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2020-21 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Review: #21 D.J. Carton

Let’s take a look back at what turned into the point guard’s only season with the Golden Eagles.

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - Marquette v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With the 2020-21 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, which means today we wrap things up with the talented transfer that has already left the program.........

D.J. Carton

Sophomore - #21 - Guard - 6’2” - 200 lbs. - Bettendorf, Iowa

D.J. Carton Traditional Stats

Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
27 31.1 4.5 10.0 44.6% 1.2 4.3 28.2% 2.8 3.7 74.3% 0.6 3.5 4.1 3.4 1.1 0.4 2.2 13.0

D.J. Carton Fancy Stats

ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
98.5 25.1%*** 23.6% 50.7% 54.9% 2.2% 12.2% 23.8%*** 23.9% 1.4% 2.2% 2.9 4.3*** 37.3%***

*** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com

WHAT WE SAID:

Reasonable Expectations

It is not hyperbolic to assume that D.J. Carton’s performance will dictate the Golden Eagles’ overall trajectory for the season. That’s why it’s in this section. With a more loaded incoming freshman class and the (hopeful?) emergence of Symir Torrence in the backcourt, the extent of that expectation will not go to the conclusion of Markus Howard’s “The team will perform as he does” line that we touted around this time a year ago. Still, Dawson Garcia is the only other player on this team with a comparable recruiting ranking to D.J., and he’s had *gestures in the direction of the entire world* to deal with in addition to trying to just get some quality practice time in with guys on his skill level.

In terms of the scheme, Carton fits like a glove. He’s at his peak working in pick and roll situations, which is partially why NBA scouts were salivating over him. He has incredible quickness for his 6’2” frame and he uses it to get effective shots at the rim. That’s what will separate him from guys like Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey. He’s a legitimate threat to shoot from deep, but if he’s getting those shots, it’s not off the dribble. That really makes him like almost every other basketball player, but Marquette fans have seen some unicorns over the last 4 years.

But Carton’s skillset is something that the team desperately needed at the end of last year, which was strong finishing around the rim. Here’s a fun stat that will make you mad: D.J. Carton, who had MU in a final six recruiting group back in the day, shot 39-for-59 (66%!) in the “shots at the rim” range last year. The only person on Marquette with a better percentage with that was Brendan Bailey, who only attempted 25 close twos in 11 more games played. Getting to and closing the deal at the rim is a desperate need for the team, and Carton does not sacrifice deep shots to get those since he made 40% of his threes last year. His shot release has always been annoyingly low but honestly, if he can get the shots off regularly and they go in 40% of the time, who cares other than NBA scouts who get paid to find the teeniest tiniest flaws you can possibly imagine.

All this is not to mask at all his passing skills, which are at a much higher level than any of the aforementioned attributes that he brings to the team. All of the “Wojo needs a passing point guard” dorks can finally shut the hell up even though they’ve spent the last half decade being 1) wrong and 2) boring. As the old saying goes, it’s called POINT guard, not PASS guard. Anyway, those weirdos will be more than satisfied with the touch and creativity that the southpaw from Bettendorf brings to the table. His quick first step on the pick and roll creates so many situations where interior defenders are required to step up and help. When a shot wasn’t there, he can make just about any pass to a cutting wing or opportunistic big man. Carton even adds some razzle-dazzle to the entire show as his court presence can lead to some aesthetically pleasing no-look passes and ankle breakers. He’s an extremely fun player to watch.

I bet you know what the flip side to this is, don’t you? Yeah, he turns it over a lot, or at least he did in his Ohio State minutes. Like a lot a lot. The vision is certainly there, but it’s far from fully developed. There’s no Special Scout Knowledge that watching most of his games can tell you here. It was a straightforward case of a freshman just getting a little cute sometimes. It happens and I’m sure he’ll get it straight. He and SLU’s Yuri Collins took the title for Most Stereotypical Freshman Point Guard last year.

Reasons To Get Excited

I have been absolutely salivating at a potential lineup involving Symir Torrence and Carton acting as dual point guards of sorts. It would be a little bit of a throwback to the 2017 offense but with a much more balanced attack and much more dynamic (and larger) guards running the show. In my mind, it’s like a good-cop/bad-cop scenario where Torrence is the steady hand of the maestro fertilizing the earth of the offense while Carton takes that rhythm and bends the court to his will. The offense could feature much more off-ball movement since there are two elite passers on the court and likely four shooters. Each guard has the type of size that can’t be hidden and will require extra eyes on pick-and-roll attempts, leaving shooters like Jamal Cain and Dawson Garcia open for pop opportunities. There are so many ways the offense could bloom to its full potential and Wojo has a history of playing two point guards like this in 2017.

And the best part is that there would be no additional sacrifice on defense. As a freshman, Symir used his hands so perfectly well on defense and could create easy turnovers for himself. While Carton would try to do too much in the passing game, he showed so much poise as a defender. Guards don’t often get blocked shots, but when they do it’s the result of patience and well-timed jumps when they’re backed down. Carton executed these situations like a five year pro, with by far the best block rate of any of the other wings on his team.

It’s not as bad as it used to be, but by golly do Steve Wojciechowski teams suck at defense, especially at the guard level. Having two capable floodwalls to stop any momentum getting into the paint is about the only time the defense has worked in the last few years. With the small lineups like this staff has been using, the bigs need opportunities to breathe. When the wings act like an NYC Subway turnstyle, the area of coverage for Theo John gets bigger and bigger and his increased motion can easily lead to unnecessary fouls. Having those two guards playing in tandem can bring Theo closer to the basket where he can make a difference and would massively improve the offensive ceiling.

Potential Pitfalls

I have been absolutely cringing at a potential lineup involving Koby McEwen and Carton acting as the typical point guard/shooting guard archetype. It would be a stupid throwback to watching Joseph Chartouny lead the offense but with worse off ball players. In my mind it’s like a bad-cop/worse-cop scenario where Carton is forced to fit in the pass first mold just to get Koby more shots because he’s The Senior Leader Who Deserves His Chance To Shine. This offense would feature a lot of stagnation because there are no other real threats to shoot from outside and McEwen has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to be a distributor despite evidence suggesting that he’s actually being kinda good at it. D.J. would be asked to conjure up an entire possession of offense off one one Theo John pick and the turnover problems would get much worse since he doesn’t have the insane scoring ability the Markus has. The offense would fall flat on its face in the same way as last year and Wojo has a history of being resistant to playing around with different lineups.

The defense would mostly be the same as last year. You as fans rated Koby as the worst defender on an already poor defensive team so that just means a bigger task for D.J. to deal with. It ends up being the worst of both worlds.

Yes, I just declared Carton’s biggest potential problem is literally nothing he can control because it’s another player on the team.

There’s a lot to love about what the former tippy top prospect brings to the table this year. The results that the team ultimately sees, though, is entirely dependent on the scheme around him. Wojo was beyond lucky to have the scoring talent of Markus Howard in his playbook for 4 years. This will be the big test of how he is able to use elite talent that requires a good system to work with, because while Carton may be a game changing type talent, he’s not the nuclear powered level scorer that can hide other flaws like Howard was.

oh no

oh no oh no oh no

I’m so very sorry, everyone. Our own Ben Snider called the whole season back before it all started.

Look at that Potential Pitfalls section again. That whole first paragraph of it. That was prrrrreettttty much exactly what happened for Games #1 through #22 of the 2020-21 Marquette basketball season, as that’s when Steve Wojciechowski finally sent Koby McEwen out of the starting lineup.

It also describes what happened to D.J. Carton’s season pretty well. His field goal attempts per 40 minutes rate stayed right about in the same spot that it was when he was playing part-time minutes at Ohio State as a freshman. That indicates to me that while he was playing a much bigger role for the Golden Eagles in terms of minutes and so forth, he wasn’t being asked to do more in terms of scoring even though he has the skills to succeed at that. While his assist rate was somewhere in the neighborhood of fine to good as he ranked in the top 250 in the country, we did not get to see a noticeable improvement in Carton’s turnover problems from freshman to sophomore year. His usage rate didn’t change all that much between Chris Holtmann’s offense and the MU offense under Wojciechowski, but the turnover rate still stayed north of 23%. When that’s your point guard, that’s a problem.

Speaking of problems, let’s talk about the fact that D.J. Carton completely forgot how to shoot a basketball from 22 feet and two inches away from the rim. That’s where the three-point line is, and Carton was atrocious at firing off three-pointers this past season. His per-40 attempt rate when from 5.0 to 5.6, barely much of an rise, but his shooting percentage plummeted from an excellent 40% to a very bad 28.2%. Specifically, Carton couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when he was left alone and got a pass. Three tweets from the same day from Paint Touches late in the season, so this isn’t a Small Sample Size Theater thing:

The percentages in that last one are the percentile ranks nationally for Carton at the time. He was deadly lethal when creating his own three-pointer, middle of the road with a hand in his face after catching a pass, and “well, maybe we shouldn’t actually pass it to him” when left wide open. You know what that leads to? Defenses leaving him cooooommmmmpletely wide open because they figured out they could and thus collapsing to the interior and clogging things up and making life harder for Marquette. Yay, a compounding problem! Sure, leaving him open has the potential to give him a head start on a drive to the rim for one of his very amazing powerful hammer dunks that we got to see again and again this past season, but that presumes that it was easy to find Carton with the pass with the defenses tilting towards everyone else on the court.

And so, while Carton was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school, and while he had a very solid to good year coming off the bench at Ohio State, very little of that potential was realized at Marquette. Whose fault is that? Other than the missed wide open three-pointers which were, to a certain extent, just the byproduct of bad luck? Honestly? Probably not Carton’s.

And now he’s off to a pro career. Not an NBA Draft spot, he’s nowhere close to that. What led him to that choice after a disappointing year at Marquette as he lasted well into Shaka Smart’s announcement as the new head coach before announcing that he was signing with an agent? Who can say?

By the way, if you think that this review is a little on the lackluster side, well, you try motivating yourself to write 700 words about a guy who wasn’t very good but led the team in minutes and then left before you had a chance to write the review after playing for only one year which happens to be a year where you could not watch a single game in person. SURPRISE: It’s not fun or easy.

BEST GAME

I think this comes down to “how much does what was going on with the team affect how you pick this?” 20/7/3 with a block and two steals in a six point road win sounds pretty good..... except that was at DePaul on March 2nd when the season was beyond saving. 18/9/3 in a three point home win? Pretty good stuff, except that was the Butler win that turned into the other game when MU lost six of seven in the middle of season. Those are Carton’s two KenPom MVP game performances, but I can’t in good conscience give it to either one.

20 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals on the road against a top 10 team, including going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc? Now you’re talking! That performance by Carton helped propel Marquette to their 89-84 win over Creighton to open up Big East play. That’s a big performance in a big time spot, and it’s not that game’s fault that everything went to hell after that.

SEASON GRADE

Look. Carton turned the ball over too much on a team that turned the ball over too much, and he was the point guard. That’s bad. He attempted over four three-pointers per game while barely getting one of them to drop every night. While a lot of Marquette’s failings as a team in 2020-21 can be attributed to the guy with the crew cut standing over on the sideline, at the end of the day, a lot of things that went wrong with this team were because D.J. Carton just was not very good. Sure, there was the amazing athleticism that led to him thunder dunking on people, and that was neat..... but he definitely didn’t look like the guy who was a top 40 prospect coming out of high school, and he barely looked like the guy who did some nice things off the bench for Ohio State the year before.

It is what it is, I guess. I give his season a six, mostly because I just don’t have it in me to be very mean to him.