An Elite Catch
As noted in The Bootleg's earlier coverage of his recruitment, Robert Cartwright emerged into a national prospect thanks to superb play during the spring and summer AAU circuit, rising from unranked to 50th overall in Scout's rankings in a matter of a couple months. To that end, Cartwright now finds himself in the discussion for top point guard on the West Coast in a year where the region is particularly loaded at the position, having already produced several high major signees to date, most notably Josh Perkins (Gonzaga), Jordan McLaughlin (USC), and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Arizona).
The overwhelming majority of the time a staff lands a prospect as highly touted as Cartwright, much credit is due in regard to their recruiting efforts, particularly in their ability to hold off other equally, if not more, attractive suitors. Here, again, that is the case: the Cardinal overcame late pushes from several Pac-12 programs—among them Colorado and Arizona State, who both offered, and UCLA, who may not have offered but did express interest—as well as Pittsburgh, who also extended an offer. Even more so than their ability to close, however, the staff should be primarily commended for its deft work in evaluating Cartwright early on. Johnny Dawkins and primary Cartwright recruiter assistant Mike Schrage closely monitored the lead guard in the initial stages of the process, making him a primary target for the class much before other programs took notice. At day's end, Cartwright related that he felt "wanted" at Stanford, praising the staff for recruiting him as hard as any other school from day one.
Dawkins' Recruiting Resume
And so, in that regard, the Cartwright commitment may certainly work to once more validate Dawkins and co. as superb recruiters and talent evaluators. Indeed, considering the shrunken pool of top 100 players that Stanford can even recruit, any nationally known and coveted commitment is not to be taken lightly. That being said, this "validation" is far from a revelation; this staff has repeatedly proven the ability to attract top-level talent to The Farm in years past—2010 signees Anthony Brown (four stars) and Dwight Powell (four stars), 2011 signee Chasson Randle (four stars), 2012 signees Rosco Allen (four stars) and Grant Verhoeven (four stars), and 2013 signee Marcus Allen (four stars) all come to mind.
If we are, then, to consider the Cartwright commitment as a type of potentially momentous occasion, a potential turning point—attention that I believe it warrants, if albeit only in the hypothetical—for the Dawkins era, it should not be one framed in the terms of some formulaic generalization that it is the latest in a trend of Dawkins stockpiling premier talent, another impressive recruiting victory that will push the Stanford on-court product over the proverbial hump. Undoubtedly, this is a type of generalization that has left fans scratching their heads in recent years.
Point Guard: A Major Need
Thus, to do so with Cartwright would be to miss the true importance of this signing as compared to any others in years past or to potentially any others to come this year. That is, the importance stems not merely from Cartwright's talent level, but rather in his standing as a true point guard, the first such signee of Dawkins's tenure and, hence, first major step in shoring up the shaky play that has plagued the position during Dawkins's time on The Farm.
It is no secret that strong lead guard play is the key to success in college basketball, a point cemented every single March and to a large extent by Stanford's own history. Undoubtedly, the faces of some of Stanford's most successful and, more importantly, most talent-maximizing teams have been Arthur Lee and Chris Hernandez, respectively. By that same token, many an underachieving team has struggled to find a backcourt identity.
Recent Struggle at the Position
Since 2008-2009, Dawkins's first year on The Farm, the list of players to have seen time at point guard consists of Trent Johnson signees Mitch Johnson, Drew Shiller, Da'Veed Dildy, and Jarrett Mann as well as Dawkins recruits Gabe Harris, Aaron Bright, and Chasson Randle. And while more than a few have possessed some of the qualities necessary to success as a college point guard, it has more often than not come with a caveat that has severely limited that particular player's ceiling and/or forced the backcourt into compromising situations.
Johnson worked effectively as distributor but was limited in creating his own offense. Mann, Harris, and Dildy's defensive prowess came with glaring weaknesses on offense. Shiller excelled, much like Bright currently excels, as an outside shooter but had a hard time staying in front of opposing point guards, just as Bright has had difficulty physically matching stronger guards. Randle, labeled a point guard prospect out of high school, is most comfortable (and not to mention, most needed) in a scoring role, but not naturally suited to distribute, and often struggles against defensive pressure.
As a result, Stanford has repeatedly found itself in a situation in which it is trying to make one true point guard out of two guards that conceivably complement each other well enough to "satisfy the requirement," a strategy that may work well on paper but that has resulted in both unintended consequences and on-court chemistry issues. In particular, Bright and Randle's extended time together in the backcourt last year stands out.
While Bright often effectively alleviated Randle of the primary ballhandling duties and worked better as a distributor, playing both together created a disadvantage for the Cardinal on defense, leaving them certainly undersized and often too slow to stop dribble penetration. To put it bluntly, one player is often easy enough to hide on defense. But attempted to hide two players makes things more difficult.
Moreover, while Randle is first and foremost a scoring guard, that's not to say that he functions best off the ball. In fact, taking the ball out of his hands severely curbs his effectiveness as a scorer and usefulness on the court, forcing a player that works best off the bounce into many catch and shoot/catch and score situations.
Now this is not an argument for Cartwright's future effectiveness as a player at Stanford. To pin the hopes of turning a college backcourt around on a recruit who has yet to play a game in his senior year of high school, let alone suit up at the Division 1 level, is admittedly absurd. And indeed, questions do persist about Cartwright's ability to immediately contribute: Will he be able to put on enough weight to get to the basket and finish at the next level? Rather, this is an argument for Cartwright's ceiling in his time at Stanford—and by extension, for the ceiling of the Stanford backcourt.
In that regard, two of the most important qualities of a true point guard are a distribute first, score second approach and the ability to defend the opposing point guard. Cartwright has both. He is an excellent distributor and creator and has what Scout's Josh Gershon describes as an "ideal approach to the game for a point guard." Moreover, Gershon has also hailed Cartwright as perhaps "the best on the ball defender in Southern California, as he's just a nightmare for opponents due to his tenacious mindset on defense to go with his high level lateral quickness and quick hands."
Similarly, there's the "it" factor. And if there is one thing that scouts across the nation have agreed on in regards to Cartwright's game, it is his ability to lead. Few, if any, have walked away from a Cartwright performance without in some way or another raving about his elite intangibles.
That being said, the ultimate value of Cartwright may come not in his abilities as an individual but rather in the type of cohesive unit he may form with some of his backcourt running mates upon his arrival, particularly a pair of 2013 recruits. In 2014-15, Cartwright's freshman year, he will arrive to a rather crowded and talented backcourt consisting of CG (combo-guard) Randle (Sr.), SG Christian Sanders (Jr.), SG/SF Anthony Brown (R-Sr.), and CG twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen (So.). Nonetheless, it is a backcourt without a true point guard. To expect Cartwright to contribute meaningful minutes off the bench would certainly not be a stretch.
The reins would be presumably handed to Cartwright and the Allen twins during the next season (2015-16). That should be a fun daydream for any Stanford fan.
Gershon has seen all three play extensively, and he spoke of the possibilities that Stanford may have.
"Robert Cartwright should be a perfect complement to the Allen twins in the backcourt," he said. "Cartwright and Marcus Allen, in a lot of ways, is a dream college backcourt. Two relentless competitors who take pride in their defense and will really make opponents work for anything they get on that end of the court. On offense, Allen will be aided by Cartwright's unselfishness and creating ability, while the attention which Allen will command from opposing defenses should give Cartwright more freedom to operate.
"With expected development, Cartwright and Allen should give Stanford one of the best backcourts regionally and, maybe eventually, nationally," Gershon finished
As for now, Cartwright's attention will turn to his first task as a Stanford point guard: recruiting others in his class to join him in Palo Alto. As has been reported, Cartwright was AAU teammates with four star center and Stanford recruit Thomas Welsh. Inking Cartwright undoubtedly helps the Card with Welsh, although he is also being pursued actively by both Cal and UCLA, among others, and will take a visit to Berkeley this weekend. Cartwright will also have the opportunity to work on a couple of other Stanford targets. Four star power forward Michael Humphrey and three star center Blake Lammers visit The Farm with him on September 21st.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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