Wendell Carter Jr. was supposed to be the “safe” big man in the 2018 NBA Draft, a label some conflated with having limited upside. Carter didn’t have the athleticism of Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III, the shooting or shot blocking of Jaren Jackson Jr., or the length of Mohamed Bamba.
Of the five big men taken in the first seven picks of the draft, Carter was the last one to go at No. 7 to the Chicago Bulls. Everyone knew Carter would be solid. But could he be special?
Through four games at Las Vegas Summer League, he has been. Carter is thoroughly dominating thus far, showcasing a well-rounded game while answering his biggest pre-draft questions. For the second straight year, the Bulls look like they’ve found a cornerstone player in the frontcourt through the draft.
Carter does so many things well
Carter can protect the rim. He announced that emphatically by blocking five shots in his first summer league game, highlighted by this absolute stonewalling of Cavs big man Ante Zizic.
The first play in that video is almost as impressive. Carter is so good at knowing when to help and rotate for the block attempt from the opposite side. It usually takes young big men years to figure out team defense at the NBA level, but Carter appears to be already there.
Carter can rebound. He’s aggressively attacking the glass on both ends of the floor. He looks like an NFL defensive end putting a swim move on a left tackle in this play to grab his second offensive board on this possession:
Carter can score inside. In a league that’s downsizing, Carter should be able to bully smaller opponents in the post. He has the strength and awareness to put a defender on his back, and soft touch with either hand:
Carter can shoot. He’s 3-for-6 on three-pointers so far and 12-for-15 (80 percent) on free throws. He does well to quickly square himself up and get on balance while also having a fast release:
Carter can pass, too. His ability to make plays on the short roll or with dribble handle-offs might not show up on highlight reels, but it’s an essential skill that will help pace Chicago’s offense.
Good lord, Wendell Carter was awesome last night. Short roll and DHO game cooking on offense, plus a couple corner 3s too. Get used to this. pic.twitter.com/tt7ZUUHjs8— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) July 8, 2018
Carter is a bright kid off the court, so much so that he was accepted to Harvard and nearly went there instead of Duke. That intelligence is translating on the court, too. The common trait to all of these plays is Carter’s feel for the game.
The learning curve in the NBA is typically so steep for rookies because the game moves too fast for them to process everything mentally. That’s never a problem with Carter.
Carter has answered his biggest pre-draft question, too
The knock on Carter coming out of Duke was his lateral quickness. In a league that’s increasingly asking its big men to switch onto guards, Carter’s perceived lack of foot speed may have made him a defensive liability at the NBA level.
He’s already proving those concerns were overblown. The Bulls have been switching Carter on guards throughout summer league and he’s been able to hold his own. Watch the way he locks up Trae Young on the perimeter here before swatting his three-point attempt:
And again, Young can't get anywhere against Carter here.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) July 11, 2018
Carter's light on his feet, quick to react, and gives up no space at the arc before deflecting Young's 3-pointer pic.twitter.com/KTJCmiQbfK
Carter looks like he’s in the best shape of his life. He’s 10 pounds lighter than his listed weight at Duke and looks so much more cut than he was as a high school player. It’s turned him into a big man whose strength doesn’t need to come at a sacrifice of speed.
Carter just might be special
Carter looks like he’s going to be a plus at shot blocking, shooting, passing, and rebounding. He’s proving he’s quicker than anyone gave him credit for. He also has a level of basketball IQ that is so rare for a young player.
Carter might not have an elite physical profile or a go-to skill, but he’s good at everything. That could make him a star.
The Bulls now appear to have two cornerstone pieces in the frontcourt by pairing Carter with Lauri Markkanen. That’s the good news. The bad news is their big men are more skilled than their guards.
Will Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn be willing and unselfish passers when it comes to finding their young big men? Would the Bulls be better served to eventually run their offense through Carter the way Tom Thibodeau’s teams used to do with Joakim Noah?
The Bulls’ rebuild still faces lots of questions, but adding a player with Carter’s ability and intelligence just gave it a major boost. Yes, it’s only summer league, but Carter looks like a foundational piece for the Bulls.