The 2022-23 UNC Basketball roster summer preview series moves to discuss rising junior guard Caleb Love.
We roll on the with 2022-23 UNC Basketball roster summer preview series, this week discussing Caleb Love. Make sure you check out last week’s conversation about RJ Davis.
Armando Bacot has just fouled out.
Duke’s Mark Williams misses a would-be game-tying free throw with 46 seconds left.
Caleb Love grabs the rebound and advances the ball across half court, where he dribbles patiently on the right wing as Trevor Keels guards him with a wide berth.
A Leaky Black screen results in Williams switching onto Love, who glides just left of the top of the key.
With 26 seconds on the game clock and 10 ticks remaining on the shot clock, Love rises up for what will become the enduring image of the 2021-22 North Carolina basketball season:
A dagger three over the outstretched left arm of the soon-to-be 15th pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, Mark Williams.
Caleb Love was a major part of the reason for Carolina’s impressive run to the national championship game in the 2021-22 season, notching his two highest scoring games across the final four games of the season (30 vs. UCLA, 28 vs. Duke) .
Were there inconsistencies? Yes.
Can Love work on his decision-making? Absolutely.
Do you (pardon me) Love having this young man as a Tar Heel? Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Let’s look back at Caleb Love’s first two seasons in Chapel Hill and project what the third time around will look like.
Love came to Chapel Hill as a tantalizing, potential one-and-done-type talent, but it was not meant to be. Despite flashes of brilliance, such as averaging 21.5 PPG in sweeping Duke, Love finished the season shooting 31.6% (104-329) from the field, including 34.8% on two-point field goals and 26.6% on three-pointers.
To provide context, 31.6% is the lowest career field goal percentage for any Tar Heel with at least 100 made baskets.
Love’s shooting capability is clearly there though, as he connected on 80.8% of his free attempts in his first campaign in Chapel Hill.
The hope of Tar Heels was that those numbers were simply a one-year aberration, as a freshman point guard for Roy Williams worked to find his way; a story we’ve seen play out multiple times previously.
Basking in the glory of the run to the national championship game, we now have an opportunity to look back and see that, while not perfect, Love made serious strides in his shooting percentages last season. He raised his field goal, three-point, and free throw percentages by five or more percentage points each (keep in mind that his free throw numbers were already at 80%!).
Field goal percentage? Up 5.5%, from 31.6 to 37.1.
Three-point percentage? Up (a whopping) 9.4% percentage points, 26.6 to 36.0.
Free throw percentage? Up 5.3 percentage points, 80.8 to 86.1.
The one remaining glaring issue, that’s keeping that field goal percentage down, is Love’s two-point field goal percentage. He grew the number from 34.8% to 38.0%, but that percentage should not be under 40%. Why not?
Here are several examples of recent Tar Heel guards’ two-point percentages throughout their UNC career:
- Cole Anthony: 40.2%
- Coby White: 42.3%
- Joel Berry: 45.1% (Fr.), 49.5% (So.), 47.7% (Jr.), 45.1% (Sr.)
- Marcus Paige: 36.8% (Fr.), 49.3% (So.), 43.8% (Jr.), 45.9% (Sr.)
- Kendall Marshall: 43.4% (Fri.), 52.7% (Sun.)
- Ty Lawson: 56.4% (Fr.), 58.2% (So.), 56.0% (Jr.)
- Raymond Felton: 44.1% (Fr.), 49.7% (So.), 46.8% (Jr.)
Notice a trend? Literally, the only other single-season two-point percentage under 40% on this sampling is Marcus Paige’s freshman year, when he was unexpectedly thrust into duty after Kendall Marshall’s early departure.
Caleb Love has been under 40% on two-point shots in both college seasons this year. We immediately see the biggest need for shooting growth in year three.
A large part of the inefficiency is shot selection. Rather than settling for as many mid-range shots, Love needs to take (and make) more shots at the rim.
What to Work On Over the Summer
Love’s growth ahead of the 2022-23 season all boils down to decision-making.
It often feels like Caleb thinks he has to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. That manifests in taking all the big shots, not finding shots for teammates, taking quick shots, etc. Perhaps that penchant is left over from high school when Love had to be that guy. No longer is that reality true. There’s no need for Love to carry such a heavy burden. He’s got people around him who can do impressive things. We saw that trust start to shine through some last season, it simply needs to happen with more regularity.
Speaking of which, consistency is another key for the St. Louis native in 2022-23. Last season’s NCAA Tournament is a perfect example. Love would have a brilliant game and follow it up with an underwhelming performance.
I’ve already mentioned it above, but Love also needs to work on shot selection in the two-point area, working to get that percentage up over 40.
With the addition of freshman guard Seth Trimble, Love will hopefully be able to bring his minutes down from a team-high 34.1 per game last season into the high 20s or low 30s, allowing him to be even more efficient in the time he does play . This change should also allow Caleb to be more aggressive and disruptive defensively, knowing that he should be able to get a full breather.
I expect that Caleb will make huge strides in all aspects of his game, from decision-making, to further growth in shooting percentages, to taking better care of the ball and finding teammates with more regularity.
While he will handle point guard duties from time to time, a full year playing mainly off-the-ball should do Love a world of good; which, in turn, is good for the team.
I predict that Love’s decision-making and consistency will be the single biggest factor in UNC reaching their highest potential and wildest dreams this season. Given his talent and current experience, I expect Love’s floor to be 3rd Team All-ACC, with his ceiling being legitimate ACC Player of the Year and All-America aspirations. If he does so, the sky’s the limit, errrr, the ceiling’s the roof, for Mr. Caleb Love and Hubert Davis’ second Tar Heel team.
Don’t forget to check out this episode of the Locked On Tar Heels podcast, with Isaac Schade and Coach Pac Kilby discussing more about Caleb Love:
- Games Played: 39
- Games Started: 38
- Minutes: 34.1
- Points: 15.9
- Rebounds: 3.4
- Assists: 3.6
- Turnovers: 2.7
- Steals: 0.9
- Blocks: 9 total
- FG: 198-534
- FG%: 37.1
- 3FG: 93-258 (6th most in UNC single season, tied with Joel Berry)
- 3FG%: 36.0
- FT: 132-153
- FT%: 86.3
Single game Season & Career Highs
- Minutes: 40 (4 times; season & career high)
- Points: 30 (UCLA; season & career high)
- Season: 7 (Charleston)
- Career 8 (Syracuse, 2020-21)
- Season: 7 (Virginia Tech)
- Career: 9 (Northeastern, 2020-21)
- Turnovers: 7 (Louisville; season & career high)
- Steals: 3 (3 times; season & career high)
- Season: 1 (multiple times)
- Career: 3 (UNLV, 2020-21)
- FG: 11 (UCLA, Duke; season & career high)
- 3FG: 6 (3 times; season & career high)
- FT: 12 (Duke; season & career high)
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