Ask most college basketball observers for their description of a Roy Williams-coached offense and their responses are likely to center on transition and an inside-out approach. The former is fueled by defense, while the latter is a conscious effort in how to run an offense.
Things have changed through nine games in Chapel Hill this season. After averaging 15.2 3-point attempts in 2011-12, UNC is currently averaging 21.8 3-point attempts per game, including 24.1 attempts over its last seven games. The school record for most 3-pointers is 822 (23.5 3FGA) set in 2002-03.
The Tar Heels are connecting on 37.8 percent of their 3-pointers, including a 39.6 percent effort over their last seven games.
“I’d be happier if we were making more of them,” Williams told reporters during his weekly press conference on Thursday. “There’s no question about that.”
Williams knew his perimeter play would be a strength early on due to experience. Juniors Reggie Bullock (21-of-46 3FG) and Leslie McDonald (21-of-42) and sophomore P.J. Hairston (16-of-47) had logged plenty of minutes entering the season.
It was a different story in the post, though, as sophomore James Michael McAdoo broke out with a three-week run last March and represented UNC’s primary post option. Little-used sophomore Desmond Hubert and freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson were expected to gradually increase their roles as the season progressed.
That learning curve may have been greater than initially thought.
“I want Joel and Brice and Desmond and those guys to come along faster,” Williams said. “I’d still like it better if we had a little better balance.”
Saturday’s game against East Tennessee State serves as a prime example. Despite a Bucs’ starting lineup with no one taller than 6-foot-7, North Carolina took one fewer 3-pointer (31) than shots in the paint (32).
A staple measuring stick for a Williams-coached team is its ability to make more free throws than its opponents attempt. His first nine teams at UNC cumulatively averaged 29.4 more made free throws than their opponents attempted (631.2-601.8).
Only three times in that nine-year span did the Tar Heels fail to meet that standard – ’03-04, ’05-06 and ’09-10. Through nine games, UNC is not only making far less free throws than its opponents are attempting (87-136), but its made less than its opponents have made (87-93).
“I would like to get to the foul line more and that comes from getting the basketball inside by pass or dribble,” Williams said. “Everybody acts like I just want them to throw it to the big guy, but Ty Lawson got to the foul line a lot just by driving the ball to the basket.
“Marcus [Paige] hasn’t gotten that comfortable yet. He’s played eight games and he’s shot one free throw. That’s just not typical. We’ve got to get the ball to the basket by dribble or pass.”
Consider this statistic – Lawson made 10 more free throws (42) in the first nine games of the ’08-09 season than any Tar Heel has attempted this season. McAdoo leads the team with 32 free throw attempts on 59.4 percent shooting. Never mind that UNC ranks 315th nationally in free throw percentage.
Combine an inability to consistently penetrate the lane and the lack of an established post presence with a trio of long-range scorers and you arrive at an offensive trend that’s essentially foreign in Chapel Hill.
During the first nine years of the Williams era, UNC averaged 892.4 free throw attempts and 596.8 3-point attempts per season – a differential of 295.6. The ’05-06 squad provided the smallest discrepancy in those statistics, shooting 160 more free throws than 3-pointers.
Through nine games, North Carolina has shot 55 more 3-pointers (196) than free throws (141).
UNC’s offensive identity remains a work in progress, although with only four nonconference games left on the schedule, the foundation appears to be drying.
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