Following an injury-riddled rookie campaign, the NBA world could use a refresher on Chicago Bulls big man Wendell Carter Jr.
The 2018 draft class certainly wasn’t one to disappoint in its first taste of NBA basketball.
Luka Doncic and Trae Young were engaged in what eventually became a heated battle for the Rookie of the Year award. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton quietly averaged a double-double. So many others, from Jaren Jackson Jr. to Shai Gilgious-Alexander, flashed the stardom that has their respective teams optimistic about what the future holds.
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After just one season at Duke University, Wendell Carter Jr. was projected to achieve similar levels of success as his draft mates in his rookie season, joining the new wave of do-everything big men as the seventh overall pick to the Chicago Bulls.
Despite encouraging averages of 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 25.2 minutes a night, whatever bright spots Carter showed were limited to just 44 games in 2018-19. A torn ligament in his left thumb suffered on Jan. 15 cut his rookie season far too short. Carter also wouldn’t suit up for any Summer League action after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle.
His prolonged absence didn’t draw any short-sighted conclusions regarding his future in the NBA, but it did keep quiet one of the game’s best young talents.
After a solid (albeit shortened) rookie season, Wendell Carter Jr is ready to roll – and the #Bulls have high expectations for their young center.
Though they were defeated in Wednesday night’s preseason matchup against New Orleans, the Chicago Bulls proved that they might be one of the more exciting teams to watch this season.
The Bulls finished the 2018-19 regular season campaign with a disappointing 22-60 overall record, which left the team well out of playoff contention (No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference). This season, however, the young Bulls are looking to change their narrative.
Chicago may have lost Wednesday night’s game, but it was clear that the team was playing better. More importantly, the ball was moving. In fact, the Bulls finished with 38 assists and 14 made three-pointers.
According to NBA.com, the Bulls had more assists through three quarters than they had in any game last season.
“I think we did a good job of moving the ball well and playing much better defense than the first preseason game,” Tomas Satoransky said via NBA.com. “I think we were much better one-on-one defensively and I think we showed the way we want to play.”
Zach Lavine led the charge for the Bulls, scoring 28 points. At one point, he sank eight consecutive field goals.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) October 10, 2019
“Zach’s a special cat,” Bulls head coach Jim Boylen said via NBA.com. “He’s locked in. He’s worked very hard and makes it look easy at times. I’m proud of him.”
Otto Porter Jr. had a solid night as well, racking up 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Tomas Satoransky, who was given the starting nod at point guard, recorded 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Rookie Coby White finished with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting and actually led Chicago to a 42-35 lead in the second quarter.
In the end, though, it was Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson who came away as the star of Wednesday’s exhibition, as the No. 1 overall pick registered a game-high 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes.
Despite the loss, coach Boylen was pleased with his team’s performance:
“I thought,” Boylen said, “at moments we looked like a team. We looked like how we want to look. We need to have more of those moments and be more consistent. And I am confident we will.”
Another aspect of Chicago’s play style that will make them exciting this season is their willingness to shoot the three. The Bulls attempted 37 threes on Wednesday night — this after 38 attempts in Monday’s opener. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s a trend that will continue.
The Bulls are 0-2 so far in the preseason, but don’t be fooled. They’re a young, talented team that will be looking to contend for a spot in the playoffs.
A do-everything big man, Carter has the quick feet and agility to stay close to those on the perimeter with a foundation from beyond the arc — he shot 41.3 percent from deep at Duke on an admittedly small 46 total attempts — to develop into a legitimate floor spacer.
A high-IQ talent who turned down the chance to go to Harvard, his assist percentage ranked in the 73rd percentile among centers.
In Chicago, the 20-year-old is slotted alongside Lauri Markkanen in the frontcourt to help reignite a once-proud franchise that has just a single playoff appearance over the last four seasons.
An oversized duo upfront defies the movement of the modern NBA, but these two have the necessary skill-sets to make their pairing work. Markkanen is an athletic 7-footer who has taken over 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in his two NBA seasons — hitting 36.2 percent of them — compared to just 22.4 percent within the restricted area.
Comparatively, less than 10 percent of Carter’s field goal attempts came from downtown with 40.4 percent coming within three feet of the basket.
This inside-out dynamic will allow both to thrive individually while also making life easier for leading scorer Zach LaVine and the Bulls as a whole.
One of the questions possed by NBA.com in its annual rookie survey is which rookie will have the best career? In August 2018, No. 1 on the list with 13.0 percent of the vote was Wendell Carter Jr.
The results for that question, in particular, should be taken with a grain of salt. Tied for second on the list were Kevin Knox and Jerome Robinson. Tied for third was Deandre Ayton and nowhere to be found was Luka Doncic. It’s a popularity contest, but it’s not without a slim glimpse into Carter’s potential.
Per-36 minutes, Carter’s rookie numbers of 14.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks provide just about everything a coach could want from their big man.
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There’s a path for Carter to get to that level, maybe even higher. Assuming a fresh slate of health come tip-off with the accumulated knowledge of NBA rigors, there’s an opportunity the talented youngster is likely to take full advantage of to make up for lost times.