Northwestern men’s basketball returns this Wednesday at 8 p.m. CT vs Arkansas Pine-Bluff, and while expectations are rather dim for the squad again this year, I have one big reason, one bright shining beacon of hope for all you ‘Cats’ basketball fans — true freshman point guard Ty Berry.
After watching some of his high school tape, I feel confident saying that his offensive skillset could emerge as a necessity for NU as the season wears on. Let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with.
1. He’s a sweet, sweet shooter
The most important thing Berry brings is his three-point shot. He’s a deadeye on catch-and-shoot jumpers when given space, keeping his elbow perfectly straight all the way through and snapping his wrist succinctly. For a team that finished 279th in three-point percentage in 2019-20 per KenPom, the spacing Berry provides will be a welcome sight.
2. But that shooting gets messy when he has to move
However, Berry is not yet the dynamic, off-movement shooter that a guy like Miller Kopp is. On the two misses in the following clip, his rhythm gets thrown off as he can’t set himself in a straight line to the basket, and the adjustment forces the miss.
In the first miss, Berry’s instinct to fake and let his defender fly by is correct. Unfortunately, you can see the mechanical rigidity in his processing, because he does not need to do that elongated sidestep. He could have faked, kept that right foot nailed to its initial plant and just fired up a set shot three. Instead, he looks down at his feet and creates unnecessary extra space on the sidestep, acting like he’s right-handed James Harden even though his defender is already in no man’s land.
In the second carom, Berry’s run into the shot as a trailer causes him to bend his knees inward, pointing at each other, which is suboptimal for balance and power generation when shooting, as you can see here in this screenshot.
3. Pick and roll passing, yes please
Getting back to the good stuff, Berry can pass the rock, a skill sorely lacking amongst Northwestern’s primary ball handlers the past few years. He’s not a manipulative, defense-bending force (if he was that, he’d be a four- or five-star recruit rather than a three-star). But if you give him an opening, he’s going to find it.
A very pleasing Ty Berry pass to start your day pic.twitter.com/jwUo74tojC— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) November 24, 2020
He particularly excels at pick-and-roll passing, where the threat of his jump shot scares opposing bigs, forcing them to step up, opening up all sorts of slips and dishes to the screener.
However, this strength can work against Berry because ...
4. He can be overdependent on finding the ball screener
Finding the man who the action is originally intended for (the screener) is one thing. Finding the opening when the defense covers up that first option is another. Berry has a tendency to telegraph that he’s looking for that one-to-one kick back to his screener, failing to realize that the defense is not weakest at those points.
In that first clip, Berry doesn’t make any irredeemable mistake, but he’s not taking advantage of the situation to its fullest possibility. Should Berry look left, he’d see two open teammates with the defenders on the opposite side, opening up easy catch-and-shoot threes, or at the very least a closeout sequence from the defense that would be beneficial to his team’s offense.
The second clip is that very bad, actively-hurting-your-squad error. Berry’s eyes tell the defense that he is going back to his man at the top of the arc, and the result is a fast break the other way. Berry needs to be ready to counter and adapt when facing good pick-and-roll defense.
5. He still needs some burst
Berry is obviously not a poor athlete. No one who plays a Division I sport is. But he’s not going to be slashing to the rim and finishing amongst the trees whenever he sees fit. You can see in the following clips, even when he makes an overall good play, that his lack of top-tier, jump-off-the-screen athleticism could be a hinderance going forward.
On the first sequence, Berry makes a gorgeous spin move but settles for a poorly executed floater because he can’t continue the explosion from his original move all the way to the cup. Next, he gets a great steal on-ball but goes for the layup instead of the dunk, which again is something top-tier athletes do in those situations.
In the other two plays, Berry is somewhat bailed out by foul calls to which the merits of the whistles can be debated either way. No matter the call, he lowers his head to the level of his waist on these meanderings to the paint, making him top heavy and more susceptible to stumbling. He needs to have better balance and keep his head up in these scenarios.
All in all, in spite of the legitimate questions that can be raised about Berry’s ceiling as a prospect, I’m optimistic that he’ll be able to contribute early on. He’s a 6-foot-3 guard who can both pass and shoot at above-average levels, making him more than qualified to help the ‘Cats in the 2020-21 season.