Kenny Williams is quietly one of North Carolina’s most important players.
The junior shooting guard is a pesky defender, a willing passer, a selfless teammate and a threat to hit shots beyond the arc. The latter trait, though, is the most vital to the team’s success — and failure — this season.
After 24 games, Williams is shooting 39.3 percent from deep, which certainly appears to be a respectable average. The past few months, however, show that his shooting is on the decline, and the team is suffering for it.
Over the first 11 games of the season, both Williams and the team started out strong: Williams made a blistering 24-of-44 attempts from beyond the arc (54.5 percent), contributing to a strong 10-1 record.
A December loss to Wofford changed everything.
Since then, Williams has made only 16-of-63 attempts (28.6 percent), and UNC has dropped six of the last 13 games, falling to 17-7 (6-5 ACC) in the season.
Williams certainly isn’t the for the team’s recent struggles, nor is he the one to blame for an inconsistent offense. Even so, a team reliant on a 4-out offensive scheme needs its shooters to perform well on a regular basis, which is something Williams is clearly not doing.
His struggles from deep are problematic for sure — but he can overcome them.
His shooting form is quite simple. He sets his feet shoulder-length apart, with his right foot slightly out further than his left; while going up, he leans back slightly, and has a high release; upon landing, his feet typically remain the same distance apart, and he lands just ahead of where he was at the beginning of the shot.
But for Williams, and many other spot-up shooters, the success of his shot relies greatly on his ability to maintain a stable base. Whenever rushed or heavily contested, he tends to alter his form, landing off-balance and ultimately missing the shot.
Head coach Roy Williams is aware of this and often runs action plays involving staggered screens or double screen aways in order to create space for his most volatile perimeter threat. These plays involve two players setting screens for Kenny Williams, who curls around them in order to lose his defender so that he can find an open shot.
Here, from the early-season win against Stanford, is a great example of the aforementioned plays resulting in a clean look for Williams. Joel Berry II passes the ball to Theo Pinson at the top of the key, who then dribbles over to the left wing; Berry II and Garrison Brooks set staggered screens, allowing WIlliams to curl off them, losing his defender; Williams then catches the ball at the top of the key and drains a wide-open shot, maintaining perfect form and a solid base the whole time.
These plays don’t always generate enough separation, though.
Here, Williams curls off staggered screens from Pinson and Cameron Johnson but catches the ball with a defender trailing him closely. Instead of pulling back out to reset the offense, he takes the contested shot anyway, ultimately missing it and landing off-balance with his feet spread out.
Such a decision is indicative of a recent streak of poor shot-selection, with many of his three-point attempts coming from rushed or contested looks.
Take these two plays for example. In the first one, Kenny Williams denies a screen from Brooks and instead dribbles to the corner where he hoists up a contested, off-balance shot that falls well short. In the second one, he comes off a quick screen from Johnson and catches a pass at the top of the key with a defender on him the entire time. Again, he opts to shoot the heavily-contested jumper and stumbles backwards on the landing as his shot hits front rim.
If Williams manages to eliminate poor shots such as those mentioned above, he will certainly improve his overall shooting numbers, giving him increased confidence and rhythm while helping the Tar Heel offense generate cleaner looks from deep.
Kenny Williams should be fine. He works hard on and off the court to improve his game.
His shot should return to normal in the near future; all he needs is a couple games of hot shooting in order to get his groove back.
Hell, he might be on track to do just that.
Last Saturday against Pittsburgh, he drained 3-of-5 attempts from beyond the arc; he just needs one more game to firmly establish a new hot streak.
That next game?
Thursday night — versus Duke.
So light ‘em up, Kenny. They’re devils after all — they should be used to the heat.
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