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Confidence driving Theo Pinson’s improvement as a shooter

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets liked Theo Pinson from the get-go. He plays the position-less basketball on offense, able to guard three or four positions on defense. He’s long and athletic and at 6’7” and 220, physically strong. Okay, so he wasn’t a shooter.

In fact, they liked him so much that on Draft Night last June, the Nets called Pinson during the second round. If he didn’t get drafted, Brooklyn would like him to join the black-and-white.

“Literally, the draft wasn’t over yet,” Pinson told NetsDaily at Media Day back in September. “So I knew I was coming here, to compete, to go to summer league with them.”

Pinson had, for the most part, played well enough at North Carolina to warrant a team taking a chance on him, whether in the second round or as a free agent. He was the first Tarheel ever to average 10 points, five assists and five rebounds. He was one of the spark plugs on the Tarheels’ 2017 NCAA championship team.

But two things. Pinson was 22 last June and would turn 23 in November. That’s a bit old for a draft pick. And for a player whose best positions were on the wing, his three-point shooting did not make the grade. It fact, it was horrid.

In 122 games at Chapel Hill, Pinson shot 25.7 percent from beyond the college arc, 46-of-179. As Keeping it ‘Heel, a North Carolina fan site noted, he had never made more than 18 threes in a season and never hit more than three three-pointers in a single game. Worse, he regressed in his senior year, dropping to 22.6.

Now suddenly, he’s a three-point threat. He actually leads Long Island in three’s with 57 and has twice had games where he made more than six three-pointers, including Friday night, when he hit seven and scored 43 points in 40 minutes for Long Island.

That’s the big change for the Nets’ third rookie. He was a grinder, a facilitator at North Carolina, not the go-to guy. In Long Island, he is.

Pinson is averaging 19.9 points, 6.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game in the G League. He’s shooting better than 46 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three-point range, and 87 percent from the free throw line. (He got his first NBA three — in nine tries — Saturday.)

How much of this dramatic improvement is in Pinson’s skill development and how much is confidence-building, which is a big and underappreciated part of the Nets development regimen?

Let’s go back a little. We asked Pinson on Media Day about how he had gone from 22.6 percent shooting his senior year at UNC to 42.7 percent in the summer league. Had Nets coaches tweaked his mechanics?

No, he laughed. They didn’t have time. Not then anyway. Pinson attributed his improving shot to the confidence the coaching staff gave him.

“It’s confidence and knowing I can shoot the ball. I know I can,” Pinson told NetsDaily. “They encourage you to shoot here. When you got the freedom to go ahead and shoot it, you got more confidence.”

And yes, he admits taking on the scorer’s mantle is “definitely a big change for me.”

It’s not that Roy Williams subjugated Pinson’s scoring instinct. He just realized that Pinson could contribute more in other areas, particularly on a team where he increasingly was the veteran and a coach on the court. And Pinson accepted that role after being a 5-star recruit out of Greensboro, NC, and the 10th highest rated prospect in ESPN’s 2014 senior rankings, ahead of D’Angelo Russell.

Will the Nets be able to find a role long-term for him? They can now because so many of their wings are out. In his last two games, he’s played 29 minutes, scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, handed out two assists and grabbed a rebound. He’s only shot 1-of-5 from three in those two games, but a lot of this minutes were in garbage time.

Will he get any minutes if and when Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson return? Will it matter to Pinson?

“The biggest thing of everything is confidence,” Pinson said back on Media Day, noting as well his NBA goal. “I went to college, did what I wanted to do: won a national championship and I’m here now to get an NBA championship.”