ISO Spotlight: What makes Chennedy Carter so special?

Photo by Maria Lysaker

When it comes to college basketball in Texas, the big name coming out of everyone’s mouths ahead of the 2019-2020 season is Baylor post player Lauren Cox. Cox is expected to be a top-two pick in April’s WNBA Draft and was the cover athlete for this year’s Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball, so there are plenty of reasons why people should be talking about her.

But Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter is ready to challenge for the title of the best women’s basketball player in the state. Carter was sixth in the nation in scoring last year at 23.3 points per game, a mark that made her the state’s top scorer. The junior is already receiving draft hype and could leave A&M early, as she’s projected to be a top-five pick when April rolls around, though based on the recent history of underclassmen not entering the draft, it’s very likely that Aggies fans will have two more years of Carter to watch.

But what makes Carter the state’s top scorer, and does that make her the state’s best scorer? And what really goes into the idea of “the state’s best scorer” as a concept? Let’s try to answer these questions.

What it means to be the “best scorer in Texas?”
Before we get to Carter and the pros and cons of her offensive game, maybe we should talk about the whole concept of a “best scorer” and what that means.

To me, the best scorer in any particular league/game/etc. is different from the best offensive player. To be the best scorer implies some things to me: the player is a ball-dominant guard, because when we say “scorer” we so often mean “ball-dominant guard,” and the player gets buckets. Those buckets don’t need to be efficient. Chennedy Carter doesn’t need to lead this state in effective field goal percentage to be the best scorer in the state.

Of course, by defining that term in the way it’s being defined, issues arise. If the best scorer is incredibly inefficient — and let’s note that last year, Carter was in the 59.9th percentile nationally in points per scoring attempt, which ranks below virtually all of the other top guards, but let’s also note that Carter was in just her second college season — then that title can come with some negatives. The history of basketball is littered with good scorers whose inefficiency hindered their teams. Does that mean that Carter’s relative inefficiency is going to hinder the Aggies?

Carter’s offensive game
Last season, Chennedy Carter ranked in the 79th percentile nationally in points per offensive possession per Synergy, a number that includes scoring attempts and assists. She was especially strong when working as a pick-and-roll ball handler, scoring 0.896 points per possession on that playtype, a mark that ranked in the 89th percentile. That’s good. It’s very good, especially when you consider that Carter was fourth in the nation in usage rate.

On this play, we see some of Carter’s real offensive strengths, which is her ability to stop on a dime and pull up. The Aggies use the screen to get Carter the switch she wants, then starts to drive toward the hoop. She stops, has space, and drains the mid-range jumper. Carter was a sophomore at this time; to see someone that young who is able to so effortlessly get her shot off is an incredibly impressive thing.

Where things get more complicated are in the catch-and-shoot game. Only about 10 percent of Carter’s offensive possessions last year came via spot up attempts, a far cry from the 46 percent where she was the ball-handler in pick-and-roll. It’s clear that the Aggies want the ball in Carter’s hands.

But she was also in the 76th percentile in PPP on spot ups and shot 35.1 percent from three on 165 attempts. It might be fun and useful for the Aggies to show us more of this this season:

Offensive variety can be a good thing, and making more use of Carter as an off-ball option would increase the amount of ways that the Aggies have to score. A&M should have the personnel to do that this year, with both Aaliyah Wilson and Shambria Washington capable of being on-ball guards who can initiate things offensively and allow Carter to move around on that end and find other ways to get involved.

Carter struggled in some ways last year, especially in transition, where she finished in the 55th percentile. This team as a whole just wasn’t able to get out and run very well, with their pick-and-roll heavy offense better geared for playing in the half-court. As long as they can control the pace of games, Carter’s potential shortcomings in that part of her game don’t really end up being a serious issue. When they could be exploited is when the postseason rolls around and the schedule gets tougher and they face more teams that are potentially elite in transition. Keep an eye on that being a potential issue down the line, but again—in the regular season, I don’t see pace being something that knocks the Aggies out of being a Top 10 team.

2019-20 outlook
This ultimately brings us to this question: will Carter be able to take a step forward in terms of efficiency this year, and how will her doing/not doing that impact A&M’s chances of success?

To answer that first part:

Carter should. She played for Team USA in the Pan American games this year and was eighth overall at the games in field goal percentage, connecting on 46.8 percent of her shots. Against some tough competition, she finished second on Team USA in scoring at 11.4 per game, just behind Miami (and former Baylor) forward Beatrice Mompremier. Carter took some major strides forward during those games.

There’s also the fact that the Aggies as a whole should be a more cohesive team this year. Aaliyah Wilson is back after an ACL tear ended her season nine games in last year. Anna Dreimane — a Latvian center who played for the Latvian senior team in the 2017 EuroBasket Women’s competition — wasn’t eligible to play last year after transferring from Colorado State — adds depth inside. This Aggies team as a whole should be better this year, as they return basically every key contributor plus have additional depth.

That depth and the overall skill of the team means Carter might not be asked to do as much, which should allow her to more efficiently do the things that she is asked to do.

But if Carter’s efficiency remains about where it was last season, the Aggies overall ceiling doesn’t seem as high as some other teams in the preseason Top 10. A&M lost to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 last season, but the Aggies should be better than a four-seed this year, which would make their path through the tournament easier in theory. But basketball isn’t played in theory, and we saw last March in that Notre Dame game some of this team’s limitations, as Carter scored 35 points but did so on 13-for-34 shooting. She’ll need to improve her per shot efficiency for the Aggies to win those tough games in March. At this point, I’m fairly confident in Carter making that kind of leap.

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