It’s been more than two months since Theo Pinson was last in the Spectrum Center. So, when he came in Saturday morning to work out for the Charlotte Hornets, a lot had changed.
On March 18, Texas A&M blew out second-seeded North Carolina, 86-65, in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 in this same arena, ending the former Tar Heels star's four-year career on a sour note. Since then, Pinson has graduated from UNC, hired an agent and, by virtue of a late invite, participated in the NBA Draft Combine two weekends ago in Chicago.
That exposure has helped the 6-foot-6 wing. Pinson has worked out with multiple teams since the combine, including the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz. On Saturday, he had an opportunity to do so for the team in his home state.
“Going around, seeing the different cities, it’s a good time for me,” he said. “Just taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Pinson, who grew up in Greensboro, went to his fair share of NBA games in Charlotte, back when the team was the Bobcats and the venue was Time Warner Cable Arena. Both of those names have since changed; Pinson’s memories have not. He called this workout "a blessing," and was grateful — as always — to give another team a sample of what he could bring to its roster.
That starts on the defensive end. Ahead of his senior year, Pinson added around 10 pounds in preparation of playing more minutes at the power forward position. For most of UNC’s season — and especially after the Tar Heels opted for a small lineup early in ACC play — that’s exactly what the now-220-pound Pinson did.
He defended guards and forwards alike, even serving as the primary defender on Duke’s Marvin Bagley III in all three of UNC’s meetings with its rival. That versatility translates well into an increasingly positionless NBA, full of athletic wings. Pinson pointed to the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala as two prime examples of such a defender.
“It’s intangibles,” he said. “Little things like deflections, keeping the ball alive, knocking down open shots when they don’t expect you to.”
As UNC’s Swiss army knife on both sides of the floor, Pinson averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, all career highs. He became the first player in UNC history, and eighth in ACC history, to average a 10/5/5 line over an entire season. In his last 11 games, Pinson had five double-doubles, as compared to three in his previous 111.
His late-season push definitely caught some eyes, but the biggest question surrounding Pinson remains his shooting. He finished his UNC career 46 of 179, or 25.7 percent, from 3-point range, and never shot above 29 percent on 3s in a single season. Pinson said this is the one thing he’s trying hardest to show teams, who have already seen him excel as a defender and passer for years.
“My shot isn’t broken or anything,” he said. “I’ve got it confidence wise; it’s just knocking the shot in. I think I’ve been doing that in the past workouts.”
Pinson, who worked out alongside five more four-year college players, is seen as a fringe prospect at the end of the second round. Any exposure is good exposure, though — especially in a league where developmental opportunities are on the rise.
The NBA G-League, which began with eight teams in 2001, will feature 27 teams next season, each affiliated with a single franchise. And, in July, the 14th NBA Summer League in Las Vegas will feature all 30 teams for the first time ever.
As the draft approaches, Pinson will continue to market himself as a defender and playmaker. And, although there is some uncertainty, he’s enjoying it all with the same attitude that made him a fan favorite in Chapel Hill.
“A lot of kids would want to travel all over the place and have as many workouts as I do,” he said, “so I just do it with a smile on my face.”