Cat Barber will try to make the NBA the hard way: through the summer league.
The former N.C. State point guard went undrafted on Thursday night but will play for the New Orleans Pelicans’ summer league team in Las Vegas next month.
“Don’t give up that easy everything happens for a reason tho,” Barber posted to his Twitter account early Friday morning, about two hours after the NBA draft had ended.
Barber, who led the ACC in scoring last season, left the Wolfpack after his junior season. He is the third N.C. State player in the last four years to leave school early and go undrafted.
Individually, Barber had a standout season in 2015-16 for the Wolfpack. He led the ACC in scoring (23.5 points per game) and minutes (38.7 per game).
But as a team, N.C. State struggled. With a short-handed roster, and Barber having to carry a lot of the offense, the Wolfpack posted a 16-17 overall record and 5-13 mark in the ACC. The team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.
One of the main questions about Barber before the draft was: Does he make the players around him better? N.C. State’s lack of team success, with Barber as the leader, might have been held against him. Of the 11 point guards taken in the draft who played college basketball, nine led their team to the NCAA tournament last season.
The crunch of foreign-born draft picks didn’t help Barber’s draft chances, either. Of the 60 picks, 15 were foreign-born players who didn’t play college basketball. “One-and-done” freshmen accounted for 14 more picks.
A thigh injury at the NBA combine in May also worked against Barber, as did his size for a scoring point guard (6-2). Of the four point guards taken in the first round — all primarily scorers — all are 6-4 or taller.
Barber, who averaged 4.5 assists last season, was projected as a second-round pick before the draft. Point guards, of all sizes, were a hot commodity in the second round. Eight were taken in the last round, with only one European player in the group.
Barber’s best chance to be drafted was probably at No. 54 overall by the Atlanta Hawks, who had traded point guard Jeff Teague before the draft.
The Hawks did end up taking a point guard, Kay Felder from Oakland, but traded the pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yahoo! Sports reported that star LeBron James had lobbied the front office of the newly-crowned league champions to take Felder, who’s only 5-9 but led the NCAA with 9.3 assists per game.
North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige was the next pick off the board by Brooklyn, and traded to Utah, and a pair of point guards were taken with the last two picks of the draft.
The Pelicans begin summer-league play in Vegas on July 8. They did pick one other point guard on Thursday night, David Michineau from France in the second round, but they traded the pick to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Pelicans, who went 30-52 last season and missed the playoffs, have two point guards, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, under contract for the 2016-17 season but have some roster flexibility.
Barber follows guard Trevor Lacey (2015) and forward C.J. Leslie (2013) as N.C. State players who left early and went undrafted.
Given how well Barber played as a junior, and how his role would have changed next season, it’s difficult to fault him for his decision.
With the addition of point guard Dennis Smith, a projected lottery pick in next year’s draft, Barber would have likely played off the ball next season for the Wolfpack.
With Smith and freshman forward Omer Yurtseven, also considered a first-round pick in next year’s draft, Barber’s scoring numbers would have likely declined.
That left Barber in a difficult spot. Come back and answer questions about why his numbers dropped or leave despite not being projected as a first-round pick.
Only the first-round picks received guaranteed contracts. Second-round picks and undrafted free agents have to make the roster to get paid.
Barber’s primary motivation in leaving school was to provide for his young daughter, Cadence, and his family in the projects of Newport News, Va.. He can still do that, either in the NBA or by going to Europe, it’s just not the easier path he had hoped to follow.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio