Over the course of his four year career with the North Carolina Tar Heels, Theo Pinson went through the kind of development that any 18-year-old kid strives for when they step foot on a college campus. That progression is simply evident from his statistics as he made year-by-year improvements in points, assists, rebounds and steals per game. His college evolution ended during his senior season where the Tar Heel guard put up 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.1 steals per game on 47% from the field. Pinson’s performance during the regular season allowed him to be named to the ACC All-Honorable Mention team for the 2017-18 college campaign.
Despite his development with North Carolina, Pinson went through the 2018 NBA Draft without getting selected. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long to figure out his immediate future as he signed with the Nets for Vegas Summer League. Despite playing against better competition, the 6’6 guard put up better numbers from his time with UNC during that five-game Summer League stretch where he averaged 11.3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game on 45% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc.
That fantastic Vegas performance pushed the Nets to keep Pinson within their organization as they signed him to an Exhibit 10 deal on August 6th. With that Exhibit 10 clause, the Nets would be able to transition that deal to a two-way deal before the start of the regular season. Brooklyn did just that with Pinson as they signed him to a two-way deal on October 11th, just six days before the start of the 2018-19 NBA regular season.
Due to Brooklyn’s backcourt depth and the restrictions of the two-way deal, he would spend most of his rookie season in the G League with the Long Island Nets. Fortunately, the guard made that predicament work as Pinson immediately stood out as one of the best guards in the league from opening night. During the first two months of the season, he put up 19 points, 6.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds on 44% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc on 7.6 attempts per game.
During the final three months of the G League regular season, Pinson would spend more time up in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets as he played 12 games from January to March. That included a game on January 25th where he had a career-high 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in a Brooklyn victory over the Knicks.
His time in the NBA seemed to help the young guard as the two-way player’s numbers in the G League during those final few months were a lot better. That progression was seen by him averaging 22.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals on 45% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 8.6 attempts per game from January 1st through March 23rd.
Compared to his time with UNC, Pinson made tremendous leaps on the offensive end. The biggest improvement would be his work as a perimeter shooter as Pinson shot 38% from long range with Long Island, compared to only hitting 26% of his 179 total perimeter shots during four years as a Tar Heel.
In addition to his well-rounded work on offense, Pinson also made a positive influence on the defensive end. Per 100 possessions, opposing teams were nearly six points worse when Pinson was on the court (99.4 points per 100) compared to when he was either sitting on the sidelines or with Brooklyn (105.2 points per 100).
His contributions on the offensive end combined with solid play on defense were the factors behind Pinson standing alongside Alan Williams and Dzanan Musa on a Long Island Nets squad that went 34-16 during the regular season, which tied the RGV Vipers for best record in the G League.
While his efficiency took a huge hit during the postseason, as he maintained a lackluster 48% True Shooting Percentage, Pinson still was able to make an impact in some playoff games. The biggest example of this was during Long Island’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Lakeland Magic. In the closing moments of overtime with the Nets down 106-105, Pinson nailed an off-balance 3 with just .4 seconds left on the clock. That perimeter shot was enough to push the Nets to the G League Finals.
Compared to season’s past, figuring out the 2018-19 G League Rookie of the Year was an incredibly difficult decision to make as there were a handful of extremely talented ballers that shined. The likes of Santa Cruz guard Kendrick Nunn, Sixers two-way prospect Shake Milton, Clippers two-way big Angel Delgado, Nuggets two-way prospect Brandon Goodwin and Heat forward Yante Maten all had fantastic rookie seasons. In fact, the G League itself named Delgado as their Rookie of the Year back on March 30th.
While Delgado is definitely a great choice for Rookie of the Year due to the incredible numbers he put up with the Agua Caliente Clippers, we give the nod to Pinson. That’s largely due to how he stood as a well-rounded leader of a Long Island team that finished the year with the best record in the G League.
From an offensive end, he stood as the total package by being a strong 6’6 guard that can drive to the paint, work as the team’s lead facilitator and be a pretty efficient perimeter shooter. That frame helped him out on the other end of the court as he stood as a key part for an elite defense that finished third in the G League in opponents points per 100 possessions (104.2 points per 100).
All of those factors is why we’re proud to name Theo Pinson as Ridiculous Upside’s G League Rookie of the Year for the 2018-19 season.