Examining Robert Carter’s transfer decision

Former Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter said he wanted to transfer to put himself “in a better position” to achieve his goals, namely playing in the NCAA tournament and getting himself ready for the NBA. Is that possible? Let’s look at both.

Going to the tournament

Making the tournament – clearly, there are any number of schools Carter could transfer to where his chances of playing in the NCAA would increase. Tech not only finished 16-17 but lost key players in Daniel Miller, Kammeon Holsey and Trae Golden. Had Jason Morris been healthy this season, you could have included him, as well.

With Carter back, the Yellow Jackets could have stood a chance to improve in the coming season, and certainly by the time he and Marcus Georges-Hunt were seniors and Tadric Jackson was a sophomore.

But, still, not as good a chance as he might have elsewhere. His reported schools of interest, though, are curious – St. John’s, Maryland and South Carolina, according to CBS Sports Network college basketball writer Jon Rothstein. (Carter’s AAU coach Winfred Jordan reportedly told SNY.tv that Baylor and Texas are also possibilities in addition to the three aforementioned teams.) St. John’s made the NIT last year and returns most of its key players, but has not made the NCAA tournament since 2011, coach Steve Lavin’s first season, despite the No. 3 recruiting class in 2011. Lavin did go to the tournament six of seven years at UCLA.

Maryland has missed the past four NCAA tournaments, and, alarmingly, four players have transferred out in the past month. Coach Mark Turgeon does bring in a recruiting class ranked No. 9 by ESPN that, if Carter were to transfer there and sit out a year, would be sophomores when he became eligible for the 2015-16 season. In four years at Texas A&M, he took the Aggies took to the NCAA tournament every year. But Maryland finished this season 17-15.

If South Carolina ends up being Carter’s option, that would be the most puzzling destination of the three. The Gamecocks finished 14-20 and have not been to the NCAA tournament since 2004. They last won an NCAA tournament game in 1973. Further, South Carolina’s leading scorer, Brenton Williams, just graduated. South Carolina did have the No. 23 recruiting class in 2013.

Going to the NBA

Lavin did have a strong run at UCLA of getting players into the NBA, although it’s easier to do that there than elsewhere. By my count, there were 11 players he coached and/or recruited as head coach who were drafted in seven seasons at UCLA (some were drafted after he was fired in 2003). Still, I’d think being able to claim 11 players into the NBA would be attention-getting.

One St. John’s player has been drafted since his hire, first-rounder Maurice Harkless in 2012.

Turgeon has had one player drafted at Maryland, No. 5 overall pick Alex Len last year. He had two players drafted at Texas A&M, both second-rounders. One other undrafted player is also in the NBA from Texas A&M.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin had two players drafted in five seasons at Kansas State, including No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley in 2008. There has been one player drafted out of South Carolina since 1999.

Gregory has not had a player at Tech or Dayton drafted, but it would be worth noting that three players he coached at Dayton are in the NBA now. Prior to the three, the school had last had a player in the league in 1999. And, obviously, Dayton was largely precluded from bringing in the type of players that would turn into draftable talent.

What if he stayed?
Another way of looking at it: Is it harder to get drafted off a non-tournament team than one that goes to the NCAA tournament?

In the past three drafts, 57 players were drafted in the first round that played on NCAA tournament teams in the season prior to their draft compared to 18 players who played on non-tournament teams (including Tech’s Iman Shumpert in 2011). It would stand to reason that the number would be greater; if a team had a player worth drafting in the first round, chances are the team was good enough to get into the NCAA tournament.

Regardless, 57-18 is a pretty significant difference. It would bear mention, though, that of the 18, half were lottery picks. Last year, Maryland’s Len (a Turgeon recruit) was taken No. 5, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and No. 8 and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum went 10th. (Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel went sixth; technically counted as a player from a non-tournament team.) So it’s not as though not going to the tournament is some sort of unerasable scarlet letter.

On the other hand, a player on a more competitive team is likely to face more competition for minutes, shots and opportunities to demonstrate his game. Carter would have been the focal point of Tech’s offense, which he might not be able to do on a better team.

There is also a cost of moving out of the ACC. The conference has had 26 draft picks in the past five drafts, the most of any conference. (The Big East was second with 21.) Almost certainly, ACC teams play in front of as many scouts on a nightly basis as any conference in the country and certainly enjoy their share of TV exposure.

16 and 8

Finally, Carter was at his best in the final six games of the season, when he was most recovered from his meniscus tear. He averaged 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Since 1998, there have been 18 players in the ACC who’ve averaged 16 and 8 in the season prior to their being drafted. (Tyler Hansbrough did it twice.) Of the 18, 11 were drafted in the first round, five were drafted in the second and two went undrafted. If he had been able to reproduce the numbers he put up in those final six games next year – which would seem eminently achievable – and prove his worth over a full ACC season, chances are his ability would have been recognized by the NBA, regardless of Tech’s record.

Is transferring the right decision? Who knows? I know it was mystifying to people within the team, if only because Carter did not show any signs of being unhappy, he appeared to be developing and he had an opportunity to be the team’s central player for the next two years. I don’t know if someone crunched the numbers for Carter, but the 57-18 statistic could be convincing, although it’s hard to know exactly how much credence to put into it. That said, Carter also would have had plenty of influence over whether or not Tech made the tournament.

Another unknowable – what if Carter and other players hadn’t gotten injured? It is not unreasonable to believe Tech would have won three or four more games and at least gotten into the NIT tournament. If the Jackets had been able to make a run in the tournament, even though it would have been the NIT, the season past likely would have been perceived differently and likely the season ahead, as well. It would be easier to think of Tech as a team with momentum if it had won a couple games, particularly if Carter and Marcus Georges-Hunt and other returnees had played well. Maybe it would have been enough to convince Carter to stay.

In the end, it’s Carter’s career and his future, so it’s hard to fault someone for doing what he thinks is the most advantageous for him. Believing he would be better off elsewhere wouldn’t be the most outlandish conclusion, although it would make more sense if he were to transfer somewhere like Connecticut or Florida, two schools that have both had tournament success and had plenty of NBA draftees (if those schools were interested). Only time will tell.

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