North Carolina wing Theo Pinson (1) holds up his part of the cut down net after defeating Gonzaga 71-65 in the NCAA men’s basketball Championship Monday night in Phoenix.
Ready or not, here comes Theo Pinson.
The junior wing declared for the 2017 NBA Draft on Sunday, joining teammates Joel Berry and Tony Bradley as the three Tar Heels to enter their names in June’s draft without signing an agent. All could return to UNC before May 24 after competing in the upcoming NBA Draft Combine.
Pinson’s decision, unexpected as it seems, is likely born from the NCAA’s recent rule change allowing players to enter their name in the NBA Draft without jeopardizing their eligibility. It’s a process Justin Jackson went through last season before channeling his feedback into an All-American season. And unless Pinson — who projects as a second-round flyer, at best — is simply done with the collegiate experience, he’ll more than likely return for his senior season.
As a junior, the 6-foot-6 wing from Greensboro led North Carolina in assist per game (3.7) despite missing 19 games with ailing foot injuries. In eight postseason games, he averaged 5.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists and served as the linchpin to UNC’s oft-struggling offense. Pinson’s elite athleticism and court vision have made him an asset for the Tar Heels for the past three seasons, but his wonky jump shot and propensity for turnovers have limited his impact at times. And the latter two could plummet his draft stock in June.
Should Pinson return, he’ll likely lock up the starting small forward position in a lineup sans Jackson. But if Berry — who alongside Jackson and Pinson comprise UNC’s 2014 recruiting class — decides to forgo his senior season, Pinson will be expected to shoulder a scoring load beyond what he’s shown capable of through three seasons.
But perhaps feedback from NBA Draft scouts is exactly what Pinson needs to make a Jackson-like leap this offseason — assuming he doesn’t leap to the NBA instead.