Not long after seeing his first action in the NBA playoffs, Theo Pinson got a text from a member of the Carolina family that drove home just how the surreal his first year as a pro basketball player has been.
Former Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall, the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was jokingly indignant about seeing the Brooklyn Nets rookie score nine points in 10 minutes in Monday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the second game of their first-round series.
“He said, ‘How in the world? Theo didn’t get drafted and he’s already played more playoff games and scored more playoff baskets than I have,’” Pinson said, laughing. “That’s crazy, man.”
To be exact, that’s one playoff game, but it’s likely the first of many for Pinson, the Greensboro native and North Carolina graduate who signed with the Nets as an undrafted free agent last June and impressed management enough through Summer League games to earn a training camp invitation.
“I was just ready to go, to prove myself,” he said.
Just as he’s done since he arrived at Carolina and battled injuries, Pinson kept fighting to prove himself on every step of the journey.
“They didn’t draft me either,” he said. “It was something I needed to prove to myself and to them that I could play at this level.”
That started with correcting the most obvious weakness in his game at Carolina, where he shot 25.7 percent from three-point range over his career, with a career-best of 29 percent. Through it all, Pinson never wavered on his ability as a shooter. His former coach at Wesleyan, Keith Gatlin, swore by the fact that Pinson was a better shooter than his numbers showed, saying that he just needed more opportunities and more confidence in his stroke.
The Nets delivered both immediately, helping make a small correction in his release, keeping the ball higher throughout his shooting motion rather than dipping and spending “countless hours” helping him perfect it.
“When I first got here, they were like, ‘What we do here is we shoot threes,’” Pinson said. “It just gave me the confidence to shoot threes … when coaches and teammates have that confidence in you, it comes easier.”
Pinson looked like a different player from beyond the arc this season, hitting 38.5 percent of his attempts for Long Island in the G-League, and proving he could be a valuable rotation piece for a Brooklyn team that ranked fifth in three-point attempts this season.
Proven at the G-League level, averaging 20.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds, Pinson showed flashes of his potential during NBA call-ups, too. Playing 28 minutes against Milwaukee, Pinson got his first major run of the season, and on Jan. 25, his 19 points and eight rebounds against the New York Knicks proved he belonged.
"He's got all the tools," Coach Kenny Atkinson told Nets.com after the game. "He's (6-6), he's long, moves his feet really well and he's got great defensive instincts. I think that was the thinking when we took him, that he could be a versatile defender. I thought he was excellent defensively. He has great instincts. He's got a great nose for the ball."
Beyond the three-point stroke, nothing else has changed for Pinson, who played two minutes and missed both threes in the Nets' 131-115 loss to the Sixers on Thursday night.. He’s still the same Swiss Army Knife guard that found his niche at Carolina with his versatility, sometimes attacking the basket and using his athleticism to finish in the lane. Other times, it’s his length that makes the difference as a rebounder, and others, he’s making plays with his vision.
“From Day One, they wanted me to be me,” Pinson said. “They know what I can do, they can see all the intangibles I bring to the game and what I can possibly do, and I’m just trying to show as much as I can in every opportunity that I get.”
Most of all, though, he’s still the same infectious personality that helped set the tone off the court, celebrating teammates’ buckets like they’re his own and helping build a culture for one of the NBA’s exciting young teams.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that want to win but we want to do it the right way and we want to have doing it,” he said. “We’re getting paid to play basketball, the game we love, so we want to take advantage of the opportunity we have.”