Duke

Why Duke's Wendell Carter is the man to anchor the Bulls' defense

Why Duke's Wendell Carter is the man to anchor the Bulls' defense

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.

Adaptability, athleticism make Grayson Allen intriguing NBA Draft prospect

Adaptability, athleticism make Grayson Allen intriguing NBA Draft prospect

Part of the acclimation process many college athletes go through upon entering the league is finding their specific role. Players who are months removed from being the go-to players on their respective college teams enter an organization that’s looking for a role player, a lockdown defender, a scorer on the second unit, maybe even a project. It can be tough for said players to accept that after being alphas on a national stage that led them to the point of being drafted. It’s also something Grayson Allen will have no problem adjusting to.

A rare senior with first-round potential (two seniors were taken in Round 1 last year, at 29 and 30), Allen has had the opportunity and burden of playing on four supremely talented Duke teams. But unlike the Shane Battiers and Mike Dunleavys that came through Durham in the early ‘00s, Allen watched one-and-dones cycle through the program and it subsequently changed Allen’s role on the team.

Consider this: In his time at Duke Allen played with nine different players who have appeared in the NBA – Okafor, Cook, Winslow, Jones, Ojeleye, Plumlee, Ingram, Kennard, Tatum. Two others, Frank Jackson and Harry Giles, were selected last year but sat with injuries. Then take Allen’s current teammates who will be taken at some point: Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Tre Duval and Gary Trent and there are 15 different NBA players who Allen shared the floor with at Duke.

Allen was tasked with being the go-to scorer as a sophomore, but his attempts decreased in his junior and senior seasons as he shared point-guard duties for teams without a real identity at the position; Jackson and Duval were both underwhelming in their lone seasons with the Blue Devils. Allen’s assists per game and assist percentage jumped up as his scoring decreased, though he still managed 15.0 points on 37 percent shooting from deep in his final two years.

“Each year I’ve been at Duke I’ve had to score in different spots and I think that has helped me so much,” he said Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. “Playing with extremely talented guys that I had to adjust scoring in different spots to add to my game, that makes me more ready. I can adjust to whatever situation.”

Allen admitted his best trait is his shooting – his 291 career 3-pointers are 13th most in ACC history – and he shot 38 percent over his four-year career. And though he admitted J.J. Redick has been a mentor and someone to lean on during the pre-draft process, the comparisons between the two stop at the shooting.

“I don’t think J.J. jumped 40 inches,” Allen said while laughing.

Allen was a winner on Thursday, putting together a combine that included a 40.5-inch max vertical and 32.5-inch standing vertical, both sixth best among all players. His 10.31-second lane agility time was the fastest at the combine and the fifth fastest in the database that goes back to 2000. His shuttle run of 3.04 seconds was third fastest among all players.

Put another way: Allen is one hell of an athlete. He converted 49 percent of his 2-pointers at Duke and got to the free throw line an average of 5.0 times per game in his final three seasons. Oh, and he won the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game Dunk Contest in 2014.

He measured a solid 6-foot-4.5 in shoes and has a 6-foot-7 wingspan. Though his calling card isn’t on the defensive end, his athleticism may make up for some of his shortcomings on that end. He’ll make or break his NBA career on the offensive end, and if a team can hide him defensively it won’t matter.

His intensity and maturity have come into question, mainly from the multiple tripping incidents he had at Duke. He was stripped of his captaincy as a junior but regained it for his senior season. If he can harness his intensity and channel it correctly it’ll benefit a team greatly.

Allen is also familiar with Chicago. He was in town for this week’s Lottery and Combine, but he also spent three weeks in the Windy City last summer doing an internship with Intersport, a media sales company. The Bulls have the 22nd pick in the first round and Allen could be an option for a team looking for more shooting in the backcourt.

“I love Chicago. I was here last summer doing an internship at Intersport for about three weeks. I loved my time here. It was during the summer so it was warm and nice weather,” he said. “I love the city of Chicago. It’s a great place with great people, and the Bulls are a great franchise. It would be amazing to play for a team like that.”

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

michaelporter.jpg
USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.