Wendell Carter Jr. committed to Duke in November 2016, the No. 3 recruit in the country and the prized possession of the Blue Devils’ latest historic recruiting class. Nine months later, just weeks before Carter’s freshman season began, Marvin Bagley – the top prospect in 2018 – announced his decision to both commit to Duke and reclassify to 2017.
In a flash, Carter went from the top recruit on his team to second fiddle in his own backcourt. Headed for a major role following the departures of Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum the year prior, Carter settled for a role out of the spotlight and eventually the fifth scoring option.
He still flourished. While Bagley rightfully received the accolades – ACC Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, All-American – Carter held his own and was a key cog for the Blue Devils during their 29-win, Elite Eight season. He doesn’t have the height or raw athleticism of the bigs who likely will be selected before him on June 21. He does, however, possess a skill set built for today’s game that will take him off the board somewhere in the Lottery, if not the first 10 picks.
You’ll read about comparisons to Al Horford in the coming paragraphs. Here’s why. Horford measured at the 2007 Combine at 6-foot-9.75 (Carter is 6-foot-10), weighed 246 pounds (Carter is 251), had an 8-foot-11 standing reach (Carter’s is 9-foot-1) and a 7-foot-1 wingspan (Carter’s is 7-foot-4.5). Carter’s game is a little more like the current Horford’s, but in college both players shared the frontcourt spotlight with similar bouncy power forwards: Joakim Noah for Horford and the aforementioned Bagley for Carter.
Carter was fifth on a loaded Duke team in field goal attempts (319). His ability to get to the free throw line (4.6; second to Bagley) and his passing acumen (2.0 assists) helped him finish second on the Blue Devils in usage rate (22.8%; second to Bagley). He was a model of efficiency, shooting 56.1% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc, just one of four players in the country to reach those thresholds.
The 3-point shooting came on only 46 attempts, but Carter looked comfortable more often than not from the top of the key, where 40 of his 46 shots came from. He’s a non-factor in the midrange game, but he’s more than comfortable spotting up from beyond the arc. Plus, Horford was 0-for-4 in three years at Florida; last year in Boston he made 97 triples. Carter is ahead of the curve already.
Carter has impressive footwork but that didn’t translate to his post-up numbers, as he averaged a pedestrian 0.753 points per possessions, far worse than Horford’s mark (1.056) at Florida. Still, Carter’s 1.06 overall PPP ranked in the 90th percentile thanks to that outside shooting and his work on the glass – also, his post game is better than those number suggest.
Carter had an offensive rebounding rate of 12.8%, higher than Mo Bamba (12.2%) and Jaren Jackson (8.7%). That impressive mark – all while battling with Bagley for boards – was higher than Horford’s 12.2% mark.
Carter made good on those offensive rebounds, scoring 99 points on 68 possessions. That 1.456 PPP ranked in the 94th percentile and was better than Mamba’s 1.338 PPP. He’s a terror inside and as he improves his post-up game will be a jack of all trades.
Carter’s defense is a little more difficult to analyze. He was the anchor of the Blue Devils’ 2-3 zone that transformed their season, so many of his 1-on-1 numbers are skewed. From the limited data we do have, however, Carter was dominant. He ranked in the 97th percentile nationally in post-up situations and the 87th percentile defending around the basket. Carter did the heavy lifting defensively, whereas Horford deferred to Noah in Gainesville. Carter’s 7.6% block rate was higher than Horford’s 6.7%. For reference, likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton had a 61.% block rate. It was a solid number for Carter, especially considering he played zone so often and had less opportunity to block shots.
Again, it’s tough to draw anything from those numbers, but make no mistake: Carter is an excellent defender. His 9-foot-1 standing reach and 7-foot-4.5 wingspan are plenty big, and his 251-pound frame is larger than players like Jaren Jackson (236), Mo Bamba (226). He may not have the 7-foot height but Jackson is plenty capable of defending the interior. It’ll be his most NBA-ready trait.
Like many of the bigs in this class, Carter is a perfect complement to Lauri Markkanen if the Bulls use the No. 7 pick on him. Though Markkanen shows promise as an agile defender capable of defending pick-and-rolls, he would be best utilized with a rim protector. That’s Carter, whose 7.6% block percentage was 24th in the country among players at or above 60% of their team’s minutes.
Carter spoke to reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility after his private workout and touted his defensive versatility. It’s true, that he’ll hang his hat on what he can accomplish as a rim protector. If he can clean up the glass and improve as a 3-point shooter it’ll be an added bonus. The comparisons to Horford are real. He won’t make it at the next level if he’s simply overpowered by more athletic bigs on both sides of the ball. He doesn’t leap out of the gym and isn’t overly quick, despite the good footwork.
The Bulls should bet on him. They’ve focused on offense in each of the last six drafts. Now’s the time to shore up the defense. There are a surplus of wings waiting in the 18-22 area for the Bulls to address the position then. It’s no longer a big man’s league, but when one with such an impressive skill set that also fills a need presents himself, you simply can’t pass on him.