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Carlton Carrington is Demanding Your Attention
Carlton Carrington is looking like not only like a potential sleeper for the 2024 NBA Draft but like one of the most well-rounded and versatile guard prospects in the country.
Every year, there is a one-and-done prospect who seemingly comes out of nowhere to capture the hearts and intrigues of the draft world. This year offers a much grander possibility of this, given the uncertainty of the class. The 2024 NBA Draft will likely have some of the most varied rankings that we’ve seen in a long time as there’ll be players in some first rounds that aren’t even on some boards. As the season progresses, talents will emerge that we didn’t anticipate, and the primary front runner for this who is forcing people to pay attention to him is the 6’5” guard from Pittsburgh, Carlton “Lil Bub” Carrington.
Carrington immediately announced himself by posting a triple double in his college debut. Outlandish starts like this are frequently followed up by some duds, but Carrington has maintained his strong level of performance. Through his first three games, the 6’5”, 190-pound guard is averaging 18.3 points, 7.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and shooting splits of 56.3/47.4/83.3. Even more impressive is that he is doing this at volume; he’s averaging 10.7 field goal attempts, 6.3 three-point attempts, and 4.0 free throws per game. To further emphasize his incredible play so far, Carrington has an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 70.3%, a True Shooting Percentage of 72.9%, a defensive rebounding rate of 17.8, an assist rate of 34.8, and a turnover rate of 10.9. All of those numbers are extraordinary and essentially unmatched in Barttorvik’s database, which goes back to 2008.
These numbers are bound to come back to earth in some form or fashion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t real. In his senior year at St. Frances Academy, Carrington averaged over 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, with shooting splits of 49/38/86, while also setting a school record with over 1,000 points in a season. Carrington also received numerous all-area recognitions, tournament MVPs, and All-Star selections. Despite this, he was still left out of ESPN’s Top 100, RSCI’s Top 100, and was ranked #91 on 247Sports. Carrington has been a pleasant surprise, and it feels real.
Carrington’s size fits what has quickly become a requirement for NBA point guards. When his ball-handling, self-creation, and passing vision are included, the intrigue becomes impossible to ignore. Carrington is at his best when he’s running the show and operating out of the pick-and-roll, but he’s also shown proficiency playing without the ball.
According to Synergy, 42.9% of Carrington’s possessions have come when he’s running the pick-and-roll. In these situations, he’s scoring 1.611 points per possession (PPP), which ranks in the 99th percentile. Even though Carrington’s numbers suggest a playstyle that may seem ostentatious, the tape shows something else entirely as he plays with a sense of simplistic flair. Carrington has great change of pace and a superb handle, but he’s also efficient with his movement, decisions, and ability to get from point A to point B.
Here, Carrington runs a standard high pick-and-roll. As the screen comes, he sees that the drop defender is going to Carrington’s left side, but the on-ball defender hasn’t positioned himself to deny Carrington the screen. Carrington dribbles off the screen, attacks the pocket of space in the midrange, and smoothly knocks down the pull-up. There isn’t anything overly complicated about it, but Carrington is decisive and fluid in his attack.
This time, we see something similar from Carrington. Carrington attacks to his right as his teammate slips the screen. His initial attack may be a fraction early and a bit too wide, which allows his defender to stay rim side pretty easily. However, Carrington immediately recognizes the defender’s lapse as his hips get flipped parallel to the baseline. Once this happens, Carrington plants his left leg so aggressively that he gets down into essentially a 90-degree squat. This allows him to slam on the breaks, send the defender flying, and pull up for a relatively open jumper. Carrington misses, but he does draw the foul. The important part, though, is the explosive and simplistically effective shot creation he displays.
This ability to create space consistently and effectively without an abundance of flair is reminiscent of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to get his shot whenever he wants. By no means am I saying that Carrington is going to be SGA, but the way they get to their spots is similar. We can see that same explosive flexibility from SGA here as he rapidly transitions out of his long strides into an open pull-up.
Carrington’s simplistic shot creation has been exquisite in the midrange as he’s shooting 62.5% on midrange pull-ups, but he’s also been dynamic behind the arc, shooting 54.5% on pull-up threes. Again, important to note that it is a small sample size over just three games, but it’s tough to start a college career in a more impressive fashion.
Here, we again see Carrington effectively counter his defender’s momentum. Once he gets his defender moving and scrambling to cut off the drive, Carrington slams on the breaks. Carrington takes one more step back behind the arc and knocks down the jumper.
This time, Carrington again shows off his ability to immediately slam on the breaks, sit down, and send the defender flying. Instead of immediately pulling up like we saw in his midrange clip, Carrington takes a step back and rises up before the contest can get there for a clean look from three.
Carrington’s on-ball scoring has been tremendous, but he has also shown a proclivity to play without the ball. For most young guards, learning to play without the ball is a feat because they’ve grown up with the ball always in their hands. Carrington does a great job of being an effective off-ball option while also parlaying his off-ball versatility into on-ball opportunities.
Here, Pitt runs a standard Chicago action with Carrington running out of the corner off a pindown screen before receiving the handoff. This action allows Carrington to go in motion and react to whatever his defender does. As Carrington receives the ball, he recognizes that his defender went under both screens and is fighting over the handoff to Carrington’s right. Carrington wisely attacks back to his left to ensure that his defender doesn’t recover. Instead of recklessly exploding into space, Carrington shows off a bit of craft and guile as he dribbles into his defender. This allows Carrington to keep his defender off-balance and dictate the pace. With a firm plant of the right foot, Carrington explodes backward for the jumper before knocking it down through the foul.
As an off-ball shooter, Carrington still needs some work, as he’s shooting just 36.4% overall and 33.3% from three. Those are not ideal numbers but also (can’t continue to emphasize this enough) a small sample. What matters more at this point is the process, and Carrington’s is encouraging. Carrington isn’t simply taking wide-open standstill threes. He’s taking a lot of movement ones where he’s running off screens, handoffs, and relocating into open pockets on the perimeter. The results have been mixed and likely will continue to be. However, the fact that he’s willing to act as an off-ball screener, consistently run off screens, and has the confidence to take movement threes is highly encouraging.
The biggest question with Carrington’s scoring arsenal is around the rim. Carrington is shooting 100% at the rim, but it’s only on three attempts. It isn’t ideal for a 6’5” guard to take fewer than 10% of his shot attempts at the rim. It’s a concerning number for now, but one that should correct itself sooner or later. In his senior year in high school, Carrington took 22.9% of his shots at the rim and shot 64% while scoring 1.28 points per shot (PPS) (74th percentile). The current lack of rim attempts is likely due to an adjustment period as Carrington continues to adapt to the size, strength, and speed of college competition. He has good scoring touch, size, and length, so it shouldn’t be a long-term issue. However, it is something to keep an eye on that could eventually signal more troubling red flags about his explosiveness and ability to handle contact if it doesn’t progress to the mean.
While Carrington’s scoring arsenal has been electric, his playmaking has been equally so. Carrington’s assist rate of 34.8 ranks ninth among all freshmen and sophomores in true high major conferences. He is also one of 23 players to have an assist rate over 34 and a turnover rate under 11. Of those 23, only 11 are from a major conference, and only two are freshmen (shoutout to Jayden Reid from South Florida). Carrington is proving that he is a lethal scoring and playmaking threat who takes care of the ball, which is a rare combination.
Carrington does an incredible job of reading and reacting to what the defense does on the weak side. Here, he runs a standard pick-and-roll that the defense blitzes. Carrington does a great job of stringing out his dribble to drag the defenders with him while keeping an eye on his teammate rolling to the rim. Once Carrington sees that the tagger detaches to go back to his man, Carrington fires an absolute laser of a live-dribble pass to set up the easy dunk.
Pitt loves running Carrington out of this Chicago action. We saw how they utilized it to create scoring opportunities for him, but they also trust him to create for others out of it as he just tortured Florida Gulf Coast with his decision-making. These clips aren’t groundbreaking discoveries, but they do a tremendous job of showcasing Carrington’s understanding of the situation and ability to read help defenders before making the right decision.
Here, since his defender is chasing him over the screens, Carrington attacks the free throw line to force the rotation from the help defender while his man continues his pursuit. Carrington’s gravity forces the other help defender to leave the shooter on the wing and tag the roller to not surrender a dunk. Carrington reads it effortlessly and delivers a quality pass for the open three.
A few possessions later, Pitt runs essentially the exact same thing. Again, Carrington gets to his spot in the midrange and reads the help defender tagging the roller. Carrington has a slight pause here, which allows the help defender an extra split second to close out. However, Carrington makes the proper read and sets up his teammate for the three.
A few possessions later, Pitt yet again runs the same set. As Carrington gets to his spot, he yet again reads the help defender perfectly. Tired of getting burned from three, the help defender is now cheating more in that direction and not tagging the roller like they were previously. Carrington reads it perfectly, leaves his feet to ensure he gets the pass over the defender, and sets up the easy dunk.
An argument against Carrington’s playmaking is that he’s being put in great positions to succeed and just has to make the right read between two options. Fair, but he still has to make the right read. He still has to draw the defenders to him. He still has to deliver an accurate pass with the right velocity. So, even though most of his assists have been in these more scripted situations, he’s still doing all the right things to create for his teammates. The flashy, no-look, jaw-dropping assists are the ones that always make the highlight reels, but the consistent and mundane ones are the ones that are essential for a point guard to routinely execute.
Despite thriving in a more scripted setting, Carrington has shown flashes of outstanding playmaking in their early offense. Here, Carrington pushes early and attacks the baseline. As he drives, Carrington keeps his dribble alive, keeps his eyes up, and attracts the attention of all five defenders. This creates an open cutting lane for his teammate, who is rewarded with a layup.
This time, Carrington again pushes aggressively in transition. As he crosses half court, he sees his teammate set up on the opposite block. The furthest back defender keeps glancing at his man on the wing while the retreating center is busy signaling to him to clear out despite not having eyes on his man or the ball. Carrington threads the needle with an absolute laser that should lead to an easy score. Unfortunately, there was a bit too much heat on it for his teammate to handle cleanly before he missed the bunny.
It’s still very early in the season, so Carrington’s numbers are bound to regress in some form or fashion. That isn’t too concerning, though. What’s so captivating about Carrington’s game, aside from the obscene production, is the process. Everything feels replicable. He consistently makes the right decision out of every situation he’s put in. He’s creating for his teammates, playing off-ball, and acting as one of the most efficient on-ball scorers in the country. The consistency and replicability of Carrington’s game suggests that his potential and impact are very real. Even if/when he does go through a cold stretch, he should be able to bounce back. Things could take a turn as the season progresses and the competition stiffens, but Carlton “Lil Bub” Carrington is looking like a legitimate talent for the 2024 NBA Draft.