Why Chennedy Carter shouldn't be counted out for Rookie of the Year
The Atlanta Dream phenom dropped a game-high 26 points in her second game back
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Chennedy Carter #3 of the Atlanta Dream handles the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks on August 30, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chennedy Carter plays basketball with a chip on her shoulder.
It’s what drives her to want the ball in her hands in the dying seconds of a close game. It’s what drives her to be looking to prove people wrong every second she’s on the court. In part, it’s what drove her to leave Texas A&M after her junior season and enter the WNBA draft. She’d done what she wanted to do in college. She was ready to prove herself on the biggest stage.
To put it simply, it’s what makes her Chennedy Carter.
Every matchup is personal. Every possession is a chance to open someone’s eyes to who she is and what she can do.
Sunday night, Carter made her second start since suffering an ankle injury on August 10. In her first game back on Friday, she didn’t look completely comfortable and only scored three points in just under 17 minutes.
But on Sunday, the Carter we’ve seen all season was back. She had six points in the first five minutes of the game and didn’t slow down from there. She finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting — tying her career-high of made field goals.
“I feel like she just got her mojo back,” Monique Billings said. “I was shooting with her yesterday and she just needs to get her bounce and her confidence back. It looked like that was what she was doing today. She wasn't overthinking, and she just looked free out there.”
Perhaps no play is more evident of that freedom and confidence than Atlanta’s possession early in the fourth quarter while trailing Los Angeles, 66-63.
Carter brought the ball up the floor and quickly passed to Betnijah Laney to initiate the offensive sequence. Laney found Glory Johnson at the top of the key and as Johnson surveyed her options, an unexpected call came from over her left shoulder.
It was Carter, calling for the ball. Johnson quickly changed her direction to pass the ball over, and Carter rose straight up for a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Carter isn’t the highest-volume shooter from the perimeter. She’s attempted just 20 on the season, but she’s made nine of them. For the most part, she shoots the three when she’s feeling confident in her shot, and it’s almost like she dares the ball not to go in.
After a disappointing performance — particularly by Carter’s lofty standards for herself — in her first game back from injury on Friday, making that three said everything about Carter’s return to the floor.
“Hopefully with a game under her belt she comes with a little more confidence and can knock down some shots for us,” Dream coach Nicki Collen said before Sunday’s game. “… She’s just gotta relax a little bit. I think after missing six games, wanting to set the world on fire in your first game back, it’s just not that easy in this league. Hopefully, little by little, she’ll get her confidence back, she’ll be more comfortable and not put so much pressure on herself to carry us.”
Everything Collen hoped for came true. Carter was confident, comfortable and knocked down shots at every turn. It took her a minute to get comfortable again, but when Chennedy Carter is comfortable, look out.
“Honestly, I think (the Sparks) were just playing a lot of aggressive defense, which allowed me to attack a little bit more,” Carter said. Then, just before the game, Coach came out and said, ‘Be aggressive, use your ball screens, use your step up, find yourself, find your game,’ and that’s exactly what I tried to do.”
With six games left in the season, Carter has a chance to continue her string of successful games and get firmly back into the conversation for rookie of the year. She’s scored in double figures in eight of the 10 games she’s played. The only two times she missed scoring 10 or more was the game she got hurt in the first quarter and her first game back from the injury.
While Carter was out, fellow rookies like Crystal Dangerfield and Julie Allemand made strong cases for themselves in the rookie of the year race. There’s an argument that missing six games in a 22-game season could be disqualifying as other rookies have played more, but in such a unique season, it would be hard to rule out any player at this point.
The Atlanta Dream are a fundamentally different — and better — team when Carter is on the floor. Her offensive ability forces opposing defenses to challenge her on every possession, which opens things up for her teammates and allows her trademark aggressiveness to create highlight-reel plays.
Carter’s combination of offensive success and deep importance to her team is unmatched among the league’s rookies this year, and with six more games to prove her candidacy, bet against Carter at your own peril.
The chip on her shoulder will make sure of that.