Drafting is far from a science, which means that good talent sometimes goes unselected.
And Golden State Warriors fans should know that as well as anyone — as I've mentioned previously, the Warriors have been pretty good at finding diamonds among the rough of the undrafted.
A history of success with undrafted players
I already namechecked James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark from this year's team as well as Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin. But I failed to mention Seth Curry, who enjoyed a breakout season with the Sacramento Kings this season, and Anthony Morrow if you dig back to 2004. They weren't all identified and picked up by the same group of people — and span a decade — but the franchise has done pretty well on the undrafted front.
Yet if nothing else, the recent track record alone of identifying guys that others miss should make us optimistic about the first guy they targeted after the draft this year: Maryland's Robert Carter, Jr.
Working in Carter's favor are strong metrics from draft analysts that focus on statistical projections: ESPN's Kevin Pelton, Ed Weiland of Hoops Analyst, Dean Demakis of Dean On Draft, and Ed Bemiss of National Sports Rankings all had Carter rated as worthy of at least a second round draft pick. Demakis concisely summarized him as, "One of the draft nerd darlings of the 2nd round, Carter does a little bit of everything. With his 7'3.25″ wingspan and balanced game, he has a tiny sliver of equity to be a Millsap level steal."
So, yeah — that's pretty impressive.
But to help us better understand his chances at earning one of the roster spots vacated from all the moves after Kevin Durant's acquisition, I contacted SB Nation's University of Maryland site Testudo Times for additional insight to contextualize why he's become a "nerd darling". Testudo Times' Matt Ellentuck, who was credentialed to cover the team this year, and site co-manager Alex Kirschner were gracious enough to offer their insights.
Q&A with Testudo Times
GSoM: First, how are you feeling about Carter's chances of fitting in with a system like the Warriors, which puts a heavy emphasis on ball movement & spacing offensively and switching & versatility on defense?
Alex Kirschner: I think Carter can do well in this regard. Carter can shoot, and he's long enough, fast enough and conditioned enough to move around the floor freely on defense. (He does have some limitations on that end of the court, which I'm sure you'll get to.)
Why was Carter not selected in the draft?
A few factors contributed to Robert Carter, Jr. falling out of the second round.
Matt Ellentuck: Carter has all the tools to fit into a system like the Warriors', it's just a matter of if he can do things consistently. Offensively Carter changed as the season progressed as he tried to move his game more to the 3-point line, which became a frustrating habit because he was really efficient in the post. His strength was able to get him good positioning and his 7'3 wingspan allowed to stretch out over defender for short hook shots. He shot 63 percent from two, and he wasn't just finishing plays with dunks and layups. He's really talented when it comes to creating his own shot. When his game stretched out to the perimeter though, his numbers diminished and defenders left him there. He improved his shooting from his time at Georgia Tech, but at just 33 percent from three it was a fair criticism to think he should've played more down low.
Defensively, Carter had a knack for biting on pump fakes, but he showed he can stay in front of guards. He typically didn't have to defend the five because he was paired with Diamond Stone or one of Maryland's other two 7-footers, but his length makes up for being undersized. He mostly lacked consistently on the defensive end, and it'd would be fair to say the best parts of his games lie on the other end of the floor.
It'd also be foolish to think Carter won't immediately improve given his work ethic. You hear cliches about how everyone is a gym rat, but covering Rob for a year everyone on the beat saw him stay after games with headphones in to put up more jumpers (I specifically remember him playing just 20 minutes in a blowout win over Rutgers and he was still there when I was two hours later). He was also regularly asked how early he showed up to games (he'd be there soooo early).
GSoM: A lot of people seem to note Carter's poor defense but also some potential to work as a small ball center -- C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report specifically highlighted Carter's ability to move and close out on shooters and Chip Williams of Upside & Motor wrote, "Ideally, he can be a drop-back, pick-and-roll defender." Were there any signs during his time at Maryland that he might fit that ideal projection or does that sound overly optimistic?
AK: Carter didn't spend a bunch of time guarding the pick-and-roll for Maryland, because the Terps had Diamond Stone and Jake Layman doing a lot of that kind of work. Carter guarded pure power forwards much of the time, even as he played as more of a swingman on offense. But I think, given his size and speed, PnR defense works out as something he should be able to handle.
ME: Carter could handle bigs down low and was good at closing out shooters — unless they showed a shot fake and they'd often be able to blow by him. He's got the right mentality, and despite not being a great leaper and being a little undersized for his position could block shots. As long as he can stay disciplined and can continue to slim down and stay in shape, Carter can improve into becoming a solid defender.
GSoM: A number of statistically-oriented draft analysts were high on Carter because of the numbers he put up this year. But what would you say is the most underrated part of his game that the numbers might not do justice to?
AK: I hate this narrative, usually, but Carter is a really tireless worker. When Maryland held media availability after practices, Carter was always the last player on the court, still working on jumpers or whatever it was. He seems pretty dead set on making it in the NBA.
ME: His abilities as a scorer were definitely overlooked because of the talent around him. There was one ball and five NBA-caliber players on the floor, all of whom were capable of scoring 20 points per game. Maryland never found a healthy balance between Melo Trimble, Diamond Stone, Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon and Carter, and never created a real offensive identity for itself. On most other teams Carter would have been a top-2 option, but he was mostly the third behind Trimble and Stone. With Carter's efficiency playing against a mostly good Big Ten conference, it's a fair bet that he could've averaged more than 20 points elsewhere. With his inside game and ability to create his own shot in the post and off the dribble, Carter made scoring look easy.
GSoM: Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote that Carter "shared the floor with four other NBA prospects who wanted the ball in their hands on an underachieving team. Carter never got to show what he could do..." Would you agree with that assessment or were there other reasons that his full potential failed to stand out?
AK: That's basically right. Maryland's players didn't get a lot of chances to really dominate the ball last season, and all of their numbers suffered individually as a result.
ME: Yeah I think Tjarks nailed it there. For that matter I'll link you to something else he wrote a few months ago following one of Carter's best games (http://patternofbasketball.
I think Maryland's inability to find any sort of real rhythm with five really talented players caused its demise, and may have hurt its players' stocks as we saw Carter go undrafted (though he was reportedly given the opportunity by two teams to be a draft-and-stash), Stone drop significantly and Trimble return to school. I will always feel Carter would have benefited from playing that small-ball five position, but Mark Turgeon never wanted to go small for long periods of time and sometimes had two 7-footers clogging the lanes. Playing Stone and Carter together created a really solid defensive pairing, but Stone often became the big-man offensive go-to and unlike Carter, Stone wasn't a very willing passer.
GSoM: I've seen NBA comparisons of Carter to Marreese Speights and Jared Sullinger, which are encouraging for an undrafted rookie. But Matt compared him to Paul Millsap in his draft preview of Carter. What do you see in his game that might be comparable to Millsap?
AK: He has legitimate defensive limitations and performed much worse as a rebounder last year than expected, but his offensive game is uniquely consistent. I don't think he'll be quite as good as Paul Millsap, but I do think Carter can find a role in the NBA and be a solid contributor.
ME: I don't like making NBA comps, but I like the Paul Millsap projection best because they are around the same size with similar frames and Millsap took a couple of years before becoming a real deep threat. Carter won't make a living out there, but it should become a real part of his game in the future.
Carter is a really unique talent and I don't think any player in college last season is as versatile and crafty with that sized body. He's an NBA talent, and just as he showed at the combine, he'll prove he's ready.
For more on the Terps, check out Testudo Times' "Maryland and the 2016 NBA Draft" section. For more on who the Warriors picked up in the draft, check out our storystream about each of their draft night pickups.