When the Chicago Bulls officially hired Arturas Karnisovas as Executive VP of Basketball Operations this past summer, many expected aggressive moves on the horizon. Anything was on the table: trades, cuts, draft-day moves, etc. However, one of the most discussed situations surrounding the team currently may be the lack of movement of a certain Wendell Carter Jr. The third-year center and former first-round pick out of Duke was rumored in a draft-day deal with Golden State, yet nothing ever came of it. When asked about it, Carter Jr. didn't seem too concerned.
“I didn’t pressure the front office at all. At the end of the day, it’s a business, but I had a lot of faith I was going to be here. I knew the coaching staff and the front office believed in me from the talks that we’ve had. I knew I was going to be a Bull."
- Wendell Carter Jr. on potentially being traded
With this, it appears Karnisovas and Co. believe in the young rim protector and expect him to play a major role moving forward. Whether the trade with the Warriors fell through or the deal was never on the table, it might be the best move the Bulls never made.
Building a Foundation
The modern-day NBA center can be asked to do a lot of different things. If you asked most NBA general managers, there's a good chance they'd want a guy who can score with range and defend the rim. Names such as Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Joel Embiid immediately come to mind as the elite-level centers who can do it all. They all started by building a solid foundation in all aspects of the game early in their careers and continued to grow with each passing season. So where does Wendell Carter Jr. fit in?
Well to be blunt, Carter Jr. hasn't quite made it into that conversation yet. However, when looking at the 'Per 36' metrics of his first two seasons in the league, Carter Jr. might be on the right track.
Per 36 Minutes
Average (Two Seasons)
The first thing to make note of is the trend from his rookie year to his second season. His offensive rebounding increased by over one board per game as well as his defensive rebounding and his steals rising. His field goal percentage also rose significantly from his rookie season, yet his scoring output and blocks decreased. What gives? This can be directly pointed at his minutes per game and his flow within the system.
In his rookie season, Carter Jr. averaged 25.2 minutes per game, which saw him shoot more often and play more aggressively at the rim. Paired with his inexperience and lack of true starting minutes, this resulted in a rushed play style. Most rookies' biggest issue in the league is trying to compensate for their lack of minutes. That can bode well on the defensive end of the court and that shows in his blocks. It can also cause over aggressiveness on offense, which shows in his shooting percentage. He showed a ton of promise on defense, but Carter Jr. never truly allowed the game to come to him.
Enter his second season. A more calm, cerebral Carter Jr. received an increase to 29.2 minutes per game and produced more consistent numbers. Wendell saw his points per game average increase on fewer attempts. He also saw a large increase in his shooting percentage, which would've put him in the top-ten among centers for the 2019-20 season, had he qualified for the leaderboard. Carter Jr. also ranked in the top-15 of all players with his offensive and total rebounding percentages. Overall, the game seemed to slow down for Wendell on both sides of the court. What he lacked in aggressiveness, he made up for in efficiency.
2019-20 Rebounding Percentages
Wendell Carter Jr. (NBA Rank)
Bringing It All Together
In two seasons, we've seen two different sides of Wendell Carter Jr. We've seen the aggressive side, which bodes well for his identity as a rim protector, and we've seen his collected side, which highlights his ability as a safe offensive option in the paint. What should we expect on year three? The best of both worlds.
Chicago Bulls' head coach Billy Donovan has worked with some incredible big men in the past. Players such as Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams have all seen success with Donovan at the helm. If anybody can find a true role for Carter Jr, it's Billy. Noah and Adams are known for defensive prowess and distribution, Horford for his mid-range and ability to maneuver in the paint, and Kanter can shoot the lights out behind the arc. If Donovan can instill these elements into Wendell's game, the sky would be the limit. Add in that Carter Jr. will be paired with the versatile Lauri Markkanen, Chicago could have one of the best young frontcourts in basketball heading into the 2020-21 season.