There might not be a more polarizing WNBA prospect in 2020 than Texas A&M junior guard Chennedy Carter.
The 5-foot-7 guard from Mansfield Timberview was named an All-American in all three of her seasons at A&M, and was the unanimous National Freshman of the Year in 2018. Carter had a stellar college career, making a huge impact for Gary Blair's team right from the jump, with the Aggies winning at least 70 percent of their games in each of Carter's seasons.
But despite her on-court accomplishments, questions about Carter’s shooting and defense have abounded, leaving some to worry that she won’t be able to live up to the hype and potential that surround her game. Search her name on Twitter and you'll get a wildly divergent set of opinions on her WNBA future, going all the way from people who think Carter should be taken first overall above consensus No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu to people who view her as a bust in the making, someone whose shooting struggles complicate her path to stardom.
So, what is Chennedy Carter’s future outlook? Let’s examine some things.
The Offensive Prowess of Chennedy Carter
Carter's always been a high-usage player. As a Freshman, she ranked 11th in DI in usage rate, and in the two years since, she's ranked in the top five. Carter's a ball-dominant guard, and she's about as ball-dominant as a player can be. When she's on the floor, there's a good chance she's finishing her team's possession, and if she doesn't, there's a good chance that the player finishing the possession is doing it off a pass from Carter. The ball is very, very often in her hands.
Her ability to run an offense isn't really a question for me. At A&M, Carter showed that she has the ball-handling skills to make things happen offensively for her team. She can get to the basket. She can make the passes. Her usage rate will need to come to fit into the confines of a WNBA offense and Carter will need to look for the pass a little more often, but I’m fairly confident she can do that. There have been people who view Carter as more of a two-guard at the next level, but I remain convinced that Carter’s best position is point guard.
One reason is that she’s such a skilled ball-handler:
Carter’s ability to maneuver through and around defenders makes her incredibly tough to defend. She can score buckets in a hurry, especially when she's able to get into the paint. Per Synergy, Carter shot 55.2 percent near the basket this season, with her 1.161 points per possession ranking in the 82nd percentile. Considering Carter's height and position, scoring that well around the rim is really impressive.
And while we’re talking about the positives of her offensive game, Carter definitely doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a passer:
On this play, for instance, Carter’s immense driving gravity helps open up space for her to make a great pass to Ciera Johnson. It’s really tough for a defense to not collapse on a driving Chennedy Carter, because she has such great dribble moves that can help her take any drive to the hoop. And when those three defenders do position themselves to stop the drive, Carter’s able to fire a bullet of a pass over to Johnson for the open bucket.
Of course, any discussion of Carter’s offense has to include the possible downside, the thing that might prevent her from reaching her full potential: shooting.
During the 2019-20 season, Chennedy Carter really, really struggled to shoot the basketball.
She shot just 25.3 percent from three on 83 attempts, and on all jump shots, Carter shot 33.2 percent, with her 0.769 points per possession ranking her in the 47th percentile. There’s not really any way to slice those to be good numbers.
Carter only logged 53 possessions as a catch-and-shoot player, but she scored in the 67th percentile on those looks, shooting especially well when guarded. If we’re looking for an encouraging sign, it might be that one; if we assume Carter will operate more as an off-ball guard in the WNBA, then maybe taking less jumpers off the dribble will help her game.
And she was among the most efficient players in Division I on runners, scoring 46 points on 46 runners. Of course, that ability speaks more to her ability to get into the lane and get a chance to shoot the usually-shorter runner as opposed to a jump shot, but we’ll take whatever encouraging signs that we can get for Carter’s shooting, because for her to be a success, she’ll have to figure that out. Good touch inside could suggest room for growth in other parts of her shooting game.
There’s also the fact that Carter had shot better in the past. It’s never a good sign to see a player regress as a 3-point shooter throughout her career like Carter did, as she fell from 38.3 percent to 35.2 percent to the 25.3 from this year. This does suggest, though, that Carter has the ability to connect from deep, and in a role where she’s not asked to do quite so much on offense, we could see some of that efficiency come back.
Still, she’s not the same level of shooter as someone like Sabrina Ionescu, and that’s a big part of why Ionescu is the consensus No. 1 pick. Carter’s much more likely to spend her WNBA career shooting mid-range jumpers, though she shot just above 30 percent on midrange looks this year, so even those shots will need some work.
Still, the upside is there for Carter, and while I touched on a lot of negatives, let’s not forget the positives. She’s a quick offensive player who can work the ball inside, can make sharp passes to her teammates, and who isn’t afraid to take big shots. The moment won’t be too big for Chennedy Carter as a pro, and while the shooting percentages were objectively bad this season, her shot has been fine in the past, and it could very well be fine again.
Can Carter Keep Up Defensively?
Let’s keep this fairly short. When I put out a call for questions about Carter, one of the things that came up the most was the question of what we could expect from her defensively.
Synergy’s numbers aren’t kind to Carter defensively. Take some of this with a grain of salt because their tracking technology is much better for offense than defense, but Carter is logged in the 18th percentile defensively.
Digging into those numbers, though, gives us some hope. The biggest issue Carter had was in defending pick-and-rolls, as she ranked in the 5th percentile defending pick-and-roll ball handlers. But Carter was a capable defender when guarding spot up shooters, and she has the quickness to stay with her player. A lightened offensive load would give Carter more energy to expend defensively, and while that’s no guarantee that she could become a good — or even average — pick-and-roll defender, the worst case scenario is that you play Carter beside a defensive-minded guard who can check a team’s primary ball-handler, allowing Carter to use her speed to jump passing lanes and contest perimeter looks from a team’s spot up shooters. I believe she can handle a role like that, and while her ultimate defensive upside is probably more like “has a neutral impact” than it is something bigger, if her offensive game continues to develop like it has, you can live with Carter not being the best defender.
Where In The WNBA Will She Wind Up?
Obviously, anything can happen on draft night, but right now the vast majority of mock drafts have a firmly established top four. New York takes Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. Dallas takes Ionescu’s teammate, Satou Sabally. Indiana takes Baylor’s Lauren Cox, who I wrote about a couple weeks back.
Then at four, the Atlanta Dream select Chennedy Carter.
The Dream are an intriguing team. They were the worst team in the league last year, but had gone 23-11 back in 2018. They let franchise cornerstone Angel McCoughtry leave this offseason after missed all of 2019 due to injury, but they were active in free agency, adding Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson while also trading for Courtney Williams.
You can see the makings of a good team in Atlanta, and adding a lead scorer like Carter could be the step that makes them a contender a couple of years down the line. Courtney Williams can serve that defensive guard role and be a secondary ball-handler, which would take a lot of pressure off of Carter and allow her to adjust to the WNBA without having to be cast as a franchise savior somewhere. I’d love to see Carter with Atlanta, because there’s a lot of veterans on the team for her to work with, plus there’s former Baylor center Kalani Brown.
Ultimately, Carter’s WNBA future is going to come down to her shooting. She can lead an offense. She’s got the quickness and footwork to get to the bucket. But she has to be able to punish defenses from outside on a more consistent basis. She has the dribble skills to open up space from three. She has the ability to get a shot up almost instantly. But those shots have to go down. Right now, that’s the big question mark for Carter.