The NC State Wolfpack is having another respectable season under head coach Kevin Keatts. The Wolfpack own a 15-7 record and is 7-4 in ACC play despite the play of star forward D.J. Burns Jr. who hasn’t been putting up the same numbers from a season ago.
After transferring to NC State from Winthrop in 2022, Burns was a problem for opposing teams, averaging 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting better than 56 percent from the field in just under 23 minutes of action. This year, the forward’s scoring and rebounding are down, and his head coach has an idea of why that is.
“I think it’s because he played so well last year,” said Keatts. “I mean, he gets more double teams than anybody in the country; they’re raking down on him. It’s tough when the teams committed to not letting him score [and] they do a good job on him. I know the concern is always coming like, ‘What’s wrong with DJ Burns?’ And I would just say everybody’s game-planning against him.
“Last year, we had two dynamic guards; they were really good. Our guards are good this year, but they could open things up. Terquavion Smith was shooting NBA threes before he got to the NBA. So the floor was spaced a little bit more and it gives DJ a little bit opportunity to maneuver a little bit. But I think the game planning is different this year.”
While Burns has had a slight drop in points per game, down to 11.5, he has made up for it with his playmaking ability. This year, the senior forward has increased his assist total from 1.5 assists per game up to 2.7. Not only that, but he is also averaging fewer fouls this season.
As Keatts highlighted in his comments above, the NC State guard play is not at the caliber of which it was last season. However, DJ Horne, Casey Morsell, and Jayden Taylor have been filling up the bucket this season when given the opportunity. The three guards are the Wolfpacks’ leading scorers on the season, averaging 15.7, 12.3, and 12.0 points, respectively. However, if there is one knock on the group, it is that only Horne is a consistent threat from behind the three-point arc, as he is shooting 42.1 percent compared to Morsell’s 29.5 and Taylor’s 32.7.