Tag Archives: Shammond Williams

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%.

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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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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from Saturday afternoon’s 85-67 road win over Pittsburgh:

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Tony Bradley dunks during UNC’s 85-67 victory over Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. This was a big time road win for UNC. It’s always tough to play against a team on their senior day. And don’t forget, the Tar Heels only beat Pitt by two AT HOME earlier in the season. More importantly, the win assured Carolina of at least a share of the regular season ACC title as well as a top two seed in the ACC Tournament. If Duke loses to Miami later today, the Heels will clinch the number one seed in the tournament.
  2. Pitt’s frontcourt rotation is thin, and Carolina was able to take advantage by drawing two early fouls on Sheldon Jeter. Jeter eventually fouled out in the second half.
  3. With Jeter on the bench for most of the game (only played seven minutes), the Heels were able to do what they do best: rebound everything. Carolina had 48 total rebounds, half of which were offensive. By comparison, Pittsburgh had 28 total rebounds. As has been the case several times this year, the Tar Heels had more offensive rebounds (24) than their opponent had defensive rebounds (19).
  4. Here’s a number for you: Carolina was 33-73 on field goals, meaning they missed 40. Of those 40, we’ve already noted that they rebounded 28. That means the Heels rebounded 60% of their misses.
  5. Pitt got out to a 17-11 lead. This savvy and veteran UNC squad isn’t fazed on the road. They went on a 13-2 run to make the score 24-19. Pitt came back and made it 30-28 with 2:39 to go. Then the Tar Heels went on a 10-0 run to end the half, turning a close game into a 12 point halftime lead.
  6. In the first half, UNC assisted on nearly every made field goal. The Heels had 12 assists on their first 12 made baskets. They had 13 assists on 14 made baskets. The lone outlier would have actually been an assist, but Kennedy Meeks missed a lay-up, got his own rebound, and scored.
  7. Carolina only turned the ball over eight times. The first turnover didn’t occur until thirteen minutes into the game.
  8. Though Isaiah Hicks finished with four fouls, he picked up his first with about six minutes to go in the first half.
  9. One big lapse early in the second half: North Carolina turned the ball over on three straight possessions. This allowed Pitt to cut the lead to eight. The margin never got any closer though, and the Heels eventually pulled a way.
  10. Isaiah Hicks is so close to the 1,000 career points mark. He scored eight today and needs three against Virginia on Monday to join Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry as the others to do so this year.
  11. Justin Jackson is very likely going to finish this year holding the UNC mark for most made three-pointers in a single season. He hit five today, giving him 83 for the year. The record is 95, set by Shammond Williams in 1996-97. This also means Jackson could also be the first Tar Heel to reach 100 made three pointers in one year.

Quick Hitters – Boston College

I beg you to forgive my tardiness in getting this published. Computer issues over the weekend and the nearest Apple Store is two hours away. Technology is awesome. Until it isn’t. Anyway, to quote the immortal Derek Zoolander, without much further ado, here are Quick hitters from Saturday’s 90-82 road win over Boston College.

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Kennedy Meeks dribbles against Boston College in North Carolina’s 90-82 victory on 1/21/16. Photo Credit: UNC Athletic Communications
  1. While on paper, the Tar Heels should have maybe handled Boston College with more ease, as hard as road wins in the ACC have been to come by this season for all 15 teams, a win is a win. And a win keeps Carolina tied atop the ACC standings with Florida State and Notre Dame.
  2. UNC only had six fouls in the first half, and only one of those was on Isaiah Hicks who was only whistled twice in this game. Only Kenny Williams and Tony Bradley had two fouls in the first half, but both were within the last eight minutes of the half and allowed Roy to maintain his desired substitution pattern.
  3. Justin Jackson hit a ¾ court shot, but it was a fraction after the horn sounded to end the first half. It was beautiful. But didn’t count.
  4. Carolina scored just 34 points in the first half on 38.7% shooting. 34 points wouldn’t be “just” for a lot of teams, but for a team averaging just shy of 90 a game, 34 is “just”. The second half was a different story – 56 points on 54.5% shooting.
  5. Is it just meet or does Luke Maye miss a lot of point blank tip-ins? I don’t have any stats to back it up, just an observation.
  6. This was a quietly dominant game from Kennedy Meeks and Jackson who had 20 and 22 points respectively.
  7. There were two different occasions where Boston College beat UNC on a baseline inbounds play. Roy will not be happy about that.
  8. Newsflash: Joel Berry is human from the free throw line. He has missed one in three of the last four games, going 10-13 (77%) in that stretch. Though he is still currently the career leader in free throw percentage, Berry has relinquished the single season lead to Shammond Williams (91.1%-89.8%). Of course, this is complete nitpicking. The man is an incredible free throw shooter.
  9. Speaking of free throws, Isaiah Hicks is shooting 82.5% this year. He’s gone from 57.9% to 62.1% to 75.6% to this year’s 82.5% mark. If that’s not marked improvement I don’t know what is. Hicks’ number goes up to 86.5% in just ACC play and 91.1% in ACC wins (removing the Georgia Tech game).