Wendell Carter Jr. watches what his fellow rookies are doing, and they've been doing well. Luka Doncic is averaging almost 20 points per game, DeAndre Ayton a double/double, Trae Young more than seven assists per game, Kevin Knox a dozen points per game mostly coming off the bench. "I'm happy for them," says Carter. "It's not so much any rookie competition. I worry about myself. I always reach out when they have fantastic games, post on my Instagram, ‘Way to go.'"
Even if it's still a bit surreal to Carter and his buddies. He's closest with former teammate Marvin Bagley and Knox.
"We talk about how much fun we are having," says Carter. "The fact that we really are in the NBA now. Growing up playing AAU, we'd see each other and everyone is talking about making the NBA. But we are really here. And starting on a team. I'd never have thought in a millions years I'd be starting in the NBA at 19 years old. It's definitely life changing."
And well earned.
With the Bulls in Toronto Sunday to finish this short, two-game road trip, Carter is coming off one of his best games of the season with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, carrying the Bulls early in the game when the offense was stagnant and not looking like any 19-year-old.
"He's working, he cares," says Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I love his physicality. When you're not afraid of contact and collision you can be a good player. He's so coachable, so teachable, and he's becoming reliable. It's really fun for him."
So much fun that Carter is virtually certain to be in Charlotte in February for the NBA All-Star game.
Not exactly for the Sunday show, but Carter is likely assured of being a part of the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Challenge game. Carter is averaging 10.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Among rookies, he's ninth in scoring and assists and second in rebounds and blocks. It's an impressive start for the 6-10, 255 pounder who continues to become more comfortable with his offensive game while regularly challenging shots, mostly with excellent help defense.
Carter has been burdened with personal fouls, second most among rookies to Jaren Jackson Jr. But he's maintained his dignity and imperturbability in working through the rookie difficulties.
"This is something I was dreaming about and I really love the rebuilding process we are going through," Carter says. "I actually love it that it's not an easy cakewalk and we have to work. I'm excited for what we have in store.
"I am talking to the officials about what I can do," he admits. "A couple of them give me great feedback. I'm just trying to learn, find ways to stay on the court and be aggressive. Each game I feel like I learn something new. It's so different from the college season, which we probably would be finished with already with the games we've played. So the mindset becomes to go into every game because it is such a long season; find that edge every game.
"I'll admit I have struggled with trying not to step on anyone's toes, just trying to make sure to stay on a good page with all my teammates. So finding my spot sometimes has been a challenge," Carter admits. "But I feel it will come at some point."
Carter has had moments of excellence—coincidently like Friday in Washington—at the end of each month. Against Denver the last day of October in a disappointing last-second loss, he had 25 points and eight rebounds.
"I was stretching the floor, shooting all over," he recalled. "I felt I was showing the potential with my versatility."
Then the last day in November in a loss at Detroit, Carter had 28 points and seven rebounds. Now he seems to be getting more settled with the return from injuries of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, the latter with whom he's worked an impressive pick and roll game.
Carter has scored in double figures in three of the last four games and in that stretch is averaging 14.7 points and 9.2 rebounds. With Robin Lopez giving the team more of a post look when playing for Carter, the Bulls have been getting increased production at center.
"Wendell was fantastic on both ends of the floor (against Washington)," said Lopez. "He altered so many shots. I thought that was really impressive. He's learning the NBA game. Sometimes the referees are going to (call) fouls on young fellows, but he's been great. I love watching him play."
Carter knows he's been inconsistent shooting from long range, but he admits he has been somewhat hesitant to take too much offense as a rookie. But with the support of his teammates and the coaching staff, he's looking for his shot more.
"As I build trust with my teammates, I know I can do it," Carter says. "I admit I used to beat myself up about bad games when I was younger. But I've learned that never results in anything good. In this league you learn if you have a bad game, there's one the next day or two days after. So just look forward, clear your mind the best way you can and be ready for the next opponent.
"I try to limit that approach that I am just 19," Carter adds. "Me being a competitor I always find a way to take age out of it. I have to play better and it doesn't matter how old you are and how mature you are. Sometimes I come back to reality and realize I am 19 and learning to do this NBA thing, but you have to approach it every game as another man across from you and he doesn't care how old you are."
But Carter still gets to be a kid.
He acknowledges the extent of NBA travel is more than he anticipated with the frequent short stays, but he says it's been exhilarating.
"You get to see the United States a little, all the great cities in the country," Carter says. "I try to get out in the cities to clear my mind. I like good restaurants; I'm a museum kind of guy, but sometimes we get in too late or aren't in that city long enough.
"I'm definitely excited for a chance for that Rising Stars game," Carter admitted. "That's one of the games I always wanted to be in. And being back in North Carolina, I'm excited for that chance.
"On the court, I feel like I am a forward more than a center," Carter said. "But I feel I am able to play both for sure. I feel like I can guard fives and fours, have the ability to shoot, which is mostly what fours do. But I also feel I complement Lauri's game a lot. I'm not a man who's big, but I'm all about getting my teammates open. Lauri and I are both big and mobile, good on the glass at times. I feel like as we get older and stronger and more mature we'll be even better.
"My parents always are saying to enjoy everything, that you go through one time and it's a short window in this league. So enjoy it when you are here, look for as many opportunities as you can, be a mentor to kids and have fun," Carter related. "They say to listen to the coaches and go from there. For me, I don't pay as much attention to my numbers. It's to do what I can to help us win."
So Carter understands the trials the Bulls are going through now, but he's confident it's only making them stronger.
"When you are used to winning it can be difficult, but I am excited for the potential we have," Carter says. "I can see it and I'm here for the ride to get better. We're talented and young, and that's the key to a successful team. Hopefully, we'll be able to play on the same team for a long time. Us being young and hardworking, the sky is the limit if everyone stays committed to the team and is willing to work hard. I feel as we get older and get to know one another better and more chemistry grows we are going to be really, really good."
Out of the mouth of babes. But don't think he's a kid.