By R.L. Bynum
Is there any doubt that Theo Pinson will thrive as a coach if that’s what he wants to pursue when his playing career ends?
Pinson, a key member of Carolina’s 2017 national championship team, has been a team favorite at every NBA stop even when he hasn’t played much, and that’s been no different this season as a Dallas Maverick. With the New York Knicks last season, he was called the ultimate teammate while playing only 34 minutes over 17 games.
He’s also a favorite of coaches, and you can include Mavericks coach Jason Kidd in that group.
“Theo has been our MVP since he joined the team,” Kidd said. “His spirit. He doesn’t play a lot, but he’s into the game, and we didn’t have that. That has been a big part of our success internally.
“We needed someone to talk, and he’s doing it for 60 minutes,” Kidd said. “He’s talking in the locker room before the game, and he’s talking after. He’s our MVP. He is the one. We understand Luka [Doncic] on the court is our MVP. But our spirit and soul with Theo has been off the charts. We are lucky to have him.”
Kidd is learning what Carolina fans and players knew long ago. Pinson is an elite talker!
It looked like Pinson would have to settle for an entire season in the G League after he went to preseason camp with the Boston Celtics but failed to earn a two-way contract. He was having a good season with the Maine Celtics, averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 12 games while shooting 42.5% from the floor and 40.5% from 3-point range.
Pinson, 26, was excited to head to the Las Vegas Showcase in December with his Maine team that had been playing well.
“We had a really good team and literally an hour before going to the airport, my agent texted me,” said Pinson, who was playing Madden at the time. “He texted me, like ‘Yo, don’t go nowhere.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ He told me I was coming to Dallas.”
His parents were already in Las Vegas to see Pinson play, but he had to call them to tell them that he wasn’t coming because he had signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks.
With the Mavericks’ roster depleted, Pinson played at least 21 minutes in each of his first three games for Dallas, scoring a total of 25 points in those games. He had seven points and four steals in his Dallas debut on Dec. 21 against Minnesota.
After the first 10-day contract expires, Dallas signed him to a second one before signing him to a two-way contract on Jan. 8, meaning he could play in up to 50 Mavericks games while also playing for the Texas Legends, their G League team.
Since those first three games, the nine minutes he played in Tuesday night’s 116–86 win vs. Detroit was the most playing time he’s got. He’s only played one game for the Legends. But it sounds like Pinson is too valuable to Dallas for them to let him play many more games in the G League this season.
“Whether he’s in the game or on the bench, his energy is top-notch,” said the Mavericks’ Jalen Brunson, who was a member of the 2016 Villanova team that beat Pinson’s UNC team in the NCAA final.
“That goes back to him even in high school,” Brunson said. “I remember in high school, he was the same person with the same energy. He’s never changed. He’s always been that genuine person who really just cares about how others are doing. He truly embodies being a good teammate. When people say they’d do whatever for the team to be successful, he really means it.”
On a recent “Carolina Insider” podcast, Pinson talked about conversations he had with his parents during his high school career at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point. They would bring up that maybe he should score more points. He’d simply ask, “Did we win?” If the answer was yes, he didn’t care.
It’s that mentality and selflessness that is keeping him on an NBA roster when many other players with similar playing time might not be able to keep a spot.
“Everything [on the bench] is just genuine,” Pinson told Mavs Moneyball, adding that he is always there to encourage teammates, including fellow Tar Heel Reggie Bullock. “Every time Reg shoots the ball, if he misses, I tell him ‘Next one’s good on my momma. I put it on my momma!’ That’s how much respect and trust I got in Reggie every time he shoots the ball.”
About the possible coaching future? He’s already doing it, including in a Jan. 25 game against Golden State to help out Tim Hardaway Jr.
“I know one play exactly that I remember to this day,” he told Mavs Moneyball. “There was a big who fell on the other end, and they had no shot-blocker, and Tim had the ball. I don’t know if Tim realized it until I said it. I’m like, ‘Tim, go to the rim. There’s nobody out there that’s gonna stop you. There are two little guys in front of you.’ It’s just little stuff like that to help our team get the advantage, you know what I’m saying? I think a lot of teams don’t have that and I try to make sure we do every single night.”
The Mavericks appear to be headed to the playoffs with a 31–23 record, good enough for fifth in the Western Conference. But those playoffs won’t include Pinson unless he goes from a two-way contract to a regular contract.
Can Dallas afford not to make that move?