second half and all of overtime.

All-in-all, UNC faired well in their zone possessions in terms of shot success. However, they failed to do what they do best – get the ball into the middle and score at the rim. So while Georgia Tech’s 1-3-1 zone was more disruptive when it came to taking the Tar Heels out of their offensive rhythm, Clemson’s 2-3 zone was effective at changing their shot selection.

It will be interesting to see whether other ACC teams follow this blueprint and sprinkle in zone principles to cause similar disruptions to Ken Pomeroy’s 11th-rated efficient offense. Even more curious – when faced with zone, will the Tar Heels continue to settle? Time will tell.

22 Points

I hate losing. If you are anything like me, every loss is a slow, painful death that sticks with you the rest of the season (and sometimes even in the years to come). I can name the Tar Heels’ 6 losses, in order, off the top of my head: Northern Iowa, Texas, Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia. All 6 of these teams are in the NCAA Tournament – or rather, would be if eligible (here’s looking at you Louisville). Here are the teams in order from strongest to weakest:

  RPI BPI KenPom NCAA Tourney Seed
Virginia 3 2 2 1
Louisville 17 8 11 Not in Tournament
Duke 19 11 22 4
Texas 27 37 30 6
Notre Dame 32 33 39 6
Northern Iowa 73 97 76 11

In some ways, it’s worse when the losses are really close games that you know you should/could win. Or worse yet, if it’s a game where you have a comfortable lead at some point, but can’t hold on to it.

Unfortunately, that was every one of these 6 losses. The Tar Heels lost these games by a measly 22 combined points. That’s an average of losing by 3.67. Or taken another way, Carolina lost by only 1-2 possessions a game. This is such a small margin of error: 1 or 2 extra turnovers, 1 or 2 missed boxouts, 4 missed free throws, 1 or 2 times not properly defending the pick and roll, 1 or 2 times not staying in front of your man, a silly foul, etc. You can agonize over the tiny mistakes that can swing a game. Or you can learn from them, remove them, and move on (not exactly Coach Smith’s mantra, but very similar).

The silver lining is that Carolina has been in every game it’s played this season. They have never been blown out – the largest loss was by 6 points. The largest deficit the entire season is 13 points (@ NC State). They’ve held a lead at some point in every game this season. They’ve either been tied or held a lead in the 2nd half of every game this season. In fact the only game they didn’t at some point have a 2nd half lead was the regular season loss to Virginia in Charlottesville.

So, at the end of the day, maybe these losses are not so unfortunate. Maybe this veteran group of Tar Heels have learned something from these 6 losses. Maybe those missing 22 points have helped them get tougher. The domination of the ACC tournament certainly seems to point to that.

Can those 22 points continue to be meaningful to the make-up of this team as the stakes get higher? We’re about to find out during the best 3 week stretch of every year.

The Record Book

I love stats. Therefore I love records. Therefore I also love tracking the potential breaking of records. With the regular season wrapped up, and on the eve of the Tar Heels’ first ACC Tournament game, I thought it would be fun to open up the Carolina record book and see where current players stand in different Tar Heel stat categories.

We already know that Marcus Paige has set the Tar Heel record for made 3-pointers in a career (273 and counting – Incidentally, can you imagine what that number would be if he had been healthy all year and shot the ball around his normal 3-point percentage?). Let’s see where Marcus and Brice Johnson rank in some other stat categories (both career and single-season records) as they wrap up their time in Chapel Hill. We’ll also check in on the progress of some of their underclassmen teammates who are working their way into the Tar Heel record books.

Remember, Carolina could have as many 9 or as few as 2 games left. The ability for this group of Tar Heels to continue moving up the leaderboards depends on the number of games remaining.

Note: All stats (career & single-season) are updated through the end of the 2015-16 regular season.

Points (Career)

  1. Marcus Paige – 1718 (#16)
  2. Brice Johnson – 1559 (#25)
    • Needs 68 points to tie Eric Montross for #20
    • If he achieves this, there will be 2 of the top 20 UNC scorers of all time graduating together

Rebounds

  1. Brice Johnson
    • Career – 953 (#8)
      • 47 shy of 1000 for his career, which only 7 other Tar Heels have done. And it’s a prestigious list – Hansbrough, Perkins, Lynch, Cunningham, Jamison, Kupchak, Daugherty
    • This year – 334 (#T-14)
      • Needs 65 rebounds to tie Tyler Hansbrough for the single season record.
      • It’s possible that Brice could become the first Tar Heel with 400 rebounds in a season.

FT% (Career)

  1. Marcus Paige – 330-389 – 84.8% (#2)
    • Marcus started the year #1 all time, and currently sits .1% behind Shammond Williams.
  2. Nate Britt – 146-176 – 83.0% (#11)
  3. Joel Berry – 100-122 – 82.0% (#14)
  • If this holds through the remaining seasons of Britt and Berry’s careers, this team would have 3 of the top 15 FT% shooters in Tar Heel history.

Career Field Goal % (Career)

  1. Brice Johnson – 655-1150 – 57.0% (#15)
  2. Kennedy Meeks – 375-670 – 56.0% (#T-17)
  3. Isaiah Hicks – 217-388 – 55.9% (#19)
  • If this holds through the remaining seasons of Meeks and Hicks’ careers, this team will have 3 of the top 20 in FG% in Tar Heel history.

Double-Doubles (Points/Rebounds) (Single Season)

  1. Brice Johnson
    • Has 19 this year. Single season record is 22.
    • Also, if current averages hold (16.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg), Brice would become the first player since John Henson in 2010-11 to average a double-double for the year. He would be only the 4th player to do so in the 2000’s (Henson, Hansbrough, May) and only 5th since 1975-76 (add in Jamison in 97-98).

Assists (Career)

  1. Marcus Paige – 566 (#10)
    • This one is sad for me because he has a chance to pass Kendall Marshall (581, #8) who would have destroyed the Tar Heel record books in terms of assists if he had stuck around another couple years. That reminds me of how absolutely ridiculous Marshall was. If Marshall had stayed, he had a chance to surpass Ed Cota for 1st in Tar Heel career assists (who, by the way, is 3rd all time in NCAA history).

Blocks (Career)

  1. Brice Johnson – 141 (5 behind Brad Daugherty for #10)

Steals (Career)

  1. Marcus Paige – 193 (#5)

 

We’ll check in again with these records (and any others that have come to light in the remaining games) after the season is over.

Any records I’m missing? Any other stats or records you want to know about? Leave a comment or drop me an email (isaacschade@gmail.com).

Closeability

After a 2014-15 campaign that saw the North Carolina Tar Heels consistently struggle to close out wins, the main focus of Roy Williams and his team during the off-season was overcoming this tendency. We’ll call this principle “closeability” – the ability to close out games. Teams with closeability are tough, focused, and have a Tyler Hansbrough-type player who refuses to lose. Teams without closeability lack determination and grit and have a propensity for losing games they should win.

Given this offseason focus and a returning veteran squad led by preseason All-American candidate Marcus Paige, closeability sounded like a readily attainable goal for the 2015-16 Tar Heels.

How have they done so far? Some numbers to consider:

UNC has 5 losses (4 on the road, 1 at home). In each of those 5 losses:

  • They have held a 2nd half lead
  • They have held at least a 6-point lead at some point in the game
  • The greatest margin of defeat in any one game is 6 points
  • The total combined margin of defeat is 17 points
Game Date Score Margin Largest UNC Lead Held 2nd Half Lead? Last Tie/Lead
@ N. Iowa 11/21 71-67 -4 16 (16:53 – 2nd half) Yes Tie – 2:57,

Lead – 7:37

@ Texas 12/12 84-82 -2 8 (1:06 – 1st half) Yes Tie – :02,

Lead – 2:56

@ Louisville 2/1 71-65 -6 6 (5:50 – 1st half) Yes Tie – 12:10,

Lead – 15:58

@ Notre Dame 2/6 80-76 -4 15 (2:15 – 1st half) Yes Lead – 6:36
vs. Duke 2/17 74-73 -1 8 (6:31 – 2nd half) Yes Lead – 1:10

These numbers show a certain lack of closeability. There have been several culprits along the way. Lack of defensive intensity. Lack of defensive cohesion. Inability to box out and grab a defensive rebound. Getting away from attacking the interior. Unforced turnovers. Empty, careless possessions down the stretch. Unnecessary jump shots.

Each of these issues boil down to one thing: focus.

Despite these losses, there is good news: This 2015-16 edition of the Tar Heels have not been embarrassed or humiliated in ANY game this season. Remember, even the uber-talented 2011-12 team, with 6 future first-round picks, suffered a humbling and uninspired 90-57 loss at Florida State.

After the recent skid in which they lost 3 of 5 (and even 1 of those 2 victories was a narrow escape at winless-in-ACC-play Boston College), the Tar Heels have been dialed in during their last 2 games. UNC completely dismantled Miami (another potential #1 seed) and patiently overcame their biggest deficit of the year (13 points) to win on the road against NC State and the ever-dangerous Cat Barber.

In a year where there is no single dominant team in college basketball, these Tar Heels have the talent and experience to win every game in which they’ll play.

Unfortunately talent and experience aren’t enough to win games. It depends on their ability to focus. It depends on their ability to demonstrate closeability.

Can these Tar Heels focus and be a team with closeability? Absolutely.

Will they be a team with closeability in the final weeks of the season and cut down the nets in Houston? I can’t wait to find out.