20. Walter Davis: 1974-77, SF/SG, 6’5″, 180, Pineville, NC
- Peak season (1977): 15.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 spg, 57.8 FG%, 77.8 FT%, 61.1 TS%
- Career averages (4 years): 15.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 53.1 FG%, 77.3 FT%, 56.9 TS%
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one regional All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team
As alluded to in the George Lynch write-up, Davis is the only member of this list’s top 20 to not have an All-American honor on his resume. While Davis’s scoring averages did not change much throughout his career (14.3 PPG as a freshman, 16.1 as a sophomore, 16.6 as a junior, 15.5 as a senior), he became a more and more efficient scorer (year-to-year TS%’s of: 53.6, 54.4, 58.3, 61.1). Much like Vince Carter, the upperclassman version of “Sweet D” was an efficient and dangerous secondary/tertiary scoring option (behind Ford and Kupchak). On different teams (like, say, the Forte teams of 2000 and 2001), Carter and Davis could have easily been 20-PPG scorers (albeit with a probable loss in efficiency). Davis was a fantastic passer and defender, rebounded well for a wing, and could affect the game in many ways. His most famous Tar Heel memory is probably the long banker against Duke to cap the ’74 “8 points in 17 seconds” comeback. Davis averaged 19.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG (including 31 and 12 in an opening round win against Wake) as the Heels won the ’75 ACCT, but was somehow left off the All-Tournament (first) team. After scoring 22 points in the ’77 ACCT semis, Davis was limited to 8 minutes in the championship game with a broken index finger. He missed the Round of 32 game, struggled in the Sweet 16 (while adjusting to his taped-together fingers), then busted out in the Elite 8. Despite the injury to his shooting hand, Davis averaged 20 PPG (on 64.5% from the field) and 6.3 RPG over UNC’s final three games (Elite 8 versus Kentucky, and Final Four match-ups against UNLV and Marquette). While injuries eventually caught up to the Heels in ’77, Davis’s postseason run was one of the most heroic and memorable in the program’s history. Like Phil Ford, Davis is missing that elusive national championship to complete his legacy. The lack of a ring wasn’t at all related to his stretch-run performance, however.
19. Kenny Smith: 1984-87, PG, 6’3″, 170, Queens, NY
- Peak season (1987): 16.9 ppg, 6.2 apg, 50.2 FG%, 80.7 FT%, 40.8 3Pt%, 63.0 TS%, 3.59 WORP / 35 games
- Career averages (4 years): 12.9 ppg, 6.1 apg, 51.2 FG%, 82.3 FT%, 40.8 3Pt%, 58.6 TS%, 11.23 Career WORP, 2.66 WORP / 1,000 games
- Accolades: one National Player of the Year, one 1st-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, two 2nd-team All-ACCs, one regional All-Tournament team, one All-ACC Tournament team
When the greatest shooters in Carolina history are mentioned, Kenny Smith is a name that rarely comes up. Known more for his blinding end-to-end speed and ability to finish above the rim, “The Jet”was also a sharpshooter extraordinaire. As seen in the table that follows, Smith’s cumulative FG% +FT% + 3Pt% ranks him among the best UNC shooters of the 3-point era. Smith took over the starting reins immediately for a loaded ’84 team, scoring 14 points with 5 assists in his first career game. Just as he was hitting his stride (averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 assists over the last three games, including 14 and 9 versus LSU), Smith’s wrist was broken on a hard foul from LSU’s John Tudor. Upon his return (in a cast), Smith wasn’t the same player and the ’84 Heels (who had started 21-0) were bounced early from the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. As a sophomore, Smith made the All-ACC Tournament team by averaging 16.7 points in three games. He added 22 points and 6 assists in a Sweet 16 victory over Auburn. After averaging about 12 and 6 as both a sophomore and junior, Smith became Carolina’s top option in ’87 with the graduation of Brad Daugherty. He upped his scoring average to 16.9 per game while also increasing his efficiency (and maintaining a similar rate of pace-adjusted assists / 40), highlighted by scoring 41 points (on just 19 FGAs) at Clemson on a balky knee. His great senior season earned him a consensus 1st-team All-American spot, and even National Player of the Year honors from Basketball Times. Smith set a UNC postseason record by averaging 8 assists per game in ’87, and he stepped up with 25 points and 7 assists in his career-ending Elite 8 loss to Syracuse. Despite some strong postseason performances, Smith’s legacy is hurt by never winning an ACCT or making a Final Four.
10 Best Career (FG% + FT% + 3Pt%) in Carolina History
1. Only played one (ACC) season with the experimental 3-point line (at a too-close 17’9″).
2. Only played one (complete) season with the 3-point line (at 19’9″).
Note: The bottom 4 on this list are: Ronald Curry (119.1), Larry Drew II (129.7), Jackie Manuel (130.4), and Bobby Frasor (131.9).
18. Mitch Kupchak: 1973-76, C, 6’10”, 230, Brentwood, NY
- Peak season (1976): 17.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 57.6 FG%, 74.7 FT%, 61.3 TS%
- Career averages ( 4 years): 13.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 58.6 FG%, 66.5 FT%, 60.5 TS%
- Accolades: one ACC Player of the Year, two 1st-team All-Americans, two 1st-team All-ACCs, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one regional All-Tournament team
Kupchak was a member of consecutive 1st-team All-American squads as a junior and a senior, also winning ACC Player of the Year in 1976. After backing up Ed Stahl in 1973 (a freshman Kupchak averaged 7.7 PPG and 5.0 RPG off the bench), he sent the older Stahl to the bench in ’74. After averaging 10.7/7.1 in ’74, he upped those figures to 18 and 11 as an upperclassman. His steady development is further testament to Carolina’s ability to utilize and coach bigs throughout the decades. Kupchak was the starting center and 3rd-leading scorer for the ’76 Olympic team, scoring 12.5 a game (on 61.2% from the field) with 5.7 rebounds en route to the Gold medal. Kupchak amassed three consecutive double-doubles (16/14, 14/15, 11/12) as the Heels captured the 1975 ACCT championship. While freshman Phil Ford stole the show, Kupchak’s steady presence in the paint played a crucial role in the title. He capped off his fine March of ’75 run with a career game– 36 points and 14 rebounds against Boston College (albeit in a largely meaningless East Regional 3rd place game following the Syracuse loss). A tough player who battled constant injuries and underwent back surgery in college, Kupchak (like Kenny Smith) is rightly remembered as a Tar Heel legend despite lacking a Final Four appearance.
17. Bobby Jones: 1972-74, PF/SF, 6’8″, 215, Charlotte, NC
- Peak season (1973): 15.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.9 apg, 60.1 FG%, 65.6 FT%, 61.4 TS%
- Career averages (3 years): 13.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 60.8 FG%, 64.1 FT%, 61.8 TS%
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 1st team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one NIT All-Tournament team, top reserve on one Final Four team
Although Dudley Bradley, Derrick Phelps, George Lynch and others were elite collegiate defenders, Bobby Jones gets my vote for the greatest Carolina defender of all-time. He was versatile and athletic enough to defend multiple positions, a luxury that Dean Smith took full advantage of. He was no slouch offensively, either, leading the ACC in FG% for three consecutive years. For his career, the do-it-all Jones averaged 13.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists (not to mention his defensive contributions). As a sophomore (in his first year of varsity eligibility), Jones came off the bench to spell Carolina’s terrific frontcourt of Wuycik/Chamberlain/McAdoo. He averaged 10.2 PPG in his 6th-man role, shooting a career-high 67% from the field. With the entire ’72 frontcourt gone in ’73, Jones joined George Karl as a go-to scorer (upping his average to 15 PPG while trading higher usage for lower efficiency). He also helped with the play-making duties, dishing out a career-high 3.9 APG. In ’74, a senior Jones played an integral role in two thrilling victories over Duke. In the first match-up at Cameron, he stole an in-bounds pass with four seconds remaining before hitting a tough lefty lay-up as time expired (and Jones kept sprinting right into the locker room). Later, at Carmichael, Jones chipped in 4 points and a steal in the final 17 seconds to aid in the “8 in 17” comeback win.
16. Sean May: 2003-05, C, 6’9″, 266, Bloomington, IN
- Peak season (2005): 17.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 56.7 FG%, 75.8 F%, 62.0 TS%, 4.61 WORP / 35 games
- Career averages (3 years): 15.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 51.3 FG%, 71.7 FT%, 56.2 TS%, 8.38 Career WORP, 3.92 WORP / 1,000 minutes
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one 3rd-team All-American, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one regional MVP, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four MVP, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team
May had one of the signature stretches of sustained greatness in Carolina history. Considering the magnitude of the games, it can be argued that it’s the best/most important run that the program has ever seen. After ending the 2005 regular season with 32/12 and 26/24 performances in wins against Florida State and Duke, May averaged 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in the team’s 8 postseason contests (including 5 double-doubles). This stretch included a 24-17 game versus Iowa State in the Round of 32, and a 29-12 in the Elite 8 win over Wisconsin. May capped off his magical run by averaging 24 points and 8.5 rebounds in the two Final Four games, adding Final Four MVP to his East Regional MVP. Over the eight postseason contests, May shot 62.4% from the field and 76.0% from the line. May was also at his best against arch-rival Duke (and its All-American big man, Shelden Williams), averaging 24.5 points and a staggering 21.0 rebounds in the two ’05 match-ups. On both the offensive and defensive backboards, May was one of the most dominating Tar Heels in the program’s history. He’s the only Carolina player to average a career double-double in the last 40 years (since McAdoo’s one-year “career” double-double in ’72). May, despite earning 3rd-team All-American honors in ’04, made huge strides in conditioning and offensive efficiency between his sophomore and junior campaigns– raising his TS% from 51.1 to 62.0. He missed 26 games as a freshman with a fractured foot, hampering his place on this list from a “career production” perspective. At his peak, though, there were few Heels more dominant than Sean May
15. Pete Brennan: 1956-58, PF, 6’6″, 190, Brooklyn, NY
- Peak season (1958): 21.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 43.8 FG%, 73.5 FT%, 52.6 TS%
- Career averages (3 years): 16.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 41.7 FG%, 70.8 FT%, 50.1 TS%
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one ACC Player of the Year, one 1st-team All-ACC, one 2nd-team All-ACC, two All-ACC Tournament teams, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four/national championship team
Brennan was the #2 option (behind Lennie Rosenbluth) on the undefeated ’57 champs, scoring 14.7 PPG. Despite shooting just 39.4% from the field that season, his ability to get to the line salvaged his scoring efficiency (bringing his TS% up to 48.3, acceptable for that lower-efficiency era). As a senior (post-Rosenbluth), Brennan improved his TS% to 52.6, upped his scoring average to 21.3 PPG, and won ACC Player of the Year. He averaged a double-double (14.3 PPG and 12.6 RPG) during the ’57 postseason, highlighted by a 22-point, 19-rebound, 4-assist performance in the ACCT championship win over South Carolina. He also contributed 14 points and 17 rebounds in a Final Four triple OT victory against Michigan State, including a key last-second jumper to send the game into its second overtime. Despite a Carolina loss to Maryland in the title game, Brennan had a dominant ACCT in ’58. He averaged 24.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in the three contests, including 29 and 8 in the title clash. Brennan made 30-of-37 free throws (81.1%) in that tournament, and no Heel in the history of the program was better at earning trips to the stripe. For his career, Brennan’s FTA Rate of 72.2 is tops among Carolina’s 1,000-point scorers (Hansbrough, at 70.8, is second). Brennan excelled as a second banana on a great team, and proved he could carry a very good team, too (the ’58 Heels went 19-7). He was no Lennie Rosenbluth, but his spot in the history books shouldn’t be overlooked.
14. Brad Daugherty: 1983-86, C, 6’11”, 235, Black Mountain, NC
- Peak season (1986): 20.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 64.8 FG%, 68.4 FT%, 66.0 TS%, 5.47 WORP / 35 games
- Career averages (4 years): 14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 62.0 FG%, 70.0 FT%, 64.1 TS%, 14.01 Career WORP, 3.53 WORP / 1,000 minutes
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, two 1st-team All-ACCs, one All-ACC Tournament team, two regional All-Tournament teams
After coming off the bench for the first 10 games of his Carolina career, Daugherty (who had just turned 17 in mid-October of his freshman year) was inserted into the starting line-up during the Heels’ holiday trip to Hawaii (replacing Peterson, and sliding Jordan, Doherty, and Perkins down to the 2, 3, and 4, respectively). He’d be a permanent fixture in the middle for the remainder of his 4-year UNC career. Daugherty is another example of the staff’s excellence in big-man development– he increased his scoring average (8.2 to 10.5 to 17.3 to 20.2) and scoring efficiency (year-to-year TS%’s of 58.6, 62.7, 65.6, and 66.0) in each year on campus. As a senior, Daugherty authored the most efficient 20-PPG season in the program’s storied history. Coming on strong by the end of his freshman year, Daugherty had 17 points and 13 rebounds in Carolina’s ACCT semifinal loss to NC State. He finished the ’83 season with 15 points and 9 boards in an Elite 8 loss to Georgia. As a junior in ’85, Daugherty averaged 15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds in seven postseason games– scoring 108 points on just 66 FGAs. In the three NCAAT games that season, he averaged 17.5/10.8 while shooting a sizzling 72.5% from the field. In ’86, Daugherty earned his second straight 1st-team All-American berth. He also had a very strong case to be ACC Player of the Year (losing the award to the flashier, but less efficient, Len Bias). In Carolina’s four postseason games in ’86, Daugherty averaged 20.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. He went down swinging in the Sweet 16 loss to (eventual champ) Louisville, stuffing the stat sheet with 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists (and winning the individual battle against freshman phenom Pervis Ellison, who had 15 points and 6 boards). Like Kenny Smith’s (and many others’ from the mid-to-late 80s era), Daugherty’s legacy is (slightly) tarnished without a trip to the Final Four.
13. Al Wood: 1978-81, SG/SF, 6’6″, 187, Gray, GA
- Peak season (1980): 19.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 57.1 FG%, 76.6 FT%, 61.0 TS%, 3.98 WORP / 35 games
- Career averages (4 years): 16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 56.0 FG%, 76.4 FT%, 59.2 TS%
- Accolades: two 1st-team All-Americans, two 1st-team All-ACCs, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional MVP, one regional All-Tournament team, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team
Wood was one of the purest-shooting wings in ACC history, His jump shot was a thing of beauty and, in the pre-3-point era, he dominated the mid-range areas of the court that have long since been forgotten by most modern scorers. Wood’s signature game as a Heel (and one of the signature individual performances in UNC history) was his 39-point explosion against Ralph Sampson and UVa in the ’81 Final Four. In that game, Wood made 7-of-10 jumpers from between 10 and 20 feet, and 4-of-5 jumpers/floaters from between 5 and 10 feet (for the sake of comparison, Dexter Strickland made 15 shots all last season (in nearly 1,000 minutes) from 5-20 feet; Wood made 11 in 36 minutes versus UVa). Wood followed his legendary national semis performance by leading the Heels with 18 points and 6 boards in a title-game loss to Indiana. He also turned in a a 21/17 versus Kansas State in the Elite 8 to set up his brilliance against the Cavs. As a freshman, Wood played the role of 6th man, scoring 9.1 PPG off the bench. He had 19 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes against Duke to help secure Phil Ford’s emotional Senior Day victory. With the departure of Ford following the ’78 season, Wood joined Mike O’Koren as Carolina’s top options. Over his final three seasons in Chapel Hill, Wood averaged 17.8, 19.0 ,and 18.1 PPG. An underrated defender, he also captured the Carmichael-Cobb award as a senior for grading out as the top defensive Heel. In 1980, Wood averaged 25.5 points and 8 rebounds in two ACCT games, including a 32-point outburst in a semifinal loss to Duke (no other Tar Heel scored many than 7). He added 26 and 9 in an NCAAT Round of 32 loss to Texas A& before forever solidifying his reputation as a big-game player in the ’81 postseason.
12. Bob Lewis: 1965-67, SG, 6’3″, 173, Washington, DC
- Peak season (1966): 27.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 53.0 FG%, 81.0 FT%, 59.8 TS%
- Career averages (3 years): 22.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 49.0 FG%, 77.6 FT%, 55.1 TS%
- Accolades: two 1st-team All-Americans, two 1st-team All-ACCs, one 2nd-team All-ACC, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional MVP, one regional All-Tournament team, starter on one Final Four team
Some guys are just natural-born scorers with an intrinsic knack for finding the bottom of the net. Bob Lewis was one of those guys. His 49 points against Florida State in December of ’65 remains a single-game Carolina record. Just 8 days earlier, Lewis poured in 43 against Richmond (the 8th highest single-game total in the program’s history). As a junior in 1966, Lewis averaged 27.4 PPG– second only to Lennie Rosenbluth’s 28.0 in ’57. It wasn’t like Lewis was a low-efficiency gunner, either: he shot 53.0% from the field in ’66 with a TS% of 59.8. As a sophomore in ’65, Lewis combined with senior Billy Cunningham to score 46.4 PPG (Lewis had 21.0), the second-highest mark in Carolina history by a pair of teammates. The record was set the very next season, and again included Lewis. This time, paired with sophomore Larry Miller (the famed “L&M Boys”), the duo combined for 48.3 PPG. In ’67, Lewis had a senior-year slump. His scoring averaged dropped to 18.5 PPG while his FG% fell from 53.0 to 44.9. Still, bolstered by the sophomore class of Clark, Bunting, and Grubar, Lewis and Miller led Dean Smith to his first trip to the Final Four. Despite scoring 18 PPG (including 26 in the championship game) in the ’67 ACCT, Lewis shot just 33.3% over the three games. This trend continued in the opening game of the East Regional, when Lewis went just 4-of-17 against Princeton. But against Boston College, and with a trip to the Final Four at stake, the old, efficient Lewis returned. He scored 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting (and 9-of-10 from the stripe), leading the Heels to the Final Four and earning East Regional MVP in the process. In two Final Four games, Lewis averaged 17 points, but shot just 34.1% from the field. In spite of a senior-year swoon, Lewis should be remembered as one of the deadliest scorers in the program’s proud history (his career average of 22.1 PPG is tied with Charlie Scott for third all-time, trailing just Rosenbluth and Cunningham).
11. Ty Lawson: 2007-09, PG, 5’11”, 195, Clinton, MD
- Peak season (2009): 16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.48 A:TO, 53.2 FG%, 79.8 FT%, 47.2 3Pt%, 65.9 TS%, 5.47 WORP / 35 games
- Career averages (3 years): 13.1 ppg, 5.8 apg, 2.78 A:TO, 51.7 FG%, 78.0 FT%, 40.3 3Pt%, 62.4 TS%, 11.24 Career WORP, 3.96 WORP / 1,000 minutes
- Accolades: one 1st-team All-American, one ACC Player of the Year, one 1st-team All-ACC, one All-ACC Tournament team, one regional MVP, two regional All-Tournament teams, one Final Four All-Tournament team, starter on two Final Four/one national championship team(s)
Ty Lawson’s incredible 2009 campaign is quite simply one of the best by a point guard in the history of the ACC. On the surface, his per-game numbers of 16.6 PPG and 6.6 APG look good if not extraordinary. But, digging a little deeper, Lawson’s combination of scoring efficiency (TS% of 65.9) and ball protection (A:TO of 3.48) are the factors that truly make his junior season so historically brilliant. Lawson became a more and more efficient scorer as his career progressed (TS% of 58.1 as a freshman, 62.2 as a sophomore, and 65.9 as a junior), fueled by an improving 3-point touch (35.6% to 36.1% to 47.2%). Combining strength and blazing end-to-end speed, Lawson’s ability to finish at the rim belied his 5’11” height. After a spectacular ACCT and opening weekend of the NCAAT in ’07 (13.8 PPG, 6.4 APG, 4.57 A:TO in first 5 postseason games), freshman Lawson crashed down to earth during the East Regional (4.5 PPG, 21.1 FG%, 1.7 A:TO). His lack of experience was especially pronounced during the team’s late-game collapse versus Georgetown in the Elite 8. In 2008, Lawson was on the cusp of greatness (39 points with a 20-to-1 A:TO in consecutive games versus Miami and Boston College) before a Ryan Reid take-down sprained his ankle and derailed his season. In 2009, Lawson finally put it all together for a complete season. Despite a late-season toe injury that cost Lawson the ACCT and opening-round NCAAT game (and terrified the fan base), he came back strong to dominate the NCAA Tournament. His 5-game averages were: 20.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 6.8 APG, 3.2 SPG, 4.86 A:TO, 64.8 TS%, 7.56 WORP / 35 games. Lawson’s “worst” game on the championship run? Probably a 19-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal, 1-turnover clunker against Oklahoma in the Elite 8. With all due respect to Wayne Ellington (whose Final Four shooting was incredible), Lawson deserved to win the Final Four MVP to go alongside his South Regional MVP trophy. His performance in the NCAAT was both exceedingly consistent and thoroughly dominating. At his peak, Lawson is in the conversation with the great Phil Ford for greatest Tar Heel point guard of all-time. When considering the totality of his work, Lawson falls just outside the top 10 in UNC history– at least in this analyst’s eyes.
P.S. Lawson was also undefeated against Duke in his career (5-0), taking over several close games down the stretch. His ability to dribble penetrate and get to the rim at will (even against the staunchest hand-checking) was anathema to Duke’s preferred style of ball-pressuring, overplay defense. So he’s got that going for him, too… which is nice.
Join us tomorrow when the top 10 Carolina players of the ACC era are finally revealed.