In the Brooklyn Nets’ January 25th game against the New York Knicks, an unheralded rookie stood as the force that pushed them to a 109-99 victory. That player is Nets two-way prospect Theo Pinson, who led the team with a career-high 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals on 5-11 from field, 3-5 from beyond the arc and 6-6 from the free throw line. Pinson’s performance becomes extremely impressive when you consider that he was averaging 2.7 points and 1.7 assists on 35% from the field in 10 minutes per game with Brooklyn before that Friday night matchup against the Knicks.
While Pinson was a non-factor for Brooklyn before the game against the Knicks, the two-way prospect has been a tremendous player in the G League with the Long Island Nets. In 21 games in the G League, he’s averaging 20 points, 6.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds on 44% from field and 37% from beyond the arc on 7.8 attempts per game.
Pinson joins Hornets rookie guard Devonte Graham, Raptors two-way player Jordan Loyd and Celtics two-way wing PJ Dozier as the only players in the G League that are averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
A big reason behind that offensive success comes from a steady perimeter jumper. Those last three words would seem unfathomable just six months ago as it would be safe to call him a non-shooter with the University of North Carolina. During his four-year with UNC, he shot just 26% from beyond the arc on a total of 179 perimeter shots. His shooting struggles were also seen from inside the three-point line as he shot just 31% on mid-range shots during his senior season, according to Hoop-Math.
However, Pinson was able to mend those issues during the summer by working his ass off to improve his jumper. In addition to the improved percentages, that progression is evident when you compare his jumper from his time in North Carolina to Long Island. As evident in the clip below from his time as a Tar Heel, the 6’6 player definitely had a hitch in the wind-up of his jumper in the moments before he released the ball. In addition to that, his feet don’t seem to be aimed directly at the rim which would ultimately lead to some shots that either go to the left or right end of the basket.
Fortunately, those flaws have evaporated since he signed that two-way deal. Pinson’s feet are now pointed directly at the rim while the aforementioned hitch is gone. With those fixes, Pinson’s shot release looks more effortless, which has pushed him to become a solid perimeter weapon.
Pinson’s improved perimeter jumper has made him a tougher guard and has ultimately allowed him to do work offensively in other different areas. Aside from that solid 3-point stroke, another area where he’s shined the brightest at is as a facilitator. With Long Island, he’s currently averaging 6.6 assists per game with a solid 1.9 Ast/TO ratio.
The Nets prospect is able to maintain those solid averages through building pick-and-roll chemistry with his roll man and work in the drive-and-kick. When it comes to his work as a facilitator in the pick-and-roll, Pinson has been able to build good chemistry with fellow two-way player Alan Williams. That connection is seen in the clip below as both players probe to the paint after the 6’8 big sets a drag screen before Pinson throws a pretty behind the back-the-back pass to Williams which allows the big to easily finish at the rim.
As that above clip showed, Pinson is more than comfortable working with the ball in his hands. Obviously, that trait comes in handy when he’s working as an on-ball driver, which is another skill that the Nets two-way player is solid at. Pinson’s excellence within this area starts by him utilizing a quick first step that allows him to work past the perimeter defender. In addition to that, Pinson does a good job of utilizing off-ball screens to create separation from his opponent and utilize an open driving lane.
After that is where the real fun starts as he’s an exciting driver whether he has an open lane or there’s an opposing player or two waiting in the paint. When he has an open path to the basket, the Nets two-way player can either throw down a thunderous dunk or finishing with a right or left-handed layup. However, the real entertainment comes from when there’s an opposing player or two stationed in the paint. Because when that happens, Pinson can use some pretty side-step or spin moves to create separation from that defender and get a clearer angle at the rim.
With those traits, Pinson has been able to shoot 59% from within the restricted area on 5.1 attempts per game during his time with the Long Island Nets.
Dating back to his time with the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of Pinson’s biggest strengths has been his work on the defensive end. That reputation started due to him standing as an athletic 6’6 wing with a 6’11 wingspan, which allows him to guard multiple positions. Luckily, he’s been able to maintain that label in the G League. Alongside him averaging 1.1 steals per game, his impact on defense is shown by opponents being nearly four points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court (98.5 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (102.1 points per 100).
Pinson’s biggest skill as a defender is his ability to stick onto on-ball drivers, whether they’re guards or forwards, like velcro and prevent them from getting an open path to the basket. A good example of the two-way player’s work defending drivers is seen in the clip below as he sticks to the side of PJ Dozier from perimeter to paint before adjusting his body at the last moment to deter his layup attempt with the power of verticality.
After going undrafted in 2018, Pinson’s work as an on-ball driver, facilitator and versatile defender were the keys behind the Nets giving him a two-way contract during this past summer. Since then, he’s been able to utilize the G League to build onto that repertoire as he’s since established himself as a solid perimeter shooter. With him being able to combine those skills like they’re Infinity Stones, Pinson has been able to shine as one of the G League’s best wings at a snap of the finger.
Can an improved Pinson find a way to remain in Brooklyn’s rotation and recapture the magic that he had in that Friday night game against New York? Or will the restrictions of a two-way deal keep the young guard in Long Island for the remainder of the year? Well, we’ll try to answer that question in a future piece.