Carolina was up 17 points, and there was only a minute and a half left in the game. But Theo Pinson, a starter, was still in against Michigan, and he was streaking down the court. The senior forward whipped a pass that careened off a Wolverine defender out of bounds. He turned, with the expression of a kid caught in the cookie jar, and looked at his coach. Roy Williams could only throw his hands up in frustration.
That sequence, even as a meaningless possession in a blowout, was a microcosm of Pinson’s season and career. There’s Good Theo – a supremely athletic distributor with the length and speed to play lockdown perimeter defense. But there’s also Bad Theo – an overzealous whirling dervish that can play out of control and make ill-advised decisions.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, Good Theo showed up against Michigan. The Greensboro native finished with 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting, seven rebounds and 6 assists in the 86-71 win.
And Good Theo has showed up more often than not this season. The forward flirted with a triple-double against Portland, led Carolina in scoring against Michigan State and registered three blocks against Arkansas.
But, in his last season of college, UNC is still trying to solve Bad Theo, a Theo that is 1-11 from three this year.
So is Good Theo a shooter?
“I’m not a three-point shooter,” Pinson said after Wednesday’s win. “Early in the year I just started forcing up threes. When I let the game come to me, that’s when I’m at my best.”
Pinson let the game come to him against Michigan. His only attempted three was in the opening minutes. After that, he played Good Theo’s game, as Luke Maye described it. Maye, who led all scorers with 27 points, said Pinson is best at, well, doing everything.
“He does so many things for our team,” Maye said. “Whether he’s making threes or making plays going to the basket or making free throws, he’s giving energy. He’s an unbelievable player.”
Kenny Williams defined Good Theo the same way.
“We know Theo can knock it down, but that’s not his main game,” Williams said. “I think he knows it, and I think we all know it. Theo’s game is getting in the lane and making plays for everybody else.
Maybe Pinson feels pressure to make more three-point shots in Cameron Johnson’s absence, or maybe he’s just in a slump.
Either way, perimeter shooting is not what Good Theo does.
“Shooting threes is not what I do,” Pinson said. “I know what I do best, and that’s make plays.”
Good Theo is a playmaker. Good Theo is among the ACC’s leaders in assists. Good Theo fills up the box score, not just the scoring column. And Carolina needs Good Theo.
Photo by Alex Kormann