In the weeks leading up to the season, this series will dive deep into the players we see making a push for time in the rotation for the 2022-2023 Missouri basketball squad. Some installments might be more in-depth than others, if only because of the data and film available. In addition, evaluating players with multiple years of experience is more straightforward than younger peers.
The pieces read like a birds-eye scouting report. They skew more toward the offensive end of the court for two reasons. First, a player’s offensive metrics are more reliable than defensive data and less team-dependent. Second, it’s considerably easier to describe a player’s qualities with more well-known offensive statistics. As always, we encourage interaction from our readers. Please drop us a comment or find me on Twitter @DataMizzou.
On April 5th of this year, big news broke:
Sources close to the situation(Noah Carter) state Noah Carter will be returning to Mizzou next year— The Antlers (@The_Antlers) April 6, 2023
One of three returning players who chose to utilize their fifth year of college eligibility, Noah Carter has the biggest shoes to fill. Nick Honor and Sean East II were both the primary men at the point and will be asked to improve upon their performance. Comparatively, Carter will seek to step into the role vacated by Los Angeles Clippers forward, Kobe Brown.
It’s never easy to follow greatness.
Noah does appear well-equipped for the task. The former University of Northern Iowa forward transferred in after three years in the Missouri Valley Conference. There were moments a year ago when you would question whether any drop-off would be realized. However, being cast for a starring role requires patience and consistency. In a way, it’s like fishing.
Noah Carter | 6’6” | Playmaking Forward
Noah’s ascension into the SEC saw his usage rate take a hit, dropping from 28.1% as a junior at Northern Iowa to just 21.6% with Mizzou. This is entirely normal. Most transfers moving up a level in competition will see a similar decrease. What’s important, however, is that his efficiency remained high. His offensive efficiency actually increased though his overall PPP dipped slightly from 1.055 as a junior to 1.043 as a senior. These are really encouraging numbers when you consider he’s going to be tasked with bucking historical trends.
Where things went sideways for him a year ago was in his consistency. During his first 17 games, he logged 10.7 points per contest. Once the rigors of conference play hit and he experienced an absence due to illness, he averaged just 5.6 points per outing over the following 9 games. Carter finished strong, however, averaging 11.8 points per game over the team’s final 8 games. At times he was the most productive player on the floor.
Carter’s value offensively is two-fold, much like Kobe Brown. First, Carter has maintained a healthy 55.7% eFG on his career and saw that number rise to 57.2% in 2023. He’s been exceptional inside the arc, often using his quickness and sneaky athleticism to beat bigger defenders off the dribble. His 2pt FG% in 2023 was an extremely impressive 65.6%. If there is a weakness in his shooting profile, it’s his inconsistency on outside jumpers. Carter averaged just 0.960 PPP on catch and shoot opportunities and converted only 32.2% of his three-point attempts. Much like we witnessed with Kobe Brown, seeing that number rise is a complete game-changer.
Second, Carter has excelled as a playmaker at his position. Mizzou’s offense features many post touches from the elbows as well as perimeter touches for their playmaking forwards. The thought process is simple. If you have a front court player who can shoot, pass and dribble, use him to draw the defense’s interior players away from the rim and attack by any of those methods. Carter sported a 15.4% assist rate a year ago, which was only a touch lower than Brown’s. Being a matchup nightmare is a boon for this offense and Carter has the skills to make it happen.
Elsewhere on the floor, Noah has been an adequate free throw shooter, though you’d like to see him get to the line more often. His rebounding marks are passable if you primarily consider his physical attributes rather than his at times, ill-fitted positional designation — the post. As is the case with most of his teammates he does well protecting the ball. Defensively he struggled at times guarding quicker players on the perimeter and bigger players on the block. This is to be expected when he himself is a matchup issue offensively. It’s something that’s assuredly being worked on during the offseason.
Noah is a fairly consistent offensive player across the board, favoring a lot of touches from spot ups, as a screener in pick and rolls, a transition scorer and even dabbling in isolations and ball screens. His versatility is what makes him such an ideal weapon. In reality, his only two play-type “weaknesses” from a year ago were his transition scoring — a very low 0.868 PPP — and his spot up opportunities — 0.988 PPP, a below part figure. Seeing an increase in outside shooting proficiency would dramatically alter those outputs.
There’s not a lot of guesswork in Carter’s projected role. He’s going to play significant minutes and will likely be asked to increase his usage. He’ll be asked to do a few more things in terms of playmaking and initiating, whether that’s from elbow touches or inverted ball screens. That will complement his proven skills in pick and pops, advantageous post-ups and his elite movement away from the ball. A projection of 71% of minutes played, 24% usage and averaging 14-15 points per game is not out of the question. Should his outside shooting accuracy increase, if only into the mid-30s, I expect Carter to backfill the majority of the production lost by Kobe Brown’s departure and contend for All-SEC honors.
When Noah Carter committed to Mizzou, it didn’t take long to see what made him an enticing target in the transfer portal.
Few players better embody the term “connector” that Dennis Gates tosses around. Carter can dribble, pass, and shoot. He’s comfortable catching at the elbow, pick-and-popping, or running dribble handoffs. And at times last season, Carter’s ability to read the game made him a potent cutter.
He also paired easily with Brown. When they shared the floor, MU owned a 24.0 net rating, per Pivot Analysis lineup data. It also raises the obvious question: What happens now that Brown is gone and drawing NBA paychecks? Let’s look at a handful of lineups featuring Carter and fellow vets Nick Honor and Sean East.
Noah Carter | Top Lineups with Returners | 2022-23
Collectively, those groups posted a 15.7 net rating, which is respectable enough. However, Carter operated as an undersized post in all but one. That’s unlikely to happen this season. With Jordan Butler and Connor Vanover in the fold, the graduate senior is likely getting bumped up to the hybrid spot formerly occupied by Brown.
Just one lineup in the table reflects that shift, and its net rating (5.78) is a substantial drop-off. Now, you can pin some of that on Mohamed Diarra, who opponents ruthlessly targeted in pick-and-rolls that pulled him out of the paint. While Hodge could close down shooters and generate some turnovers, quality guards also exploited him off the bounce. And we’ve already outlined East’s particular struggles.
This season, MU’s rotation boasts legitimate size along the back line. Tamar Bates showed promise as a dogged on-ball stopper, while Caleb Grill and John Tonje are reliable enough off the ball. So, there’s a world where the Tigers’ team defense improves. All of those players can shoot the rock, too. If Carter’s a reasonable proxy for Brown, any offensive dip should be minimal.
Taking on Brown’s portfolio might entail Carter spending more time running MU’s pinch series – also known as the point series in Princeton vernacular – that uses the elbow as a hub. Once the ball gets tossed to that spot, the Tigers can run at least eight actions off it.
In the first clip, it’s a simple overload. Carter dribbles at a weak-side defender, occupying his attention enough for Hodge to cut along the baseline. It’s also a read Carter frequently made at UNI.
From there, the complexity – and stress on a defense — builds. Against Kentucky, Brown curls off a down screen set by DeAndre Gholston. By contrast, Honor uses the same action to pop to the corner for 3-ball. Carter can also follow up the down screen with a dribble-handoff.
If the ball has to change sides of the floor, it can swing back to Carter for a ball screen at the elbow, a prelude to a kickout. Or he can initiate a two-man game and flip the ball back to a shooter.
These passes look easy, but they result from Carter closely reading how a defense reacts to the following sequence in the chain.
It’s also worth monitoring how Carter uses the pinch series as a scorer. Last season, Brown mercilessly hunted mismatches, driving by slower bigs or backing down a smaller guard. If either sagged, he’d loft up a soft jumper.
Yet Carter seems more inclined to space out, set his feet, and punish a defense from behind the arc. That holds regardless of his role: catching at the elbow to start a possession, occupying the weak side as a spacer, or picking and popping if the shot clock dwindles.
That preference isn’t objectionable — assuming Carter lifts his shooting percentage. He made 32.4 percent of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season but was closer to the D-I median (35.0%) when popping out.
A pinch set could flow into a post-up for Carter, usually after he slipped to the block from the wing. But a punch play early in the shot clock — and before the defense can load up — often generated equal or better results.
Carter’s efficiency (0.912 PPP) isn’t bad on those possessions, but his value comes from inverting the floor, linking actions together, and understanding how to leverage a defense. Post-ups have also never been a feature of Gates’ offense, which gins up rim attempts by spacing the floor enough for cutters or bludgeoning teams in transition.
Selfishly, we hope Carter’s likely move to the four-spot doesn’t erode his opportunities to pilot Mizzou’s version of the delay series, where Carter’s equally skilled at moving the ball where it needs to go and running some secondary actions — DHOs, Chase, and Zoom — on the weak side of the floor.
Carter will put the ball on the floor as a roll man, mainly when MU goes to five-out alignments. When teams hard hedge, it creates space and opportunities for Carter to attack with the rim with a straight-line drive. And in some spread or empty-side PNRs, he can slip to the mid-post or use the air space to catch a lob entry.
Replacing Brown, though, goes beyond skill set and scheme. There were games last season – notably against Arkansas and Utah State – where MU stripped its sets to the studs and simply got Kobe the ball in his preferred spots and let him work.
That’s not to be dismissive of what Carter offers. We just haven’t seen him perform the same task at the high-major level. Then again, there’s a reason Brown evolved into a first-round draft pick. Those guys aren’t easy to replace.
More pressing questions crop up when we evaluate Carter’s defensive impact.
In raw statistical terms, he grades out poorly, allowing more than 1.000 PPP, per Synergy data. However, those woes weren’t rooted in the fact he was an undersized five guarding post-ups. And as we’ve discussed with other returners, some of his difficulties guarding spot-ups could owe themselves to MU’s stylistic approach.
Yet those caveats don’t cover Carter’s struggles when playing in space, whether it’s an ISO touch (0.974 PPP) or taking on a dribbler (0.944 PPP) in a PNR. They were likely priced into MU’s thinking, given that Carter faced the same issues against Missouri Valley teams.
On tape, it’s easy to spy what goes awry. Smaller guards with decent burst and the ability to sink low can give Carter fits, even if he gives them some cushion. And when he’s in a PNR coverage, the default should probably be a switch.
Sometimes, though, that simply didn’t happen. In the NCAA tournament, it was interesting to see hybrid wings like Princeton’s Tosan Evbuomwan or Utah State’s Sean Bairstow use their size and footwork to bruise past Carter.
What should help is having an actual rim protector as a backstop. For example, Vanover specialized in that job at Oral Roberts. Another salve could be Bates’ athleticism and ability to fight over screens, allowing Carter to sit more in drop coverage.
We can speed through this section. If you’ve read any of our other previews for returners, you know MU’s issues with recovering to shooters and in switches stemmed from rolling aggressive help to the middle of the lane. And again, Carter’s three previous seasons, where he allowed 1.149 PPP, offered evidence that spot-up shooters could exploit him.
Last season, he had to do that job more often in a system that asked him to cover more ground. It’s still gnarly to see that shooters drilled 40.7 percent of their attempts. But at least we know why it transpired.
Carter wasn’t entirely helpless when playing in space, either. When matched against stretch bigs or less skilled wings, which are common on some SEC rosters, he not only sat down and moved his feet but also created turnovers.
Brandon Miller was a top-five draft pick, but he routinely struggled to get separation from Carter on attacks from the slot gap. When Carter stayed attached to Evbuomwan’s hip, the results were drastically different.
Again, personnel matters. Jumbo point guards like Arkansas Anthony Black or pacier wings like Matthew Murrell and Tennessee’s Jahmai Mashack didn’t always exploit Carter. He could give a bit of ground, take away an obvious angle to get downhill, and force those players into guarded jumpers.
Will that be the case every night? No. But historically, the SEC is not a place where rosters are packed to the gills with skill. It routinely ranks near the bottom nationally in 3-point percentage. Its blocks and steals rates are high. This is a conference where live-body athletes want to get downhill and have confrontations at the rim.
Those duels might not end well for Carter. But he can force shots with greater difficulty if he draws matchups or switches where raw athleticism isn’t a factor.
Lastly, Carter can routinely supply timely help in the lane, whether it’s rotating to the weak side, filling the middle gap, or helping down from the nail. Routine? Sure. But if Mizzou intends to ramp up pressure on the perimeter, suitable insurance in gaps is a requirement.
A funny thing happens when a player’s offensive usage creeps up: their defensive role shrinks. For example, Brown averaged 9.8 defensive possessions per 40 minutes as a sophomore. By last season, that volume shrank to 6.4. Why? Because defense is a chance for a team’s top threats to rest.
Assuming Carter’s offensive touches ramp up, a similar tradeoff might occur. Coupled with improved personnel throughout the rotation, we might also see a modest improvement in his defensive efficiency.
It’s also hard to see other contenders elbow Carter out as Brown’s successor. Aidan Shaw isn’t a facilitator, while John Tonje wants to spend more time as a wing. Jesus Carralero-Martin possesses traits that overlap, but his career efficiency lags significantly.
The job is his for the taking. How he handles it will be a significant factor in how Mizzou’s season plays out.