Friday, June 20, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Prospect: Delaware 87er Guard Aquille Carr

Though Aquille Carr is a legend in high school and streetball circles, he has yet to put it together at the professional level leading up to 2014 NBA Draft.

With the NBA Draft less than a week away, there are many stories circulating around the Web from Joel Embiid's recent foot injury to what the Cavs are going to do with the No. 1 pick (at least they have chosen their coach though, more on this story over the weekend). However, one of the biggest stories going under the radar is the fact that six players who played in the D-League this season are eligible for this year's NBA Draft, and two are expected to be taken (Texas Legends PJ Hairston and Delaware 87ers Thanansis Antetokounmpo) either late in the first or early in the second round.

This isn't exactly new territory for the NBA D-League. Glen Rice, Jr. did the same thing in preparation for last year's draft after he was dismissed from Georgia Tech prior to the start of the college season. Rice did pretty well in his first stint of professional experience, averaging 13 ppg and 6.2 rpg in 42 games and 23.7 mpg for the Vipers, and parlayed that strong performance to being selected 35th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers (he was later traded on draft day to the Washington Wizards, his current team).

Yet, if Rice, Jr. was the first to open the door for such a path to the NBA (the D-League route), this year's draft-eligible D-League class is blowing the door wide open on it. And one of the most interesting cases is Aquille "the Crimestopper" Carr.

Who is Aquille Carr?

Carr hails from Baltimore, Maryland where he affectionately earned the nickname "the Crimestopper". He earned the nickname because his play was so spectacular at Patterson High School in Baltimore that many people in East Baltimore would pack the high school gyms during basketball season, and thus, crime would supposedly "go down" as he played (due to no one being on the streets or corners). Carr is diminutive at 5'6, 148 pounds, but he is an explosive player and an even more dynamic scorer. In his first two years at Paterson, he accumulated over 1,000 points, and averaged over 30 points per game his sophomore year. But while his numbers were impressive, it was the mixtapes of Carr that circulated across the Internet that added to Carr's high school legend, much akin to other East Coast guard "MixTape" sensations like Sebastian Telfair and Tyreke Evans. Check out Carr's 2012 MixTape below that has garnered over 6 million views and see why Carr was such a hyped player:

Pretty amazing stuff. Kinda like watching Telfair in the movie "Through the Fire" crossed with Nate Robinson when he is in on.

So how did Carr get to the D-League?

Because of his incredible performance at Patterson, Carr earned a scholarship offer from Seton Hall University and seemed set to go. He even turned down "allegedly" a $750,000 contract offer from an Italian Club going into his senior year (Carr noted that it was a family tradition to "graduate high school" and he intended to honor that). But after transferring to Princeton Day School prep his senior season (he transferred because he was an older player who turned 19 his senior year and there was fear he wouldn't be eligible due to Baltimore High Schools rules and thus, hurt his stock sitting out a year; a similar situation arose with former high school star Lenny Cooke), Carr decided not to sign a letter of intent to Seton Hall and instead, planned to play overseas ala Brandon Jennings-style (who decided to play in Italy rather than Arizona, but that was mostly due to Jennings not being academically eligible to play at Arizona). A couple of speculations of his change of heart were that Carr and his family were facing financial difficulties (he noted in a tweet that he had to "get the money while he could") and he was facing a lot of negative publicity after he was charged for assaulting the mother of his baby.

It is unsure after Carr made the decision if he received any offers from any European or foreign clubs. However, in the NBA D-League draft, Carr was selected in the third round by the nearby Delaware 87ers. Carr immediately signed with the 87ers after being drafted.

So how did Carr do in the D-League?

For a 19 turning 20 year old, Carr seemed to hold his own early on. In 10 games played, he averaged 10.9 points per game, and he seemed aggressive in his ability to take the ball to the rim and proved to be a strong ball handler as well. Furthermore, he showed some pretty good range as a shooter at times, an area of his game he was often critiqued about during his high school days. Check out Carr's highlight video below and see some of the flashes of brilliance Carr displayed in his short time with Delaware:

Despite his obvious abilities, Carr struggled to find minutes in the 87ers rotation and his career abruptly ended after 10 games, as he was released shortly after the new year by the 87ers. In an article by Jason Wolf of the Delaware News Journal, Delaware GM Brandon Williams noted that Carr's focus and problems from back home in Baltimore may have been preventing him from not only finding more minutes in the rotation, but being committed to the team in general. Williams says this in this article:

"Some personal things are happening with him that made it difficult for him to focus here," Sevens general manager and Sixers front office executive Brandon Williams said. "He's a good kid, and I think talented, so just being waived in the D-League is certainly not a 'no' forever, it's just not the best fit right now. … His family has been very engaged, and he has a very strong support system pulling for him. He's had a tough stretch here with private affairs."

Instead of trying to get back on a team or testing his skill in Europe, Carr entered the 2014 NBA Draft, where at best he is rated as a late second round pick.

What did we learn about Carr in his time in the D-League?

 One of the games Carr earned heavy minutes in was the 87ers first game of the 2013-2014 season against the Canton Charge. In the season debut, Carr played 26 minutes and scored 15 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field. However, despite the double digit scoring total, Carr had 6 turnovers in the game and only 2 assists, not a good ratio for a point guard at any level. The first game proved to be a capsule of his entire, but short, D-League career so far: exciting, but wildly inefficient. Take a look at his advanced stat-line in his 10 games this season.

A lot of what you see above is pretty below average, even taking into consideration the small sample size. The offensive rating (97.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and PIE (7.6 percent impact) as well as low Assist to Turnover ratio display that Carr has a lot of flaws in his game that he needs to work on, especially as a point guard developing professionally. Could Carr have improved over the course of the season? Absolutely (most players do). But all we have to judge Carr on going into the draft is this sample and unfortunately for Carr, the numbers in this sample do not look good.

That being said, the potential Carr presents is interesting, and will be enticing for a lot of professional teams both before and after next week's draft. Carr excels on the court thanks to his excellent ball-handling and ability to advance the ball to the rim with speed and quickness. Defenders who are falling asleep or underestimating him due to his size will find him flashing by them to the rim for easy points. However, Carr still needs to mature in his decision making on the court, even in transition. Let's take a look at two different fast break possessions where in one, he made a bad decision that led to a badly missed and forced layup, and a good possession on the fast break where he was able to drive by the slower defenders for a foul.

Here's the set up of the first possession:

In this possession, Carr is obviously at the disadvantage. Only one player on the 87ers is ahead of the ball and he is guarded and on the other end (beyond the arc at the wing too, not an advantageous position to be in offensively when someone is driving to the hoop). The Charge are pretty much set up already back on defense as evidenced by the right wing and right elbow defender settling into place and the left wing starting to settle as well. Even the left elbow defender at the top is ahead of Carr on defense. However, Carr, puts his head down and drives to the middle of the lane to try and get a lay-up, which ends up resulting in this:

Carr is surrounded by yellow jerseys and he can't make the kick pass because he's surrounded by Charge defenders. All Carr can do is try to put up a lofty up and under layup attempt which is heavily contested and greatly misses. To make matters worse, he isn't bailed out by the foul either (thankfully, Delaware gets the offensive rebound and the foul, so they bail Carr out on this possession).

 Now let's look at a similar possession where Carr is forced to make almost the same decision:

Now this is a much more advantages situation for Carr to drive. The defense isn't as set as they were in the previous possession I analyzed and as you can see, two of the defenders are out of position greatly (the one above the circle and the one chasing him). The left elbow defender is also not quite set because he is put in a tough decision. Does he stop Carr and leave the three open or does he try to let the team guard Carr while he respects the shooter? In this situation, Carr recognizes the need and the opportunity to drive. His chances of getting a bucket or foul are far greater here than the possession above due to how the defense is positioned. By recognizing his advantage, Carr uses his speed to drive to the right side, which results in...

Carr getting to the rack and drawing the foul. The elbow defender waffles, which isn't good enough considering Carr's speed and the chasing defenders end up either not being able to catch up (like the one beyond the three starting out) or fouling him (such as the one who has his back turned to Carr at the free throw line). It is situations like this where Carr needs to use better instincts when utilizing his speed and ability to drive. When he takes advantage of situations like the latter, he will be able to either score, kick to open shooters or draw fouls on a consistent basis. However, when he tries to force the issue, regardless of how the defense is set or prepared, he ends up taking bad shots or gets his layup attempts defended or blocked. That is an area of his game Carr will need to develop if he wants to have any kind of long-time career not just in the NBA, but as a professional as well.

Unfortunately though, possessions like the former happened more often than the latter, as evidenced by his shot chart from his 10-game sample in the D-League:

Making only 41.46 percent of your shots at the rim just isn't going to cut at it the next level. And while he did show some ability from some areas beyond the arc, his ability to make good decisions and finish around the rim will make or break Carr's ability to play at the NBA. His size is an issue. And because of his size, his defense will be a liability, much like it is for most traditional shorter guards (like Nate Robinson for example). But having the ability to beat teams on the drive whether by layup, pass or drawing the foul will be a big factor in terms of Carr being effective and getting in a NBA rotation at the next level. If he can develop that kind of killer dribble-drive ability where he can be at least average to above finishing around the rim, then it is plausible that Carr could develop a Robinson-like career. He has the speed and the ball-handles to do so, and his outside shot looks to be developing better at the professional level, which should give him another weapon in his arsenal.

But, it will be interesting to see if Carr can get the focus, drive and minimize the distractions that have seemed to derail his basketball dreams so far. He really should be playing at Seton Hall, helping the Pirates become a contender in the Big East. Instead, he is on the outside looking in when it comes to getting picked in this upcoming draft, most likely looking at a second D-League tour or a contract in Europe or overseas somewhere.

Is Carr going to miss out on the NBA and devolve into another Lenny Cooke or Ronnie Fields? (former high school star that didn't get drafted). It's tough to say. The odds are against him. But Carr has the skills and the fanfare. He just has to put it together and mature a little bit more on and off the court if he wants to realize that dream of making a NBA roster.

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