Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr's blessing in disguise could be big-time gain for Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr's blessing in disguise could be big-time gain for Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. sat stoically at the dais Monday, being introduced with Chandler Hutchison as Chicago Bulls first-round picks at the Advocate Center, adding more talent to a growing trough of youth in a rebuild many hope will take a sizeable step this fall.

His cool demeanor shouldn’t be interpreted as an affront, Carter Jr. seemingly keeps a calm face in new situations in the wake of new challenges.

It was likely the same controlled expression he displayed a year ago when like many, he watched future teammate Marvin Bagley III reclassify to become college eligible for the next season and selected Duke as his pit stop before hitting the NBA.

“Humanly, you didn't want it to happen,” Carter Jr. said some time after going through the battery of media interviews following his introduction.

In a moment’s time, Carter Jr. went from incoming focal point for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to afterthought, from future shoo-in as a top pick to the risk of being lost in the shadow of a more heralded teammate.

Carter Jr. stayed quiet, true to his roots despite being a “spoiled” only child, by his admission. His mother Kylia, a former college basketball player who along with his father Wendell Sr. guided the steps of her child, didn’t know if it was a roadblock or blessing in disguise.

“My initial reaction, I was pissed. And it wasn't pissed because Marvin was coming. To be honest, I felt like that was information that was kept from us,” Kylia Carter said. “It felt (shady), it felt like my baby was gonna get kicked to the curb. I felt like all of that.”

While it took Kylia some time to get over it, Wendell Sr. was more pragmatic. It’s there where the balance of the Carter family is on display.

“I tell people. People make promises they can't keep. It didn't bother me,” Wendell Sr. said. “I was concerned because I felt like we were lied to. ‘Oh, Wendell's gonna be the man’ and then the rug was pulled from under us.”

The father had a simple solution for his son: “Just go play ball.”

Wendell Jr’s path was carefully cultivated and nurtured by his parents, who’ll move from Atlanta to Chicago to help with his transition to NBA life. His adjustment to the unforeseen circumstances at Duke wasn’t unlike his adjustment to high school, where he was enrolled in Pace Academy in Buckhead, northeast Atlanta.

Pace Academy has been recognized as one of the top private schools in the country, and the Carters selected it because of its challenging curriculum, amongst other reasons.

Carter Sr. said he didn’t even know who the basketball coach was, and Carter Jr. was already nationally ranked, making it an unorthodox move on its face.

“That made a huge difference,” Carter Sr. said. “He was around people, those people were wealthy. Not rich but wealthy.”

Making Wendell Jr. develop comfort while being uncomfortable was a lesson he learned early and he excelled academically and athletically, weighing a scholarship offer from Harvard before deciding on Duke.

“We would drop him off at school, (other) cars pulling up would be Ferrari’s,” Carter Sr. said. “These folks got money. Long money. When they saw him, they treated him like he wasn't nothing special. That environment helped him a whole lot.”

“He was another student. He felt he was able to grow, nobody tugging at him.”

At Pace, he found out he could easily stand out as well as he could blend into a diverse environment.

At Duke, he was ready to blossom on his own so admittedly, it wasn’t the easiest adjustment although it was embedded in his behavioral DNA. The practices where Bagley and Carter Jr were matched up against each other was likely tougher than the early games.

“We were definitely going at each other,” Carter Jr. said. “Hard. Very hard. But only to make each other better. It wasn't 'I don't like you, I hate that you're here so I'm going at your neck.' We both wanted to get better.”

On the floor, though, he wasn’t performing like a future lottery pick. Wendell Jr. attributed it to the “freshman 15” pounds he added before getting in better shape.

“At the beginning when you watch Wendell's games, he was engaged but we could tell something wasn't all good,” Kylia Carter said. “(He) didn't look all in, you didn't look like you were giving your all. You were there, but you weren't really there.”

A trip back to Atlanta for a visit a few games into the season got him back on track, embracing the minutia and intangibles that helped Duke become a favorite headed into March Madness.

“He told us it bothered him at first. But he said I gotta make it work,” Kylia Carter said. “You're gonna do all the stuff you already know how to do. And you're gonna do it at an extreme level. Everything but score. Do everything else to aid.”

“Everybody knows you can score. So let Marvin have all the damn points. They're throwing him the ball, the offense is geared around him. Why are you beating your head against the wall.”

She pauses to choose her words carefully, paraphrasing her advice to her son.

“Defense is not the strong suit of this team. Fill that void.”

The early start never dropped Carter Jr. from draft boards, firmly planted in the top 10 all season as a steady complement to Bagley—an aspect that appeared to be the greatest compliment to his maturing game.

The blessing suddenly was undisguised, with Kylia facetiously saying “thanks, Coach K.”

“As the games got tougher, his game got better,” she said. “Because those things they needed in those tough things were things he was so comfortable doing. They needed rebounds, rim protection. They needed ball screens.”

Many times over the last few days, John Paxson, Gar Forman and head coach Fred Hoiberg mentioned Carter Jr.’s character off the floor and on it, made note of the verticality he’s used to block several shots last season.

Unknowingly, they were praising mom’s teachings, honed from her playing days.

“It's still basketball. Still X's and O's. Same rules, it's just the players are different,” Kylia said. “We know all the X's and O's. That's what we women know.”

As for the blocked shots, that came from Kylia’s athletic gifts as a volleyball player.

“We played volleyball. That's the way we learned verticality is volleyball,” she said, before demonstrating. “You go straight up. Two hands, straight up. If you go straight up you won't get called for a foul. He would lean, be tempted. All of that is temptation, and anticipation.”

The temptation to command more of Duke’s offense when it had so many first-round draft picks settled down as the anticipation of getting to the NBA grew closer and closer.

“People think I took a backseat to Marvin. I don't think that's the right terminology. It's just that I sacrificed,” Wendell Jr. said. “People think I bowed down to him or allowed him to take the leadership role. But in my opinion I did what I had to in order to win.”

The incoming rookie said there wasn’t much he learned about himself in the process, and his per-game averages of 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks showed he didn’t have much back-down in his game for anybody, let alone a teammate.

The intangibles have long been noted as a reason many believe he can be a nice frontcourt sidekick to Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ burgeoning second-year forward.

“I think it was a positive,” Carter Jr. said. “I'm coming into a situation where I'm gonna be playing with other great players again.”

As for the blessing in disguise, Kylia Carter has yet to give Krzyzewski her true feelings from promises that weren’t kept. But it’s coming.

“We have not had our conversation but we will. We almost went there with him when we did our exit interview,” she said. “But he'll come around to a Bulls game and I'll get the chance.”

Like the Bulls, mom is letting it build.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”