Vernon Carey Jr. Flashes Skill and Potential in Abnormal NBA Rookie Season

by Sam Perley

While it wasn’t the most routine of seasons for any NBA rookie, center Vernon Carey Jr. made the most of his opportunities with both the Charlotte Hornets and Greensboro Swarm throughout the 2020-21 campaign.

The organization snagged Carey with the 32nd overall selection in last November’s draft following his lone collegiate season at Duke in which he was named a consensus Second-Team All-American. With no Summer League and very little time between signing with the Hornets and the start of training camp, Carey was thrown right into the proverbial fire.

He went on to make just three appearances at the NBA level before joining the Greensboro Swarm for the G League Bubble in February. Able to finally get some live in-game reps, Carey averaged 16.0 points on 49.2% shooting, 9.4 rebounds (12th in the G League), 1.1 assists and 1.1 blocks in 14 appearances down in Orlando before rejoining the Hornets after the All-Star Break.

Carey continued to play minimal amounts until April 16, when Head Coach James Borrego shook up the team’s starting lineup by inserting the 20-year-old into the first string. The Miami native erupted for a career-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and six rebounds on the road in Brooklyn, easily marking the finest performance of his young NBA career thus far.

He started a few more games from that point and although continued to show skillful flashes, soon returned to a reserve role as the team opted for experience down the closing stretch of the schedule. Carey would end his first NBA season with averages of 2.4 points on 50.0% shooting and 1.4 rebounds over 6.1 minutes in 19 outings, four of which were starts.

“For us rookies, I feel like the season has been pretty tough with not having Summer League experience and just going straight into training camp,” he recalled during exit interviews. “Then having games just two weeks later, I feel like that was an eye-opener. From playing to not playing, it was about staying ready. It’s part of your job being a professional. The game in Brooklyn, I feel like that definitely helped my confidence, especially heading into this summer.”

“He’s a talented kid,” said Borrego back in April. “He has the chance to be a dynamic roller, pick-and-pop guy, he’s got a good balance. I think he’s going to be able to rebound at this level and in this league, so he has the make-up for it. Obviously, this summer will be huge for him. The kid is [twenty] and has some serious talent. He could be a major factor for us here quickly. If it’s not this year, definitely next year.”

This year was certainly an adjustment of sorts for Carey and he had already pinpointed a few areas in particular to focus on heading into his first full NBA offseason. “Getting a little stronger, getting in a little better shape and shooting the ball a little better,” he said. “That’s probably the three main keys.”
He added, “I feel like [defense] was one of the biggest challenges for me this past year and just being able to learn all the different defenses for guarding different players. It was definitely hard having to come into the league and learning different stuff from college to now.”

With valuable experience now under his belt, the Hornets needing to address their frontcourt depth and NBA Summer League upcoming, Carey is in position to hopefully make a big jump heading into his second season.

“[Summer League] would definitely help me moving forward in just being able to get live reps before we head into training camp. It definitely motivates me because I feel like it’s a chance for me to prove myself, be in the rotation and earn minutes.”

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