But Cartwright established himself as a higher level prospect during an impact junior season. By the time the spring travel season kicked off this past April, he'd been evaluated in person by Pac-12 programs such as Arizona State and Colorado.
His performances during the weeks that followed for L.A. Rockfish propelled him to further stature, and by June he bore the look of an obvious high-major talent. Additionally, his strong academic credentials attracted interest from Ivy League institutions as well.
He then finished with a bang out in Las Vegas last month. At the Fab 48, he became a featured attraction and vaulted to that next level of recruiting esteem. Nevertheless, some scouts and coaches remain higher on him than others, and in the following sections we'll examine why.
No one disputes Cartwright's intangibles. That's the aspect of his game that enjoys a sterling consensus, due to his toughness and competitive zeal. Rockfish came up short at the Fab 48, but Cartwright almost single-handedly dragged them forward.
Straddling the line between confidence and arrogance can be difficult for young athletes, but Cartright already has positioned himself safely towing that line. He enjoys a verbal exchange with opponents but doesn't become distracted by his own hoops prowess or fiery temperament. Additionally, he makes certain to communicate with his own teammates, most of all, and point guard is the position best suited for a vocal leader.
His tangibles also warrant praise. Cartwright is a big-time jump shooter who spots up for threes, sets them up off the dribble and uses high screens to knock in medium-range shots going either right or left. He's also a fine passer and doesn't lose sight of the crucial scoring/distributing balance.
Scoring point guards have enjoyed high measures of success in recent years, both in college and the NBA, and thus Cartwright plays a very modern style.
Here's where things get murky. People generally agree on Cartwright's positives — in a general sense, if not on the exact degrees — but assessments of his limitations fluctuate wildly.
On one hand you'll read that he lacks quickness, and defensively he did appear to have issues at times this summer. He doesn't possess the frame to become a power defender, and major quickness does appear to pose him problems.
But every player struggles with major quickness. That's why it's so valuable to players who have it. Whether Cartwright ranks as average laterally or above-average laterally will go a long way toward determining his basketball future, however, and currently that issue looms as the most contentious pertaining to his game.
For greater perspective, colleague Josh Gershon — who has observed him in action as much as anyone on the circuit — believes the athleticism concerns are unfounded. He has described Cartwright as "terrific" in terms of lateral movement, which though not the consensus does merit inclusion into the discussion.
Bottom line: If he can merely hold his own physically against elites, his skills and intangibles will enable him to shine; if not, superior athletes will be able to negate many of his strengths.
The opinion here at Scout always has been bullish. We regard Cartwright as sufficiently quick to compete at the major conference level, and a top-notch shooter provides value no matter the state of his wheels. Given that he's also a fine passer and spirited competitor, we like his chances to succeed.
And then there's the matter of where that success may transpire. Stanford is recruiting him vigilantly on the basis that the Cardinal can bridge the gap between athletics and academics, but Andy Enfield, Steve Alford and other Western head coaches also watched him in person last month. He reportedly carries Pac-12 offers from the Cardinal, Utah, Colorado and Oregon State.
However one assesses Cartwright's promise, his thin frame and relatively ordinary finishing ability likely will make him a four-year college player. That's a very good thing for schools that don't frequently recruit elite prospects, and his natural leadership attributes could make Cartwright the face of someone's program for a couple of years.
Adding strength will be key, as will continuing to develop his penchant for unleashing dagger jump shots. He's enough of a true floor general that he's unlikely to spend much time off the point of attack, but his shooting could prove to be a key offensive weapon for his team and thus learning to free himself with screens will make him that much more effective. The better his Plan A, the more he'll require a Plan B and Plan C.