Bulls

Wendell Carter shows off everything he could be for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Wendell Carter shows off everything he could be for the Bulls

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Wendell Carter, Jr. has spent his rookie season feeling out his role on a rebuilding Bulls team. The offensive polish and defensive potential have been apparent, but as with any but between persistent foul trouble and defensive struggles all too common for a 19-year-old rookie, he’s seen his minutes change wildly from game to game, which has affected his consistency.

Recently, Bulls coach Jim Boylen has even taken to benching Carter down the stretch in bad losses, which he claimed was meant as a learning opportunity for one of the Bulls' future cornerstones.

On Wednesday night, Carter showed the Bulls everything he could be, everything that made him their no-brainer selection with the No. 7 overall pick in June. He was one of the bright spots of the Bulls’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, their first game of a daunting five-game West Coast road trip. He led the Bulls in scoring with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting, scoring with ease in the post and drawing contact, which he turned into a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line.

“My shots were just going down,” Carter said after the game. “Attacked the rim when I could, drew fouls when I could. Just getting comfortable. But I don’t think about me scoring a lot of points today as much as taking a few steps forward. Feeling more comfortable taking my shots. I took my time on all my shots. Even if this next game I only have five points, I feel comfortable with the ability I have now, where I just go out there and play, especially on the offensive end.”

Carter even hit a three-pointer, his first in over two months.

Don’t expect him to turn into a stretch-five anytime soon — the low post is still his bread and butter — but Carter wouldn’t mind hitting a few more of those, to open up the rest of his game.

“That’s something I want to build on,” Carter said. “Just being more comfortable stretching out other players, and then being able to drive by once they respect it. I’ve been practicing it before and after practices, and it feels real comfortable coming off my hand, so I definitely look forward to shooting more of them.”

At times this season, Carter has been reluctant to assert himself in the offense. His usage rate is 19.7 percent, by far the lowest of the Bulls’ “core four” alongside Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. On Wednesday, he made a strong case that he should demand the ball more.

“All my teammates know I’m a very unselfish player,” Carter said. “I’m never going to take any bad shots. Just me touching the ball is going to keep me engaged throughout the game. Especially on the defensive end, if I just touch the ball, I don’t have to put it up towards the rum at all, just me touching the ball on each possession, it feels good.”

Carter’s defense is still a work in progress. Foul trouble has limited him at times, and he’s still learning the positioning and footwork that come with guarding NBA bigs.

One thing he hasn’t shied from is the physicality.

“He embraces collision and contact,” Boylen said. “He likes to hit people. He doesn’t mind people getting into him. I think it’s maybe hurt him a little bit on defense in some ways, because he wants to grab and hold and hit people. But when you’re not afraid of getting hurt and you’re not afraid of contact, the game’s easy for you. He loves it.

“[Shaquille] Harrison was a football player, [Kris] Dunn was a football player. I think Wendell would have been a pretty damn good defensive end if he’d played football.”

Wendell Carter Jr. OUT tonight against Denver Nuggets

Wendell Carter Jr. OUT tonight against Denver Nuggets

The Bulls may have dodged a major bullet with the Wendell Carter Jr injury, but the rookie will still miss tonight's game against the Nuggets: 

Carter suffered the injury during Tuesday night's loss in Los Angeles, and initial reports were that it was severe. That turned out not to be the case, but Carter will still end up missing the first game of his NBA career. 

The rookie out of Duke has been one of the lone bright spots for Chicago this season, averaging 20 points and 13.5 rebounds per 100 possesions. He's been a net positive on both ends of the floor, posting an ORtg of 106 and a DRtg of 109. 

Tonight's the last night of the Bulls' West Coast swing, and they're still looking for their first win of 2019. Their 8-game losing streak, which extends back to December 28th, is their longest of the season. 

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

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USA TODAY

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.

This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.

Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:

“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”

The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.

At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.

Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.

Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.

If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.

Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.

Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.

Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.

Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.

His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.

The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.