LAS VEGAS – Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison aren’t so new Chicago Bulls teammates getting their professional basketball feet wet at the MGM Resorts Summer League.
They’re bookends to the types of players scouted, projected, drafted and invested in each year by the league’s 30 franchises.
Carter represents one end of the timeline, a one-and-done player.
Hutchison, by contrast, is a four-year NCAA player out of Boise State – the first player ever drafted from that school in the first round.
But for all the challenges and stereotypes associated with both groups of NBA rookies, the Bulls are pleased with the players they chose at No. 7 and No. 22 in last month’s Draft.
Carter, certainly, won’t need a second chance to make a first impression. The 6-foot-10, 259 big from Duke was an instant Summer League sensation, demonstrating skills, effort and acumen at both ends of the court. Defensively, whether protecting the rim or switching out top in pick-and-roll situations, Carter’s mobility and bounce speak to his age. Offensively, he’s stretching his shooting range to suit the prevailing definition of “modern” NBA bags.
But Carter is savvy and serious beyond his years, already generating comparisons to a heady NBA veteran such as Boston’s Al Horford while just three months removed from his 19th birthday.
“I’ve heard all good names,” Carter said of the “comps” used to project the type of player he can become. The son of Wendell Sr. and Kylie had just scored 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds against Dallas’ summer entry.
“It’s just something to motivate you. They compare me to multi-time All-Stars, and just to be in those sentences motivates me, because I know I need to get there.”
Chicago’s maneuver Saturday to sign free-agent forward Jabari Parker away from the Milwaukee Bucks might have grabbed the headlines for a day or two. But Carter’s play through the first eight days in Las Vegas was the bigger news, calming worries for those who felt the Bulls had blown their 2017-18 tank-athon.
Falling to No. 7 in the lottery looked like bad karma after the priority Chicago put on, er, not winning last season. The Bulls went 27-55, their worst showing in 14 years. But the early reviews on Carter – admittedly, against a July backdrop of lesser competition – suggest they did as well as if they’d dropped another half dozen games last season.
“With Wendell, we feel he’s very mature for a 19-year-old kid,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s got a lot of interests away from basketball. He was a great student. And he’s got great tools to work with.
“Seven-foot-four wingspan. He’s played on the perimeter, he’s played on the block. He’s an excellent rebounder, and he does a nice job protecting the rim. He does things that older players do, with verticality, with keeping the ball in play when he gets a deflection.”
Carter blocked 11 shots in his first three games, including a two-handed snatch from Cleveland’s Ante Zizic in the Bulls’ opener that still ranks as the defensive play of this event. In the Bulls’ Vegas finale against Detroit Saturday, he shot 1-of-8 for just six points but added 16 rebounds and two blocks.
Asked about his NBA readiness, Carter thought for a moment, then said: “Genes worked in my favor [his father played pro overseas, his mother in college]. And hard work. I’m constantly getting stronger. Faster. And the mental game is really key. You can be physically stronger but I think about 80, 90 percent of that is all mental. Knowing where to set screens, knowing when to take shots, simple things like that really make you great in this league.”
Hutchison, by contrast, is at the other end of the timeline, a player for whom the calendar is both a curse and a blessing.
They supposedly are more developed in their games and yet, on the flip side, closer to having maxed out in how much they actually will improve. Of the past 21 winners of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, only three – Malcolm Brogdon (2017), Damian Lillard (2013) and Brandon Roy (2006) – stayed to use all their NCAA eligibility.
“I try not to look at that much,” said Hutchison, a polished communications major in interviews. “Some people are ready after one year, others it takes four years. My situation, I wouldn’t change it for the world, the opportunity I had to play four years of college and still being able to pursue my career. Lucky enough to be a first-round pick and still have a lot of room to grow.
“I’ve noticed that it’s a lot smaller bridge [to learn how to be professional]. I tend to pick up things quicker. And just try to learn.”
Hutchison didn’t get traction here quite like Carter. His most reliable skills this week have been his rebounding (a 7.0 average through his first four appearances) and his ability to push the ball up the floor. His year-over-year development at Boise State was obvious: From 3.1 ppg to 6.8, 17.4 and 20.0, with a floor game and leadership role that grew over time.
“I was talking to his [Boise State] coach, Leon Rice,” Hoiberg said. “They had a player by the name of Anthony Drmic who was from Australia – we played against Boise in Hawaii when I was still coaching in college [Iowa State] – and he was a tough kid. He beat the hell out of Chandler every day his freshman year. He showed him what it was like to really work and made him a more physical player.
“He just continued to get better every year. Listen, he’s a four-year player and he’s 22 years old. That’s still pretty young to me.”
Said Hutchison, who had 11 points and seven boards in the loss to the Pistons Saturday: “Definitely from having the ball in my hands a lot at Boise State allows me to stay kind of calm in those situations and direct some of the guys who maybe haven’t been in that situation. But me, personally, still, I’m learning and it’s a lot.”
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