clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Noah Carter’s recent struggles in the lane mean for Missouri

The fifth-year senior’s habits for post-ups and rim finishes has hit a rough patch as the Tigers’ schedule toughens up.

Missouri v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Early in the second half Sunday, Missouri found itself needing to halt Seton Hall’s momentum. Breakdowns on back-to-back possessions gifted the Pirates open and unhurried 3-pointers that stretched their lead to seven.

So, MU applied a familiar tourniquet: it called a pistol set involving Sean East II, Tamar Bates, and Noah Carter.

Run on the left side of the T-Mobile Arena floor, Bates dribbled into a ball screen set in the left slot, followed by Carter drifting more than rolling to the block. Unable to turn the corner and assault the paint, Bates reversed the ball to East, who pinged an entry pass to Carter.

On the catch, Carter’s conditions appeared ideal. He’d drawn Dre Davis, a wing, on a switch. No help defender lurked nearby. And a few dribbles with a low center of gravity would be enough to execute a familiar half-turn and loft a baby hook over his left shoulder.

Sure enough, Carter followed that script to the letter, easily backing Davis into the middle of the paint — and watching his shot bounce harmlessly of the heel of the rim. On the Pirates’ next trip, Davis canned a corner 3 in what unfolded as a 10-0 run to put MU in a 14-point hole.

Sometimes, the old tactics don’t extract familiar results.

After 11 games, Carter’s shots at the rim yield just 1.150 points, according to Synergy Sports data. That’s a 20 percent dip over his career average and a figure that merely qualifies as average among Division-I players. And it’s not just annoying for Carter, considering MU’s roster construction hinges on him replacing the bulk of Kobe Brown’s output.

Making it more bothersome is the fact Carter’s performed admirably at that task. He’s averaging more than 2.3 more touches per game in the half-court. And he’s shored up areas like shooting off the catch, knocking down 34.1 percent of attempts beyond the arc.

Shot Portfolio | Half-Court | Noah Carter | 2023-24

Type Poss Points PPP Per Game FG FGA FG% eFG%
Type Poss Points PPP Per Game FG FGA FG% eFG%
Catch-and-Shoot - 3FGA 44 45 1.023 4 15 44 34.1 51.1
At-Rim 40 51 1.15 3.6 23 40 57.5 57.5
Hook 10 8 0.8 0.9 4 10 40 40
Dribble Jumper - 3FGA 7 0 0 0.6 0 7 0 0
Runner 4 2 0.5 0.4 1 4 25 25
Total 105 106 1.009 9.5 43 105 40.9 48.1
Data Source: Synergy Sports

Still, Carter’s overall efficiency is down nearly 15 percent, a decline tied to tough sledding from point-blank range. Those struggles have also been narrowly confined to the tougher foes on MU’s slate. Against six KenPom top-100 teams, Carter’s only mustered 0.759 points per possession on layups, dunks, and hook shots. That sample that includes Sunday’s 0-of-5 showing in Kansas City.

And there’s no reprieve coming.

When MU jogs on to the floor tonight for Bragging Rights, it’ll face an Illinois team ranked 45th nationally in defending the rim, per Synergy. It would also be logical for the Illini to task Quincy Guerrier, who only concedes 0.55 PPP at the rim, to slow Carter. Coach Brad Underwood can also task Dain Dainja — and his 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds — to serve as an immovable object once anchored.

The outlook doesn’t change much once SEC play arrives. Half of the conference finds itself ranked in the top 75 nationally for defending the rim, per Synergy data. Nine squads are among the top 50 in block percentage. Nearly half of Carter’s outings for the next two months see him facing defenses constructed and staffed to stop him.

There’s not much slack in Mizzou’s rope to withstand Carter dropping off. As Matt Watkins outlined this week, the back end of the Tigers’ rotation is already struggling with how to apportion its workload in a sensible way. It’s partially explains Nick Honor’s ramped up efforts playing downhill and Sean East II’s gusto in pick-and-rolls. In Carter’s case, it’s meant wringing every bit of efficiency from old habits to reach the tin.

At-Rim Efficiency | Play Type| KenPom Top 100 | Noah Carter

Play Type Possessions Points PPP
Play Type Possessions Points PPP
Post Up 13 12 0.923
Transition 3 6 2.000
Spot Up 5 4 0.800
Cut 4 2 0.500
Roller 3 0 0.000
PNR 2 2 1.000
Putback 2 3 1.500
All 32 29 0.906
Data Source: Synergy Sports

Against quality competition, Carter’s rim attempts are worth just 0.906 PPP, but that includes a trio of rim runs and earning a three-point play on a putback. Without them, that value sinks quickly to 0.741 PPP. Even then, Carter’s work on the low block (0.923 PPP) trumps the NCAA median and would rank in the 56th percentile nationally.

So, we can’t pin all of Carter’s struggles on post touches going belly up. That said, it doesn’t mean opposing coaching staffs have trouble deducing and describing his repertoire. Consider this: Carter pounds out a least one dribble on 90 percent of his touches. Almost 68 percent of touches come over his left shoulder. His most-frequent countermeasure is a drop step.

Post-Up Preferences | Noah Carter | Career

Location Dribble Shoulder Move Poss Points PPP FG FGA FG%
Location Dribble Shoulder Move Poss Points PPP FG FGA FG%
Left Block Yes Left Hook 42 39 0.929 17 40 42.5
Right Block Yes Left Basket 19 25 1.316 10 16 62.5
Right Block Yes Left Drop Step 16 12 1.5 4 14 28.6
Left Block Yes Right Basket 12 13 1.083 6 12 50
Right Block Yes Left Hook 12 19 1.583 9 12 75
Data Source: Synergy

At Northern Iowa, Carter relied on his hook shot playing on the left block — a routine that he carried with him to Columbia. Any diversity he displays is shone playing on the right side of the lane. Assuming he can’t take the ball directly the rim, he’ll try the aforementioned drop step, and occasionally mix in up-and-under finishes. And once the ball goes into him, it only gets sprayed out for an assist 23 percent of the time.

And this is what it looks like in loving color.

Those clips are drawn from sets where MU relies on three subsections of its playbook: pistol, delay, and staggered ball screens. But they share several factors.

  • Empty Corner: There’s no additional defender near the baseline to help with a double team or dig out the ball when Carter puts the ball on the floor.
  • Roll into the Post: With switching so common now, setting a ball screen in the slot lets Carter draw a guard he can bury on the block.
  • Five-Out Spacing: MU stations players in the opposite corner, wing and slot, holding off-ball defenders in place and giving Carter easy passing reads.

But as you can see, even if Carter draws a guard and makes a clean catch, he’s finding it tough to punish defenses. Part of it is personnel. High-major programs stock rosters with wings whose measurables compare favorably to Carter’s 6-foot-6 frame. In every snippet, Carter’s jostling with a defender as tall or taller than him, while the likes of Hunter Dickinson and Federiko Federiko are only a step away ready to provide additional deterrence.

Making Carter work a little harder to use his preferred finish lets the help defender slide over. Playing from behind and walling up can force him baseline into the same vertical face. You rarely see him catch and make a quick turn. Guess how many times Carter has faced up a defender and attacked? Per Synergy, the tally is five — for his career.

It’s also a rougher go trying to bully his way into a post-up, whether it’s crab-dribbling from the wing or after making a catch at the elbow. Carter might possess guile, but again, MU’s opponents often have the length and athleticism to counter.

Those traits posed similar problems when Carter played off the catch and drove the ball, especially against Memphis. That night, UM simply dispatched wing Jaykwon Walton to check Carter. Even when he made clean catches at the top of the key or in the slot, he couldn’t maneuver past the Wichita State transfer, who stayed attached to Carter’s hip and forced him into tougher extension finishes. Meanwhile, Carter relies slightly more on his right hand as a driver, going that way 56 percent of the time.

Carter’s knack for reading the game made him a potent cutter last season, especially along the baseline and drifting to the short corner. That tendency, however, was also pragmatic. He often shared the floor with Kobe Brown, the main conduit of the Tigers’ offense when it ran through the elbow and mid-post. Brown’s presence created a gravitational pull on defenses — and opened the kinds of seams and half-spaces Carter exploited.

It seemed reasonable to project Carter inheriting a healthy portion of those duties ahead of the season. Instead, East emerged as the catalyst, resulting in the Tigers paring back their usage of point, delay, and chin sets. Even if Carter wasn’t the connector in those actions, curbing reliance on them diminishes the high-value cutting opportunities he feasted on last season.

There’s also this variable: Aidan Shaw’s most productive touches come as a baseline cutter, darting from the corner when MU overloads one side of the floor. Carter sometimes subsists on other varieties, like vertical cuts from a bluff handoff.

On Sunday, Carter’s struggles manifested when playing as a roll man, whether slipping a screen, popping, driving a gap, or rolling on an empty side of the floor. That said, those types of touches – worth 1.333 PPP – remain a refuge. For now, his day against the Pirates is merely a smudge.

To be clear: none of this is a criticism of Carter’s efforts.

Like Honor and East, he’s boosted his efforts to fill the void created by this offseason’s roster turnover. And on paper, this season’s triumvirate’s filling 32.9 possessions each night in the half court — almost four more than Brown, DeAndre Gholston, and D’Moi Hodge offered up. Meanwhile, this new trio’s efficiency is only 2.3 percent lower.

Expecting Carter to carbon copy Brown was never fair, but he doesn’t need to be. Replicating his performance last season at a similar efficiency would yield another three points per game, a boost that wouldn’t require overhauling his shot selection. Simply cashing in a few more of the ones he already generates would pass muster.

And it should go without saying that Carter could use some help.

Right now, MU’s bench isn’t pulling its weight. Spots four through eight in the rotation average 23 touches in the half-court – or 10 fewer than last season. Then, Caleb Grill’s injury carved away another seven touches. On any night, the Tigers can expect reserves to rack up 16 points in 15 possessions. That’s down more than 50 percent from a year ago.

Even if Carter matched Brown’s usage, MU would still be short by at least eight possessions per game. Demanding more from him also strikes me as unfair when Shaw, John Tonje, and Connor Vanover combine for 10 possessions per game. You can also infer the search has led Gates to reach further down his bench.

If Carter’s current run of form continues, the bench’s modest contributions will make the delicate math that defines MU’s high-variance style harder to square.