Dual point guard lineup sparks win over Pitt, gives NC State options offensively


Maverick Rowan and Terry Henderson starred for NC State as the Wolfpack ended a three-game losing slide with a win over Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The two combined for 42 points and connected on 10 three-pointers.

NC State also received a strong contribution off the bench from freshman point guard Markell Johnson, who played 33 minutes — two shy of his career high — and had one of his best performances: eight points, seven assists and three rebounds.

Those seven assists were in fact a career best, and five of those dimes led to three-pointers — three for Henderson, two for Rowan. His assists resulted in 19 points for NC State. According to KenPom.com, Johnson posted an offensive rating of 115 points per 100 possessions. Only Henderson achieved a higher offensive rating: 131 points per 100 possessions.

This essentially means that when Johnson was on the floor, he helped produce an outstanding 1.15 points per possession. It was the third time this season he has played 20-plus minutes and achieved an offensive rating of 110 or higher.

The freshman also posted the highlight of the night, a putback slam following a missed three-ball from Dennis Smith Jr.

NC State played a lot of small-ball against the positionless Panthers. Omer Yurtseven, Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya spent just a combined 48 minutes on the court as Mark Gottfried opted for a more four-around-one look — with Torin Dorn or Rowan functioning as the team’s nominal 4. This meant a lot of playing time for Johnson, which had the added benefit of allowing Smith to spend time off the ball.

Smith’s jump shot has struggled at times this season, especially when he has to shoot off of the bounce. According to Synergy Sports, Smith shoots just 30.1 percent on all jump shots off of a dribble (0.712 points per possession). That number drops when the shot attempt comes from the midrange area. Smith has connected on just 22.5 percent of his jump shots between 17 feet and 22 feet, nine inches (the three-point line).

However, Smith has been prolific shooting the ball without a dribble. On catch-and-shoots, Smith has scored 1.24 points per possession on 41.2 percent shooting. This ranks 27th in the ACC for players with 20 or more catch-and-shoot possessions, according to Syngergy.

That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; it’s empirically proven that shooting off the catch is a more efficient shot than off a dribble. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is the one exception to this rule — he’s equally prolific in both categories, which is part of what makes him so incredible.

With Johnson — the less heralded of the two freshman guards — in the lineup, though, Smith gets to spend a little more time away from the ball, and that can free him up for some of those more palatable shooting opportunities.

Johnson provided a serious spark off NC State’s bench against Pitt; we will see if this is something Gottfried turns to more in ACC play. The Wolfpack is back in action Saturday, when it hosts Wake Forest.