Monday, February 8, 2016

Robert Carter III

Purdue vs. Maryland on Saturday was an NBA scout's dream. It featured six different 6'9+ players who are NBA prospects, three on each team. The hardest part about judging big men at the NCAA level is they rarely get the chance to go up against guys who are just as big, just as skilled and just as fast as them. The ability to dominate smaller players who don't have NBA-caliber athleticism doesn't mean all that much - that's why I wasn't too concerned that Diamond Stone racked up 39 points against Penn State earlier this season. Play well against guys your own size and that means something.

Stone is widely pegged as a lottery pick but he wasn't even his team's best big man on Saturday. The win over Purdue was all about Robert Carter III, the Maryland junior who had transferred from Georgia Tech. RC3 hasn't gotten much publicity in NBA draft circles (he's currently No. 71 on the DX Top 100) but he can really play and he showed off every facet of his game in a dominating performance against a Purdue team that featured a guy who should be a first round pick in 2016 (AJ Hammons), another mammoth C with a chance to play in the league (Lucas Haas) and a  talented young PF who should be a first-round pick down the road (Caleb Swanigan).

RC3: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists on 0 turnovers, 2 blocks and 1 steal on 7-10 shooting

Carter can score in a number of ways

The most impressive part of his game was his three-point shooting. There aren't many guys with his size (6'9 235 with a 7'3 wingspan) who can so comfortably run the pick-and-pop:

RC3's 3-point shooting has jumped considerably from his sophomore season at Georgia Tech, going from 26.4% on 2.6 3PA's to 35.1% on 2.4 3PA's. He clearly spent a lot of time in the gym working on his shot during his transfer season, going from 65.3% on 3.3 FTA's to 76.1% on 3.0 FTA's. None of the Purdue big men could stick with Carter on the perimeter and the threat of his shot (4-6 from 3) opened up the rest of his game.

He can play closer to the basket as well. He knows how to leverage his speed to get around bigger defenders and score over the top of them:

Carter is a skilled big man with a great feel for the game

What makes Carter stand out from a lot of big men is his ability to handle the ball. He has the skill-set of a guard in that he can take the ball up the court, start the break himself and find the open shooter:

Someone has to pick up in transition or he's going to end up making plays like this. This is the type of play that the best big men in the modern game can make. It's the kind of thing that Draymond Green does all the time.

He just has a great feel for the game. This is an outlet pass that Kevin Love could be proud of:

Carter plays bigger than his size on defense

Carter is not an elite shot-blocker but he is capable of protecting the rim:

Much more intriguing is his speed and his ability to move his feet on the perimeter and contest shots:

Carter is a prototype small-ball 5

A generation ago, Carter would have been a 4. He was 6'9 and he had prototype size and the ability to play on the perimeter and in the post on both sides of the ball. These days, height isn't as important a consideration at the C position while speed and shooting is more important than ever. The problem with most small ball 5's is they just don't have the size and the strength to wrestle with the bigger C's at the NBA level. They don't need to dominate bigger players - they just need to be able to hold their own against them. That was the most encouraging part of Carter's performance on Saturday to me. Watch how he's able to hold off Haas (7'2 300) in the block. This is a guy whose not afraid of getting physical and guarding bigger players:

What makes that skill so valuable is what it allows you to do on the other end of the floor. If RC3 can hold his own in the post and provide some modicum of rim protection, he puts opposing C's in a world of hurt on offense. There's no way that guys like Haas and Hammons can stick with Carter at the 3-point line, much less contest his shot while still being able to prevent him from getting to the rim. There's a lot of different thing that a coach can do with a multi-dimensional big man who can guard 5's while being able to handle, shoot and pass.

The real question to me is whether Maryland would be better off playing Carter at the 5 than a future lottery pick like Diamond Stone. RC3 is versatile enough that he can make their super-sized front-line work as a 4 but imagine how much space he would create for guys like Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman at the 5. According to the numbers at, Maryland has a slightly better offensive rating (1.16 PPP vs. 1.12) and they are about the same on defense (0.94 PPP vs. 0.95) when Carter and Layman are on the floor and Stone and Damonte Dodd - their two traditional 5's - are off. They haven't played a huge number of possessions with that line-up (165) but the fact that they can at least stay even with it gives Mark Turgeon a very interesting card he can deploy to alter the dynamic of the game.

The way the game is going, I'm not sure how much value a traditional 5 adds over a small-ball 5 unless they are a really special player. Diamond Stone is a better interior player on both sides of the ball than Carter but Carter is a better perimeter player on both sides of the ball than Stone. Just as important, the difference between Stone and Carter on the interior is way smaller than the difference between the two players on the perimeter. Here's another way to look at it - Carter is 235 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan and Stone is 255 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan and I'm not sure the extra 20 pounds and one inch of reach makes up for the dramatic differences in skill and athleticism. 

My guess is that RC3 is ultimately going to come off the bench at the next level as a 4/5 but if a true 5 doesn't project as a high level two-way player (which means he will ultimately be a bench player on a good team) than I'd rather my backup 5 provide more line-up versatility. This is a unfair because of the age gap but RC3 is a better NCAA player than Stone right now and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the better NBA player. 


  1. Great take, really enjoyed this. Will be back to checkout other draft previews.

  2. Carter looks like the college version of Hawks PF Paul Millsap and while I doubt he will have the career of Millsap (3 allstars) he does have a place in the NBA as a back up frontline player.

  3. Great article, I very much enjoyed it. That said, while Stone doesn't have the range of Carter, he can still shoot from 15-20 feet out. We are also talking about a guy who is still 18 (Stone) vs. a guy who is about to turn 22. Stone's development is important and a priority.

    1. I hope he stays in school because he's not ready for the NBA. At all.

  4. Carter is a workaholic at basketball. I would not under estimate his will to succeed.

  5. He's projected to go undrafted by draftexpress. Surprising since you give a glowing review of him.

    1. He spent two seasons playing for a program in the dumps (Georgia Tech) and then sat out a season as a transfer, which is a pretty good way to fall off the radar completely. Now he's one of several players who shares the ball on a good team. If Maryland makes a run in the Tourney, I think his stock will shoot up quickly. Team success is what gets you noticed unless you are putting up crazy stats or came into college with huge recruiting hype.