Vernon Carey Jr. is Duke basketball’s best player. The Freshman received offers from every major school in the country coming out of High School and was the number 6 player in his class according to the 247 Sports Composite. He ultimately chose Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
As Duke’s top recruit, Carey’s expectations were sky high heading into the season. While Carey isn’t Zion Williamson, he has been very productive, putting up 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game for the number 2 team in the nation.
You’d think with this kind of production Carey Jr. would be a top 5 lock for the 2020 NBA draft. However, most media outlets have Carey in the late lottery. On my board, he currently sits at 23.
So, it raises the question, why is Vernon Carey Jr. not considered an elite NBA prospect?
Let’s start by taking a look at what kind of a player Carey is. A 6’10” bowling ball, Carey scores nearly all his points from inside. In a win versus Miami, Carey put up 24 points, with every single basket coming in the paint. He’s a low-post player.
Carey’s kind is a dying breed in today’s NBA. Only 3 players have a post-up frequency percentage higher than 30% this season: Boban Marjanovic, Joel Embiid, and LaMarcus Aldridge. In the 2015-16 season, 15 players had a percentage higher than 30. Also, only Embiid, Aldridge, and DeAndre Ayton have averaged over 4 Field Goal attempts from the post per game. In the 2015-16 season, 8 players averaged over 4 shots from the post a night. In 2013-14, it was 15 players. (nba.com)
As the NBA becomes more and more about floor spacing, pick and pops, and off-ball motion, Carey’s potential fit in today’s NBA comes into question. Teams just don’t value big men like Carey anymore. Only 3 Centers were taken in the first round of the 2019 Draft. Jaxson Hayes, a hyper-athletic rim runner was the first selected. The other two, Goga Bitadze and Mfiondu Kabengele, have lots of potential as long-range shooters and interior defenders.
So, how much defensive potential does Carey Jr. have? He averages about 2 blocks per contest, but I’m not sure that he has the length and vertical explosiveness to defend NBA big men. 6’10” is average, but he only has a +2” wingspan. This season, his effort has been inconsistent on the defensive end.
When I watch Vernon Carey Jr. play, I can’t help but think about Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, a recent NBA Draft bust, has nearly identical statistics and measurements to Carey. Okafor did not live up to his lofty expectations in the NBA due to his poor defense and one-dimensionality on offense. Is Carey only low on everyone’s board because people are scared that he will become the next Jahlil Okafor?
I would like to say that while Carey Jr. and Okafor have many similar qualities, they are still different players. And to be honest, I’ve probably been a little harsh on Carey. His ball-handling is advanced for a player of his size. He’s also connected on 4 of his 7 three-point shot attempts. Still, at this point in his career, he’s far from a threat as a long-range shooter.
Vernon Carey Jr.’s skill set does not match what the NBA is moving towards. If this was 2010, he’d probably be a top-three pick. Unfortunately for Carey, this is 2020, and basketball has changed. Of course, he can still play in the NBA. However, he will not be a star. I expect him to be a career bench player. He’ll probably hang around the same spot on my draft board barring any drastic change in what he’s done this season.
(P/C: The Atlanta Voice)