In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, today, we break down the play of Duke big man Vernon Carey Jr.
It is odd to see no Duke players projected to go in the lottery this (extended) draft season. Duke has had a player drafted in the first 14 picks in every year since 2013. While there is a chance that a former Blue Devil sneaks into the lottery, there is also a decent possibility no Duke prospect is drafted in the first round at all, which would represent the first year that this has happened since 2008.
Vernon Carey Jr. was a five-star recruit a year ago out of the Miami, Florida area who starred at NSU University School in Davie — named as such because it’s located on the campus of Nova Southeastern University. Carey was a 2019 McDonald’s All-American alongside numerous other elite high school basketball players like James Wiseman and Cole Anthony.
While guards Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley both have a chance to be the first Blue Devil selected in this draft, Carey came in with the greatest pedigree from his high school career and was the player Coach Krzyzewski built his offense around in 2019-20. Will his “old man” game help or hurt his chances at hearing his name called in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft?
Carey’s per-game figures are pretty impressive, especially when accounting for playing just 24.9 minutes per game in his frosh season. Upon extrapolating his figures to 36 minutes, Carey Jr. averages 25.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.0 steals.
One reason behind the few minutes per game is that Carey found himself in foul trouble early and often in many games. He picked up right around four personal fouls per 36 minutes, and a program like Duke has the depth to protect him from fouling out with talented subs to ensure he’s available late in the second half.
Carey is a load at 6’10” and 270-pounds, with the resemblance of an offensive lineman rather than a basketball player. It won’t surprise many then to learn that his father, Vernon Carey Sr., was a 6’5”, 340-pound NFL offensive tackle for eight seasons.
For comparison, no current NBA player at his height reaches that weight figure. In fact, the only players below 7 feet in height who weigh above 260-pounds are Steven Adams and Dwight Howard, both of which are not exactly floor-stretching offensive big men.
As a throwback to classic era basketball, Carey possesses a great post up game. Although he’s fairly left hand dominant, his broad shoulders and stout base routinely translates to creating space for a baby hook or a scoop and score. He can channel the moves of great big men of the past with his shimmy and drop step, and good enough footwork to pull off agile spin moves with deft.
His post up play is among the best in this draft, finishing at 1.02 PPP — points per possession per Synergy — in those situations where he shot or passed.
He finished at the rim a dominant 71 percent of the time and recorded a 1.32 PPP on put back attempts off of offensive rebounds. Certainly it will be difficult to replicate those same efficient figures against professionals, but even with his lack of a quick jump off the floor, he has the awareness of when to reach the ball at its highest point and immediately go back up with it.
Carey eagerly runs the floor in transition for the most part to gain early post position and isolate his opponent. This allows him to dribble with his back to his basket into a clean look at the basket before the help can arrive.
In addition, his grown man strength allows him to finish through contact as well as anybody.
Carey didn’t flash his dribbling a ton, but he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to a favorable layup attempt. He’s pretty nimble for his size when there is space to handle the ball and create for himself.
Even when and entry pass takes him away from his post position, Carey has the ability to use a few dribbles to reset himself for a lay-in around the rim.
He’s also a strong rebounder with more than adequate fight for the ball, at a super 12.7 rebounds and 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. His rebound percentages — a measure of the percentage of available rebounds he grabbed while on the floor — are also fantastic, with 26.1 percent and 12.0 percent marks on the defensive and offensive ends respectively, placing him in the top-3 in the ACC in both metrics.
A big positive point defensively is in not giving up ground when defending post ups. He allowed just 0.67 points per post up possession. The 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes and 5.8 percent block rate shouldn’t be ignored, either, even though large parts of his defense can be critiqued. At times, he can harass players attacking the rim with his length and lower body position. His large frame is an asset in this regard, and he makes it difficult for opponents to finish around his intimidating presence.
There are questions about Carey competing against a higher level of athletes in the NBA. His wingspan at 7’0” isn’t overly impressive for his size and he just doesn’t have great foot speed. In addition, he’s not impressive leaper and lacks top end explosion: unfortunate aspects that will be magnified at the next level.
As a paint protecting big man, he’s expected to contest shots at the rim at a high level and help as a secondary defender for penetrative drives. But too often, he was positioned poorly in the lane and lacked the lateral quickness to slide and cut off the basket.
Carey hustles for the most part, but simply isn’t a fast sprinter. He’s an easy target to isolate in the right matchups and pull away from the restricted area. This is magnified in the pick-and-roll game, where he can fail to execute defensive assignments in space by being a step too slow.
Carey is a strangely unwilling jump shooter. Even when left wide open for midrange or long range attempts, he was very hesitant to let shots fly. He only ended 29 possessions with a catch-and-shoot attempt in college for a PPP of 0.93 per Synergy.
His jump shot form sees his elbow flare out, and he doesn’t get a ton of power from his base during the release. It’s possible these issues can be coached out of him and he can gain a scorer’s mentality as a flat-footed shooter but his lack of range was clearly a negative in his one season at Duke.
The shooting indicators for Carey aren’t particularly promising either. He only hoisted up 21 shots from three — connecting on eight for a 38.1 percent rate — which is much too small a sample size to instill confidence in his ability from there. Additionally, as a mediocre 67 percent shooter on free throws, the upside is very limited in his ability to step out to the elbow and knock down shots.
His shot selection can be peculiar at times too. When he’s facing an overwhelmed opponent, Carey routinely finds his way to the rim. But against stronger, more competent post defenders, occasionally he resorting to flipping up a variety of wild, inefficient shots near the rim.
Carey is not an overly impressive passer out of the post, and he ended up registering over two turnovers per assist. Certainly, there is some intrigue in the former 5-star recruit and product of a blue blood program, but there are some significant drawbacks in his game that should give teams pause before possibly investing in him a high draft pick.
Possible fit with the Hawks
With the Hawks valuing big men who can shoot from deep, pop off of screens and short roll, Carey is frankly a poor fit in Atlanta. There are a few teams who value a big man who can post up early and grind out possessions, and Carey will likely be a flyer pick in the second round at worst. However, it seems rather unlikely that the Hawks would figure into that equation.
The defensive concerns should also scare an Atlanta team that desperately needs an interior presence on that end of the floor. A very obvious comparison is Jahlil Okafor, another offensively gifted Duke center whose lack of defensive awareness and explosiveness made for a bad fit in most frontcourts. The lefty handle and skillset also has shades of Julius Randle without the playmaking.
Still, the track record of high profile recruits, including Okafor — who has become a serviceable NBA big man in the wake of the fallout from his top-3 draft status — suggests Carey should have a more than decent chance of sticking on an NBA roster and contributing in the years to come.