The ACC may not recognize a regular season title, but UNC won it last year anyway, and they won it with stifling defense (6th nationally) and an offense fueled on chucking up the rock and grabbing offensive boards. The Tar Heels were 112th in 2-pt% and 248th in 3-pt%. Much of the preseason focus was on the need for UNC to find outside shooters. In their fast break/secondary break offense the threes are there, they just needed a couple players to knock them down. The main target was Leslie McDonald. The former Tennessee Player of the Year was designated gunner off the bench last season, and converted a team high 38.1% of his 3s. But then in a pro-am event in July he tore up his right knee and underwent surgery. So who were the Heels going to turn to? And would Roy Williams offense sputter again? In his first six seasons at UNC the Tar Heels had ranked among the nations 10 best offenses every year, and had the #1 offense in half those seasons. But 2010 (92nd) and 2011 (38th) were different, and those two teams just happened to be the two worst 3-point shooting teams of Williams career.
Fast forward five months and it’s like 2010 and 2011 never happened. It’s Leslie McDonald, who? Don’t get me wrong – McDonald is a tremendous talent and would start on most Division I teams – but if you look at the stats UNC has gone from 248th in the nation shooting 3s to 10th.
It’s starts with Harrison Barnes. It was obvious how quickly his game developed last season, but one thing that didn’t develop was his outside shot. Barnes converted 34.4% on the season, but only 32.5% in conference play. Now he’s attempting fewer, and making more. Last year through ten games Barnes was 12-41 (29.3%). This year he’s 15-29 (51.7%). Barnes is at his best as a spot up shooter, and now he’s smarter about when shoot.
Another surprise has been Reggie Bullock. His freshman season was cut short by knee injury, and in that season he only made 29.6% of his 3s. Unfortunately (for UNC) Bullock was high volume, attempting more shots when he was on the floor than any player but Harrison Barnes. This year he’s playing almost the same minutes (17 versus 14.5 last season), but now his shots are going down. Bulluck has made a team best 20 3-pointers and is shooting 45.5% from beyond the arc.
The last player is P.J. Hairston. He’ll be this team’s star in the future, but for now his job is to free himself at the 3-point line and put up shots. 82.4% of his attempts have been 3s, and he’s making 42.9% of them.
The trio of Barnes, Bullock and Hairston have changed UNC’s offense. It still looks the same. It just functions better. Last year UNC’s offense was ranked 38th in the nation. This year it’s 5th.