Wendell Carter Jr. is expecting to see an increased offensive role while also taking a leap forward as a defensive leader under the new Bulls coach Billy Donovan.
Holy, geometry! Is it back to triangles for the Bulls?
Bulls players mostly have been saying the right things in media video sessions the past week. Not much has been particularly acute nor obtuse. More equilateral, in a sense, with credit being spread around at various angles. The supposition, or hypothesis if you will, has been for this arc of effort to finally bend toward results.
With help from Tex Winter's triangle offense?
Not completely and certainly given its peculiarities not immediately with a new coach. But then Wendell Carter Jr. began to go off on a tangent Wednesday with reporters. And it sounded in parts like some of the elements of the Bulls famed offense of the championship 90s. OK, OK, there's no Jordan. But perhaps Wendell was channeling a little bit of Pau.
"I was playing on the perimeter for the most part," Carter said of Bulls practices that included a session in the United Center Wednesday to prepare for Friday's home preseason opener. "It gives me the opportunity to either pop or roll on my screens depending on how the defense is playing us. I'm definitely playing really well being the versatile player on the offensive end, so I think it's definitely going to transfer into a game situation.
"To start off with shooting, it's something I've always been good at," Carter insisted despite the limited results of his first two Bulls seasons. "With the scheme we put in place on the offensive end, it's going to help my teammates get better shots. The big can't sit in the paint now. Me taking those shots, I'm now on the scouting report that, 'Wendell Carter takes threes, so we have to close out to him.' Stuff like that. So open up driving lanes for Zach (LaVine). Get Lauri (Markkanen) more threes, open up driving lanes for Coby (White). We run a lot of 'get' actions, me catching it, players playing off of me, cutting over, back screen for someone else, flare screens and things like that. With the ball in my hands, I'm usually the assist man, hitting those back door cuts, hitting those flare screens. Dribble handoffs to a midrange shot, a three-pointer depending on what my teammate decides to do."
It wasn't exactly a precise triangle primer, but the read-and-react actions Carter was discussing, the passing and movement and the center actions from the perimeter sounded familiar. Bulls coach Billy Donovan has been known for motion offense, which incorporates many similar screening actions. Though the point of both has been the player and ball movement that forces the defense to move and react more.
Though perhaps more significantly, it should enable Carter to return to the NBA.
Sure, the third year big man has had his share of injuries. But worse last season he virtually disappeared from the game, especially when he was playing. Carter did average 11.3 points, though few could remember him actually taking a shot. He seemed to be mostly a decoy with less to do than a wooden duck.
Bulls basketball chief Arturas Karnisovas reportedly has been excited about tapping the unused potential of Carter as one of the major improvements for this season. And it seems like Donovan is putting him in position.
Though the Bulls centers in the triangle offense, principally Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley except for the first few possessions of the game, were not big scorers, that changed for Phil Jackson and Winter when they helped guide the Lakers to five championships. Especially with the play of Pau Gasol, who was able to screen and shoot effectively out of the offense. In the triangle offense after the initial pass to trigger the offense, the ball generally goes to the pivot player in the first triangle with various options as players shift around him and then he moves as well. Gasol wasn't a three point threat as it was pre-Golden State days. And certainly not Shaquille O'Neal before him in that first run of three Lakers titles from 2000-02.
But with a hybrid of triangle and motion, Carter could also become a Most Improved candidate. Heck, he should even qualify for Rookie of the Year as, at least on offense, it would seem like he's getting his first chance to participate since the first month of his rookie season.
It's also encouraging given the possibilities of a more active and entertaining offensive Bulls game.
Donovan regularly has talked about playing fast, which we pretty much hear every year from every coach.
"I think with guys like Coby, Wendell, Lauri, even Thad (Young), watching Otto (Porter Jr.) play, we can get up and down the court," Donovan said Wednesday. "If you look at the NBA league averages, the highest shooting percentages in the league are the first seven seconds of the shot clock. I think the two hardest things to do in basketball are to get back in transition and communicate and match up and close out to a really good offensive player. So I think for us we have to play fast. That doesn't mean we just need to come down and launch shots and not get high percentage shots. But I think we have to play fast and put pressure at the basket, both on misses and makes. I think it lends itself to the team because we need to basically generate shots for ourselves through running. I think I made the comment early on that our team has to move for each other, they have to cut for each other, they have to screen for each other. It starts with our running habits."
Which all sounds good, but the other guys rarely let you do that. Which is why most of the NBA is played in half court offense. And why so many principles of the triangle offense are so effective. With it's player spacing and movement, it provides for all the basics of offense without the stagnation, pick and roll, down screens, dribble handoffs, blind pig. Which is another cutting action, but you have to give it to Tex for the nomenclature creativity as well.
Free Wendell Carter! Free Wendell Carter!
Carter doesn't usually get mentioned among the big names for the Bulls, or at least the names the franchise hopes become big.
But he may be a valuable untapped resource with his 6-9 size, physical frame and quickness to the ball.
"Speaking about blocks," Carter added," I feel like I'm going get a lot of blocks. I feel like not necessarily on my man, but just helping. That's usually where I got most of my blocks my rookie year. I (also) feel like it's going to definitely be very important for me to be the communicator. I'm in the back. I'm able to see everything from back cuts to flare screens and all that different kind of stuff. So just me being more vocal on the defensive end definitely is going to help us and I think with me being vocal, it will encourage my teammates to also be vocal. I didn't shoot enough (previously). So the numbers didn't look good. If I've only shot 10 threes over the year and I've only made two of them, it makes my percentage look bad. But I feel like with more shot attempts it'll give me more opportunities for the ball to go in.
"It's just confidence, the willingness to take those shots," said Carter. "Having the support from our coaching staff is definitely a huge plus, also. Just telling me, ‘Man, take more threes, take more shots, period.' I feel like I've always had a pretty fluent shot. Always been a pretty good three point shooter. It's even got to the point where when I do pass it up, it's like, ‘Hey man, take the shot."
Not exactly the Pythagorean Theorem; just basic math.