Atlanta’s Trae Young, the fifth pick in last June’s NBA draft, had 35 points and 11 assists with six of 14 threes in the Hawks’ Sunday win over the Cavaliers. Jaren Jackson Jr., the fourth pick in the draft to Memphis, had 24 points in the Friday win over Atlanta. Marvin Bagley, the second overall pick, is averaging 16 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Kings in the last two games after a slow start in the Kings’ opener. And Dallas’ Luka Doncic, the third pick after a swap with the Hawks, is coming off a 26-point breakout in Saturday’s wild 140-136 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Bulls Monday also get a look at the developing Slovenian sensation as they hope to get their first win in Dallas.
“We definitely have a lot of things to work on,” said Wendell Carter Jr., the seventh overall pick in the draft for the Bulls. “I feel we did improve on the point of emphasis we had from the first game; we are just going to keep moving forward from here.”
Carter hopes to as well, scoring a modest eight points and 2.5 rebounds in two foul plagued starts, averaging just 19 minutes despite starting. And, oh by the way, starting against two of the best centers in the NBA, Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond, and Monday facing yet another All-Star center DeAndre Jordan.
“I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career,” Carter said after Saturday’s disappointing late game loss. “What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best. I feel I’m pretty good at holding my spot. The bang is where I have to get better.”
Several teams are getting some early bangs from those lottery bucks, and Carter is getting ready to put his two cents in.
It’s early to make any judgments about this rookie class, which looks like it is going to be very good. No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton is averaging 11.5 points in two games and No. 6 pick Mo Bamba has sunk some, averaging six points and about four rebounds.
Though Embiid put up big scoring numbers and Carter said Embiid playfully counseled him during the game to do better, Carter did a good job against Drummond and even had one of those Bill Russell-esque blocks, keeping the ball inbounds for a breakout.
He is a lot more substance than show.
Carter has shot well, shooting 50 percent on eight of 16. He probably needs to be more aggressive offensively, especially with Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine out. But as a 19-year-old rookie he’s shown impressive poise and welcoming team play in the unexpected starting role.
“It’s a great experience for him early in his career,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Carter is always going to be compared to his fellow draft lottery picks, though many of them have been given more offensive freedom and responsibilities to start. With Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis the main scorers with Markkanen out, Carter has looked more to be a facilitator, setting screens and defending. Which makes it more difficult to stay out of foul trouble, and especially against this unusual run of the league’s best centers.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job (on Drummond, fouling out with 10 points),” said Carter. “I was in early foul trouble (playing 17 minutes). I feel there just were a lot of fouls called; it just wasn’t in our favor.”
You never want to be a foul whiner about the officiating. But Carter quietly was taking an unusual beating from Drummond and the notorious Zaza Pachulia. It was so bad that perhaps even the league’s least experienced refereeing crew eventually called six fouls on Drummond.
Carter is unusually positive and optimistic. He eagerly greets media, carefully listens to questions and engages in more a discussion than a recitation of cliches. He says he writes in a diary notebook — not on a cell phone — after games about his thoughts and what he needs to do to improve and demonstrates a maturity that belies his age. But even he couldn’t hold back, as gentle as it was, in noting the inequity of the foul calls against him compared to, say, Pachulia, who otherwise would have been jailed if it weren’t a basketball game.
“At this point, I feel like it’s just rookie calls (on me),” Carter offered. “I don’t care what anybody says. That’s what I really feel.”
Of course, he then went on to commend the officials.
“I still have respect for the game,” he said. “I have respect for the referees. They call it, it’s a foul. I just have to do better.”
Carter has done well under the circumstances. He’s played well enough to deserve the starting position. He’s not likely to be a scorer to match some of the other top rookies given his tertiary role in the offense. And he’s facing much more difficult defensive matchups.
“I’m excited and ready to go up against this third (big center),” Carter said. “Let them know I’m here, (that) this is what is supposed to be done. I started to get into a rhythm (shooting to open the second half). That’s something I definitely have to do more with a lot of our scorers out. I have to be more aggressive on the offensive end. By the time they come back, I’ll be in a place where I know my role.”
And the Bulls will hope that those better times begin to roll.