Paul Carter arrived in Minneapolis just over a year ago with undeniable potential and more than a few questions. Not least of these questions was how long he would stick around. No, he wasn’t going to a one-and-done, either dashing off for the NBA at the first opportunity or throwing away a once promising career to be third best player in the Uzbek premier league. Instead, the lanky forward has been something of a nomad neither particularly willing nor able to put down roots. In the last four years he moved from California to New Orleans, only to be evacuated to Arkansas where he finished his high school career before moving on to junior college in Missouri.
Carter’s basketball career has also been less than stable because of injuries. At Missouri State-West Plains he played through a nagging hernia that dampened expectations after poor play in a junior college tournament in Minneapolis. Just five games into his Gopher career he sprained his ankle against Eastern Washington, missed the next four games, and didn’t crack double digits in minutes for another six games (he averaged more than 20 minutes and started before the injury. He worked his way back though, and by the end of the season had cemented himself as a natural leader, a spark plug, and a fierce competitor.
On offense: The tools are there. He can put the ball on the floor. He can knock down a three. He can finish at the rim. The only issue is converting the “can” to does. His offensive development seems slowed by his many moves and his recent injuries. The pieces are there but the puzzle that is his offensive game has not been put together, yet. He made 36% of his shots and only 21% from behind the three-point line. Most of his points came on offensive rebounds or at the foul line. With no hurry and seemingly feeling little pressure, he shot 77%. Despite playing barely 16 minutes per game he was third on the team in made free throws. With better shooting, and subsequently more honest defenders, he could have made it to the line even more. D+, with almost guaranteed improvement
On defense: In the always-bulky Big Ten, Paul Carter lacked the required girth to match up effectively with the typically larger Big Ten players. He can run with guards and match quickness of small forwards. Unfortunately with the Gophers young front court and the still progressing “Twin Towers” line-up, he was forced to guard power forwards. He held his own and did as well as any 6’8’’ 185 player could. C+ for versatility.
On the boards: Even with his scant minutes, Carter led the team in rebounding with 4.5 per game. This isn’t an overly impressive total at first. The Gophers rebound by committee and despite the low individual rebounding totals they were the second best rebounding team in the conference. If Carter played more, the Gophers might have put up Michigan State type numbers. No, I’m not kidding. When he was on the court, he was a better offensive rebounder than Blake Griffin, yes that Blake Griffin. Extrapolating from 16 minutes per game to 40 minutes per game is a bit dangerous, but it does show if there was a ball off the rim Carter could and would go get it. A, better than Griffin!
The intangibles: Needless to say, after the many moves and the injuries, Carter has gone through a lot more in his young life than many of his peers. Instead of coming up with excuses or becoming understandably bitter, he developed into one of the few vocal leaders on the team, and unlike Kevin Payton, he can actually bring that leadership to the court. His intensity is contagious and compares favorably to Dennis Rodman without any of the drama. Known by his teammates as “The Reverend” he gelled with his teammates, and took on this leadership role without ruffling any feathers, an exceedingly difficult task for a first year player. A for leadership and intensity
The highest of highs: He scored 14 points on 5-6 shooting against Penn State in his first extended minutes since the ankle injury. Four days later he followed it up with a 10 point, 11 rebound performance in a miracle win at Wisconsin that may more remembered for his near-impossible game saving block of a Jason Bohanon lay-up with 45 seconds left in regulation.
The lowest of lows: Other than the obvious ankle injury, Carter’s season took a dip along with the rest of the team in losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. During these two games, Carter shot a combined 2-10. Actually, from January 22nd against Purdue and that Ohio State game, he didn’t make more than one shot in a game.
Homework: Making lay-ups and open jump shots.