Following a very tumultuous two seasons at Louisville that made many wonder if how much of a future he has in basketball, Derrick Caracter transferred to UTEP and sat out a year as required. Now hes become a key contributor for a team thats on a 13-game winning streak and just clinched the Conference USA title last night, all while being a model citizen throughout the season.
Plagued by weight, conditioning, and attitude issues at Louisville, Caracter appears to have figured things out for the most part at UTEP, even if he still has room for improvement in many areas. His offensive profile still reads very similarly to what it was two years, if only for the difference that hes seeing a lot more time on the floor each game and not getting suspended multiple times per season.
In the post, Caracter has an extremely high skill level, excellent footwork and touch, and an incredibly high level of functional strength, making him a dominant force at this level. He can finish off either shoulder with ease, boasting effective hook shots with both hands, and he does an excellent job of establishing position without the ball and then backing his man down some more once he gets the ball. He reads his opponent very well when isolated, recognizing where the opening is and quickly and compactly going to whatever move and direction gives him the highest percentage opportunity.
Caracter uses a great combination of finesse and power when operating with his back to the basket, though there are some concerns projecting to the next level, as the release point on most of his moves is low, and he doesnt do a great job getting separation, having well below average explosiveness for an NBA big man.
Also, while Caracter has a very good feel for the game in the post, he is pretty turnover prone, getting called for offensive fouls, three-second violations, and travels pretty frequently, turning the ball over on a very high 23% of his possessions. He doesnt deal with double teams especially well either, and is prone to forcing his way through them, usually not making quick pass outs and only looking for them well after defenses collapse on him. While he clearly has the feel and skill-level to find the open man, as weve seen on a few occasions, he seems to elect not to at times, instead forcing his own offense.
Aside from his post game, Caracter has done an excellent job on the offensive glass, usually just out-willing opponents by throwing his body around and using his strength to pull down boards in a crowd, and hes shown a very high motor on the offensive end in general. While his jumper is still very much a work in progress, he has hit 3-of-11 threes this year, boasting decent form in spite of a slow, deliberate release. Hes also mixed in jumpers from face-up positions in the 10-15 foot range, turning into his defender to shoot them with inconsistent results. This isnt something anyone should expect to become a ripple of his game anytime soon, but for a player with question marks about how his game will translate to the pros, its good to see him working on skills that could help him down the road.
While Caracter has shown flashes of development in other areas of his game, he is still incredibly reliant on his post game, as 80 of his 142 charted offensive possessions on Synergy were of the post-up variety. Looking to the NBA, he will need to diversify his game some to find a long-term niche in all likelihood, and should probably look at fellow under-the-rim banger Craig Smith as a player to model himself after. Improving on his ability to finish off cuts and pick-and-rolls by using his massive body to seal out defenders and create angles is something that could help him contribute in multiple ways in the pros.
Defensively, Caracter has an improved effort level and focus this season, though there are still many things holding him back from being an effective defender. In the post, he actually shows decent fundamental in man-to-man situations, getting into his opponent and using his strength to hold position well. That said, with very little lift and a weak standing reach, hes very prone to being shot over, and can be outmaneuvered by quicker opponents as well.
Things get worse on the perimeter, where his fundamentals arent great and hes very slow of foot moving laterally, looking like a fish out of water when matched with someone resembling a stretch four. This is of great concern in projecting Caracter to the pros, given the makeup of the power forward position in the NBA, and could very well push him to the center spot instead, which he is clearly undersized for. Caracter also isnt great as a help defender, not having the athleticism to really do much on the weakside, as evidenced by his low steals and blocks numbers.
Looking forward, while this season has been a revelation for Caracter in terms of where he was two years ago, he still has much work to do if he wants to find a long-term home in the NBA, beyond just maintaining the physical and mental makeover hes undergone in El Paso. Shedding some more unnecessary weight, working hard on his explosiveness around the rim, putting in considerable work to become respectable as a perimeter defender, and diversifying his offensive game are all things that need to be priorities for him, though theyre all well within his reach if he puts in the work.
For all the areas in his game that could use some work, his skill level and strength in the post are things that very few players have, and other undersized 4s in the pros have proven this can be a potent weapon in the NBA.
Caracter is rumored to have one foot out the door already in El-Paso and has apparently already decided that hell be declaring for this years draft. Considering the numerous question marks teams have about his background, combined with the fact that hes hardly a cant miss-talent, its not out of the question that he goes undrafted.
While there will always be a lucrative market for his services in Asia (China and Korea) and in some parts of Europe, Caracter might want to at least consider the possibility of returning to UTEP, as another year of keeping his nose clean and improving his weaknesses could get him a lot closer to carving out a career in the NBA.