When Wendell Carter Jr. tripped over Tyson Chandler early in the Bulls’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last week, he didn’t think much of his jammed left thumb. He had some soreness but wasn’t in much pain despite the thumb swelling. In fact, he was planning on playing Saturday after sitting out Thursday’s game as a precaution.
That’s when the roller coaster began. The Bulls reportedly had internal fear that Carter’s injury was significant, but a second scan showed that the ligament in his thumb was actually intact. But Carter saw a hand specialist back in Chicago and it was revealed that surgery was the best scenario. Both Joakim Noah (2010) and Kirk Hinrich (2008) had the same surgery.
“So many people have had this injury and they don’t get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily,” Carter said. “I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn’t come back out, then I’d have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way.
"It's all good. I'm just looking at the long-term now."
Carter underwent the season-ending surgery on Monday. He’ll be in a cast for 10 days and begin rehab on the thumb while wearing a splint. Though Carter never explicitly stated his rookie season is over, the Bulls have 11 weeks remaining in the regular season and will be in no rush to bring back their 19-year-old foundation piece.
Carter’s rookie season was typical but one that featured more good than bad. It took him just a few days to supplant Robin Lopez as the team’s starting center, a position he didn’t relinquish despite being one of the league’s youngest players. He averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25.2 minutes.
He played multiple roles in his 44-game rookie season, acting as a third scorer and at times an initiator in the high post while Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn were sidelined early in the season. As the Bulls regained their health Carter was able to focus more defensively and work around the rim.
"That was something I always worked for ever since I was a kid, to be able to get to the NBA. Not just get here but also be a star in this league," Carter said. "Those games show the potential I have in this league."
Jim Boylen applauded Carter’s maturity in his rookie season and how he was able to bounce back from bad quarters by not letting it affect the rest of his game. His hard-nosed defensive principles certainly played to what Boylen looks for in a foundation, and Boylen was pleased with how Carter improved his shooting and decision making in the pain.
“I think he had a great learning curve in those 44 games and he’ll keep learning as he’s watching, things will make more sense to him now while he’s watching. And it’s not ideal but it is what it is.”
Carter will soak in as much as he can the rest of the season while he rehabs the thumb, and it’s Boylen’s hope that he’ll travel with and be around the team during the final weeks of the season.
“I like guys being around. (Denzel) Valentine’s been with us. I love Wendell’s spirit around this group. He’s got a great kind of swag to him and energy level to him, he likes being around the team so yeah I hope so.”